Nobody promised that being a parent would be easy nor were we assured that we’d get kids that were easy to handle. If you’re like most of us, you face regular challenges to your authority, your rules, and the way you expect your kids to behave. As with much in life, there’s room for compromise, but with parenting I suggest that if you stick with your rules it defines your values and teaches your children valuable lessons. The first rule must be that you tell the truth.
It’s a simple idea to tell the truth, but not always so simple to execute in real-life family situations. For instance, what do your kids really hear when you say something like, “If you do this fill-in-the-blank thing, you’re gonna be grounded” with stern parental authority. Most kids will interpret that to mean, “Well, I sure hope you won’t do that, but I’ll forgive you when you do because I love you so much and want to be your best friend.” The result? You haven’t told the truth or stood by your word. The kids then know they can manipulate you.
The impact of vacillating on our children is drastic and very harmful. I cannot emphasize enough how much we are role models for our children and how much they learn from our behavior. Our kids watch every move we make and if we waffle on a rule or a threat, then they learn to work that to their benefit. I’ll offer a personal example that has been hard on our family.
My older son turned 16 in November and he still hasn’t been allowed to get his driver’s permit, let alone his license. At 15½ he was legally allowed to get his permit, but the reason he hasn’t is that when he was about 14, I set a rule that he had to have a “B” average for the privilege of driving. No excuses, no blaming his teachers, no “I’m so close” – he had to bring home a “B” average.
As I explained to him, part of my rationale was that insurance rates are significantly lower for kids with a “B” average. And, since he can’t get his license until six months after getting his permit, regardless of his age upon getting his permit here in California, he has delayed the process substantially with his “B-minus“ grade level!
The irony is that by not wavering on this rule, it has made its implementation almost easy and without any challenges from him. He has acknowledged his own screw-ups with schoolwork and putting off homework assignments, and lazy studying for exams. It has put him in the embarrassing position, among his friends, of not having a permit while so many others have gotten theirs. And, since he now has a girlfriend, it’s doubly embarrassing, as she’s gotten her permit, and a “B” average, even though her birthday is six months after his.
I feel bad for him. You bet. Will I ease up on my rule? Maybe. But, the maybe includes a compromise that is in essence a version of my original rule. We discussed allowing him to get his permit now, with the “B-minus” average, BUT he won’t be allowed to get his license unless he then makes up the difference with a high enough “B” average next semester that the aggregate is a total of a “B” average.
The advantage to him and us if he accepted the revised “rule” is that the six-month countdown can begin and if he makes the grades, he can potentially get his license sooner. It would ease my chauffeur responsibilities if he could drive and I’d love that. The irony is that he’d then have to do even better next semester and, consequently, he was not sure whether to take this offer.
After presenting him with that option, he chose to stick with the present rule, feeling that he had a better chance at getting the required “B” average, starting fresh this next semester rather than having to get a higher average and get his permit now. That is an interesting choice, but it was his and he’s also learning delayed gratification and his own responsibility in what has happened and he’s not blaming us. It’s a win-win for us parents and maybe a valuable lesson for this particular teen.
The result is that Will knows that I mean business, and that I’m open to compromise, but only if there’s equal balance within any new agreement. I’ve kept my credibility and can even be sympathetic to his sadness at not having his permit, let alone his license several months after his 16th birthday. The rule is not “me” and he doesn’t fully tie me to the rule, which is the beauty of it.
So, stick with your rules even if you see the pain and discomfort it causes your children. They learn more from this sort of “pain” than when you give in and spoil them. They learn to trust and respect you and maybe, just maybe, they might take those rules seriously, too.