Sometimes when parents make constructive parenting changes, things appear to get worse before they get better. This is because changes, even positive ones, throw kids off-balance. They live by a well-learned set of unwritten rules and it sometimes takes a while to grow comfortable with new “rules” of engagement. So they will often push even harder to test their parents resolve.
One of my coaching clients experienced this with her 9-year-old son, and gave permission to share it in hopes that it would help other parents.
At Connected Families we teach that focusing on getting right behavior as your primary goal is a setup for power struggles and frustrations of all kinds. We teach instead to focus primarily on the messages your kids get from you about who they are.
The following video shows how the greatest basketball coaches think similarly. To build traditionally winning basketball programs, these coaches do not focus on winning (right behavior), but on the process of getting there.
In short, when you focus on the end desired result, you measure everything you do against that result and you end up getting discouraged. But when you focus on the process…
Apply It Now:
Pick one process you’d like to focus on (i.e. room cleaning, or chores, or homework) and give some positive focus on effort instead of outcomes. What did you learn?
At our workshops we frequently ask parents why they discipline their kids. The most common answers:
To teach them
To get them to behave
To motivate them
To hold them accountable
These are certainly viable answers. But what if the main reason we disciplined our kids was the same reason God disciplines us: so they may share his holiness? (Heb. 12:10)
What might change if every time you addressed your child’s misbehavior you first asked yourself, “How can I discipline, right now, in a way that will woo my child’s heart toward God’s grace and truth?”
“Knock it off! Stop it! Get over here, NOW!” These are familiar phrases for most parents. When kids act up we get frustrated. We get demanding and even disrespectful. Kids may comply with our demands in the short run but over the long run they learn from our example to be frustrated, demanding, and disrespectful when they’re not getting their way.
Dustin was becoming this kind of parent. He saw where it was leading and knew he wanted to walk a different road. He looked at numerous resources and when he discovered Connected Families he knew he had found what he was looking for. For the past 14 months he has immersed himself in Connected Families resources and support. Where once his primary goal was quick fixes and parental control, his primary goal is now to come alongside his kids as a model of God’s grace and guidance. It’s been hard work and it’s far from finished. But this recent report from Dustin shows the results:
Lynne and I blew it a lot. We had a lot of great moments as a young family, but we also had a lot of bad moments – the kind of stuff that over time can lead to growing disconnection between parents and kids. We yelled. We said and did ugly things. We exerted our power in order to control. Did we mention condescension, micro-managing, and nagging? Much of this we did in the name of “being the parents” or “tough love.” We learned to be quite effective at disguising our selfish, sinful motives behind masks of authority, logic and even “spiritual” guidance. We found that in spite of the most wonderful of intentions, sin still does easily entangle.
As a result, on numerous occasions we simply did not obey the first part of the instructions to parents found in Colossians 3:21 and Ephesians 6:4a. In the name of “being the parent,” we provoked our kids to anger, embittered them, and downright exasperated them.
In spite of our fairly common displays of ugly parenting, we got past all this and found our way into rich connection and influence with our children. You can too. How?
Parents usually have good desires for their kids. They want kids to be respectful, responsible, faithful, obedient, and so on. But when parents make these behaviors their primary goals for parenting, their kids tend to resist. Why? Kids tend to resist because no one likes to be controlled – and parents’ good goals are usually mingled with a little selfish motivation of “wanting life to go smoothly for my benefit” that kids pick up on. So when parents’ varied efforts to meet these goals are met with children’s resistance, parents and kids alike feel frustrated.
My early years of parenting seemed to be a cascade of stress that built throughout the day, as I tried desperately to deal with the out-of-control behavior of my youngsters: sibling conflict, messes everywhere, arguing, not listening, and so on. Unfortunately I was often using my own out-of-control behavior to try to manage theirs. By the end of the day, feelings of discouragement and resentment floated in a sea of stress chemicals in my brain.
I gradually accepted that I couldn’t eliminate the craziness. But as I learned to focus on my long-term goal of raising “world-changers” instead of managing the immediate crisis, it created a whole different response (and brain chemistry) from me that was often rather satisfying.
So how can parents trade in that parenting stress for a nice “satisfaction buzz”?
Scene: I pace the entry at our house, arms crossed, brow furrowed, occasionally glancing at the clock on the wall. After what seems like an eternity, my daughter walks in the house. I aggressively say, “Where were you?” (Not that it matters.) “You’re late, and now we’re all going to be late, too. Wash up for dinner and let’s get going.” My tone tells her she’s an annoyance and someone who deserves my harshness and belittling words. Then I put the cherry on top: “You’re grounded from going to your friend’s house for the next two days!”
With a flurry of stomps, my daughter marches toward her room. There’s a two-second pause, followed by the ever-maddening door slam. That door slam is enough to send me over the edge! I sit and stew. And she sits and stews. Our relationship is damaged and both of us are now upset — not because of the initial issue, but because of how we’ve treated each other. We are stuck. I am stuck. And I don’t know what to do.
It seemed like this was the consistent cycle in our house. Every time my daughter was late, things just went poorly.
As I glanced at my watch and noticed that she was late AGAIN, I felt mad — but also resigned. Were we really going to ride this merry-go-round again? All five people in our family needed to get out of the house, ON TIME! And now it wasn’t going to happen, AGAIN.
Somewhere, deep inside, I began to long for this interaction with my daughter to go better than I knew it would if I did what I always did. But how?
We meet or talk nearly every day with parents. Most of them contact us because they need help. After hearing bits of their story, we usually ask, “What are your goals as parents?” In their answers we learn much about what we think is the big problem with parenting. While every story and response is unique, a common theme shows up in the answer. It can be summed up this way: “Our goal is well-behaved kids.”
There is nothing wrong with wanting well behaved kids. But as a first priority it pits parents against kids in power struggles of all sorts. Or — and we think this is even worse — it produces compliant kids who do right things, but have empty hearts.
Recently we got an email from a mom asking what to do when her 10-year-old son refused to help with the dishes after dinner, even when punished with spanking or loss of electronics. Conflicts around chores are something that many parents and kids struggle with, so we thought we’d share our response.
When kids say “No,” parents’ first instinct is often to go right to threats or punishment to gain obedience. Spanking or yelling usually happens from a place of demanding obedience as a first goal. But if a parent’s first goal is to tap into God’s holiness and the fruit of the Spirit on the way to helping the child learn to value obedience, the scene usually goes much differently.