Parenting is filled with many discussions on life’s many lessons. These discussions can be awkward and uncomfortable for both the parent and the child. Like any endeavor, there are step-by-step instructions put together by the leading child psychologists, counselors and educators that help us through these discussions with our children. And like any endeavor, the reality of the task is vastly different than the instructions. A child will ask a genuine yet wildly inappropriate question on the topic and our faces will blush bright red and we become somewhat educated ourselves. Then we must look forward to many more discussions like the first.
The problem with our structured discussions with our children is that they eventually build up a tolerance. This is exhibited by the rolling of the eyes, the long drawn out sigh, and the mental shut down where the little one simply nods on cue. What do we do when the pamphlets and books on how to parent don’t address the reality of parenting?
Parenting is not simply a series of awkward conversations, but an all encompassing exercise from the time they are born until we release them to be on their own into the world. When we teach them values such as leadership, safety and responsibility they can apply what they have learned to any situation.
The success of this was exhibited when my child was asked at school what she would do if one of her friends offered her drugs. Her reply was, “My friends don’t do drugs if they want to continue being my friends.” Her response may seem somewhat stoic, but it was her own. From her lessons in leadership and responsibility, she had formulated her own point of view on the topic of drug use.
When we label our children’s activities as responsibilities rather than privileges they become aware of their own actions and behavior. When she cleans her own room her reward is her autonomy. When I must clean her room all her old things get put into boxes and goes to the place where things go to never be seen again! Even at a young age, she was included in family decisions. Things did not always go her way, but sometimes they did. Likewise, things did not always go my way.
Action have consequences. This was mutually true for both of us, as I learned when I had to break a promise and miss a soccer game due to a schedule change at work. My daughter was benched for three games for rough play. Lesson learned, a happy soccer player is a safe soccer player. Teaching responsibility is not always easy. First and foremost, you must teach by example. My daughter is not merely an extension of me. She is a valid member of my family, complete with a voice in all things that affect her life.
It isn’t perfect. I once had to win a disagreement by informing my daughter that her young brain would not be fully developed for another few years and thus she could not decide responsibly for herself when she could date boys. Today, I’m often reminded that my old brain isn’t as sharp as it once was and that I cannot decide responsibly for myself what is healthy for me to eat or drink.