Do your children ever make you cry? I talked to a parent recently who was having a difficult time coping with a child who is constantly angry. Parenting can be difficult and ultimately we can only do our best.
I love the film Parenthood? The part where Grandma tells the rollercoaster story is great. Gil (Steve Martin’s character) is stressing about having another child because it is such hard work and there is so much that can go wrong. Grandma arrives and talks about the thrill of a rollercoaster and then how dull a merry-go-round is because it just goes round and round. She finishes by saying she prefers the rollercoaster because you get more out of it. You can watch the clip here if you like:
Parenting is certainly a lot like riding a rollercoaster, it is so fast, exciting and terrifying all at the same time. To cope as a parent you need a plan and you need to stick with it, here are a few simple thoughts that I have picked up along the way.
Children need boundaries that you enforce as a parent consistently
Who is in charge in your family, you or the kids? Children need to understand what rules are and they need to understand that the rules should be followed. If you change your mind a lot and change the rules sometimes then your kids will walk all over you. When you pander to a child’s every wish, you create a spoiled brat. Whilst we do want to make our children happy, there should be times when you do things a family that they don’t want to do and they have to learn to join in any way.
When children do stray outside of the boundaries you have set there should be discipline. Discipline is different from punishment. Punishment is when we shout at and are angry with our kids but they have no idea why or what they can do to make things different. The purpose of discipline is to bring about change. Our child understands what they have done and what the consequence are (the consequence should be linked to what they have done wrong so this is clear) and what could be different next time.
Back each other up
Where there are two parents at home, you must work together. In my experience of talking with people about their relationships, one of the biggest stress points is often to do with how to parent. One parent may be very relaxed and the other very strict and this will lead to stress in a relationship and a child that doesn’t know how to behave. If you have children, talk together about how you want to parent and agree what is important.
Communication is central to any relationship, but how much time do you spend communicating with your children? Some recent surveys say we parents spend as little as seven minutes on average talking with their children each day. If we don’t talk apart from where there is something wrong or when we need to know something then a relationship can be fragile. Making time to just talk and enjoy life together is important in any relationship.
Has your child ever come home from school and you’ve asked them how their day went but they won’t say. Imagine you are arriving home from work after a tiring day. You are glad to be home and are definitely ready to switch off. As you step through the door a verbal machine gun begins to fire questions, ‘How was your day?’ ‘Did you get on with your boss?’ ‘What did you have for lunch?’ ‘Were your co workers kind to you?’ How would you feel about being interrogated like that? Instead of being frustrated that your children won’t respond to your full on questioning, why not take a different approach. Spend time doing things eg playing games, colouring etc and you’ll find your children will naturally start to talk about what is important to them.
Spend time doing fun things with your children and you stand a better chance of communicating well with them when they become teenagers. Think creatively about how you can spend time together. We started a bouncy castle business to help us to spend time with our older children and to help them to earn some money. This involves time in the car and an opportunity to work together. Normal people pay to take their teenagers out to spend time together, but my wife and I get paid by others to spend time with our kids.
You can only do your best
Realize that on this Earth there is no such thing as a perfect parent. Let yourself of the hook of trying to be perfect and realize that you can only do your best. Doing your best means focusing, learning from mistakes and not being a whatever parent. Often the most stressful times I have faced as a parent with younger children have been linked to me trying to do something else that requires a large amount of concentration when I should be looking after them. Because my concentration is elsewhere, my instinct is to give a whatever response as long as they leave me alone and this often leads to chaos.
The most valuable thing we can give our children is our time.
When things are tough
When your relationship with your children is strained or non-existent, communication between you is usually only negative. It is important to try to make time to be positive in these situations to try to break the cycle of negativity. I’m not suggesting backing down on boundaries or what is important, but when your child does something well we need to praise or thank them. Make time to try to do something fun or spend some time talking about what they are interested in eg listening to their favourite music and chatting about it.
parents people we need to show grace, love and forgiveness. There are times when we should discipline and times when our children are genuinely sorry that we can show grace talking though what could be different next time instead of enforcing a consequence. When we do have to discipline, it should always be accompanied or followed by acceptance and love.
God is our role model
My role model in parenting is God. He gives clear boundaries, but he also offers us grace love and forgiveness. As His child I fail him and make mistakes but he still loves me and offers me acceptance as well as discipline and correction. He communicates with us through the Bible reminding us we are loved but also showing us how to live. God lives inside every Christian bringing guidance in life and he promises to be with us always.
Back to the rollercoaster
Shortly after Grandmas rollercoaster story, Gil and his family go to a school play. During the play their daughter is being made to do something she doesn’t want to. Their young toddler doesn’t understand it isn’t real and so he leaps up to rescue her. He climbs onto the stage and starts pushing people over telling them to leave here alone. Gil is furious and stressed but in his imagination he hears the sound of the rollercoaster and he begins to feel like he is on one. He realizes that life isn’t perfect and that things go wrong and in that moment he finds peace and joy. The clip isn’t perfect because he also lets his son run around causing damage which isn’t good, perhaps he’ll read this blog post and think differently about that. If you haven’t seen it and would like to you can watch the clip here: