It is in our nature to reach out to others–to help them if we can. The dilemma we face as parents is whether we are to parent (help)our children with our hearts or our heads. We often get these two choices mixed up and proceed according to what WE need or are feeling at the moment.
My question is, as parents, can we be successful by employing both head and/or heart approaches or do we have to choose one style and stick with it? For me as a parent I want the freedom to access both and feel right doing it. In my mind it’s possible to achieve a balance and to parent with consistency and fairness as well. Setting our anger, our disappointment or our frustration aside is one of the keys to being a successful parent. We need to consider our actions as parents instead of disciplinarians. “Is there something that I can teach my child that has life value–a ‘teachable moment’ without shoving poor judgement in his face? Years ago our parents and certainly their parents parented with their heads–the heart didn’t enter into much with regards to parenting. Today more and more parents are parenting with their hearts. We are witnessing the outcome of this shift and it is not very encouraging when we consider increases in violence, not respecting others and their property and their inflated sense of entitlement.
When I speak about parenting with their heart I mean protecting their children’s feelings and egos without understanding what those feelings really are or what they represent. Children have been relieved from experiencing the consequences for poor decision making. Parents today basically ‘think’ with their hearts treading very carefully so they can avoid confrontation and/or anger. As a result of this approach our children today are not very well equipped to deal with what can be a very harsh reality outside the family home. This is especially true for young men-sons-who are without a father or a strong male role model. Even in co-parented homes there is often difficulty dealing with a child who is 14, 15 or 16. This is around the time they begin to push the boundaries of appropriate behaviour and show their disregard for structure and rules for living.
Which style do you see yourself following in this scenario: Junior is 17, has a licence to drive the family car and has a date on Friday evening. He asks to use the car at which time it is made perfectly clear what the expectations are for Junior while using the car. He is responsible for the safety of the vehicle, is not to exceed the speed limit and needs to be home in the driveway by midnight. At twenty after 12 he pulls into the drive with an excuse already to go. He tells his parents that his date had to be home by midnight as well and they lost rack of time where they were. Junior managed to get her home on time which made her parents feel good and ensured their next date. However, in his haste to get home he was pulled over for speeding and that’s the reason he was late getting home. What happens now? The parents decide that, yes he was late but he was trying to be honorable and get his date home on time and the car is all in one piece so they give him ‘the chat’ about being responsible. He says he was being responsible by getting her home on time and felt he was being punished unfairly. They warned him that he is close to losing his privileges around using the family vehicle for a week. This is an example of parenting with the heart.
A parent parenting with the head might have said something like: “We are happy that you are safe and it’s good to see that you cared enough to get Mary (the date) home on time. However next time try leaving 25 minutes for the 20 minute drive home instead of having to speed to get here closer to the time we agreed to. We were very concerned about whether or not you were OK. We can talk more about this tomorrow–TOMORROW COMES AND THE CHAT BEGINS AGAIN–Perhaps not using the car for the next week will help you understand that we need to be able to trust you when you take the car and this doesn’t feel as though we can right now.” Junior flips out–says he has a date with Mary next week and what’s he supposed to do with that. Dad says, ” I’m sorry that you won’t have the car but perhaps you can make other arrangements to go out with Mary that don’t involve using the car.” Dad takes advantage of the opportunity to provide a teachable moment here about the need to establish and maintain trust. He creates a boundary that is not expandable and he remains consistent with his message. He does not make his son’s problem his to solve.
A couple of points to remember here:
1. Never try to discipline a child or comment on a decision made if either or both of you are angry, anxious, belligerent or argumentative. Establish a time frame that would allow for either or both to cool off then make your point. It also gives you a chance to talk it over with your partner so each is on the same page. You want to do this from the head not the heart.
2. Be sure not to judge the decision made but rather help him understand that there are consequences for decisions made. When you judge the thinking you are judging him as well. This conversation needs not to be about the process but rather the outcome. The hope is that he will learn something about honoring agreements, protecting trust and respecting boundaries.
3. Establishing this type of parenting style will take a while especially if the child is in his teens so be ready for that.
That’s how I see it anyway–all the best–JIm
Comments are always welcome. You can respond to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or through my web page at jamescloughley.com