Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. Ephesians 6:4 NLT
Parenting isn’t for parents; it’s for the kids.
Being a first-born or only child isn’t always the easiest experience. I’m the oldest of three boys. The next came along nine years later, and the third two years later. By the time my middle brother arrived, I could help care for him. You know, relieve Mom and Dad of some of the stress. My younger brothers grew up to become very close. I, on the other hand, learned from the starts and stops of first-time parents.
As soon as I was old enough, I was taught to wash the dishes, fold the laundry, take out the trash, pick up my room, and cut the grass. Somehow, my younger brothers escaped many of these duties.
When I was 16, Dad thought I needed to begin establishing my credit record. Off to the furniture store we went where I purchased a $1,000 solid oak bedroom suit and charged it. This was one of many of Dad’s infamous ways to teach me responsibility—which, by the way, I appreciate.
Other rules, I wasn’t particularly fond of. Since I grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s, the haircut rule frustrated me. By this time, my father was a full-time preacher, which made me a PK (preacher’s kid).
Church folks tended to have expectations of the pastor’s children—one being that they would not be hippies. While Dad gave me a little leeway, it wasn’t as much as I wanted. He said two inches below the ear; I wanted four inches below the shoulder. Of course, he won out by giving me the infamous saying, “As long as your feet are under my table, you will do what I say.”
Eighteen was my benchmark. Long before it arrived, I made plans to move out as soon as I celebrated that birthday. And I did. The responsibility my parents taught me through various miserable exercises made me what they hoped for: responsible. I found a job and a house to rent and faced the world.
By the time my two kids came along, I had mulled over some of my parents’ techniques—discerning which ones I wanted to keep, which ones I wanted to modify, and which ones I wanted to toss out with the dishwater. Looking back on my childhood, I concluded that much of what my parents did might have been for them—not me. I wanted to avoid some of their mistakes—though they never admitted they had made any.
Living Failed Expectations through Your Children Will Frustrate Them and You
I’m not sure what my dad’s childhood dreams were, but Mom’s was to become a concert pianist. With one quick word, “Yes,” her dream died, and at least one of Dad’s materialized: to marry her. She became a full-time secretary and soon a full-time preacher’s wife. Since she had been playing the piano since she was a child, she wanted a son who could play it as well. Men made better piano players, she thought. She tried her best, but I wasn’t interested.
I look back with regret on a number of things I didn’t do that my parents wanted me to. They got frustrated along the way—and I got perturbed later on. Nevertheless, when my two children came along, I approached things a little differently. Instead of making demands on them—that they play ball, run track, get involved in gymnastics, my wife and I let them choose. Living out my childhood and teenage neglects through them wouldn’t soothe the regret I had.
Repeating Poor Parenting Techniques Will Yield the Same Result
Doing the same thing the same way and expecting different results is a definition of insanity. Dad and Mom loved the buckleless black belt—along with restrictions of various types, as a means of discipline. Back then, they called it punishment and didn’t have to worry about teachers at school or a random stranger in the store calling the Department of Social Service. Not that they abused me. Just that their methods of discipline might not be politically correct in today’s society.
I had quite a few years to consider my parents’ disciplinary techniques before my two children came along. Some I held on to; others I revamped or buried. I also thought about this responsibility theme that ran so heavily through my childhood. To a degree, it seemed to interfere with my childhood fun.
For the most part, I determined most of my parents’ parenting methods were effective and honorable. I kept those. The few I thought were lacking or ineffective, I tossed. Just because I was reared a certain way didn’t mean I had to rear my children in the same fashion.
Parenting Techniques Should Be Designed to Teach
I think a few of Mom and Dad’s disciplinary measures—and other parenting techniques, were designed to relieve their stress or prove a point. After all, when I questioned some of them, I got the common no-brainer answer: “Because I said so.” (Unfortunately, I repeated that one a number of times myself.)
Discipline entails the idea of teaching. I wasn’t sure all of my parents’ techniques did that—at least, positively. Nor did all their attempts at teaching me responsibility.
Teaching my children to be who they were created to be was more important to me than repeating my parent’s method of parenting. After all, this parenting thing was supposed to be about them, not me or their mother.
No one ever said parenting was easy, but parenting isn’t about the parent. It’s about teaching the children to be responsible citizens who will impact their world in a positive way. Remember, parenting isn’t for parents.