Imagine. Play. Learn. Since 1984.



I laughed out loud while reading an article from the Sunday paper. It was an interesting piece about table talk at family dinners, and the various strategies parents have tried.

At one point, the author reflected on why it was important to impose some “order on the chaos of mealtime”, noting that the need for structure was less urgent for her parents’ generation who seemed “to have a firmer grip on discipline, using mysterious techniques now lost to posterity.”

It was those last words that caused my amusement.

Here again we see the idea espoused by the younger generation of parents, that there is some hidden, near mystical, bag of tricks owned by previous generations, but not available to parents today, for some unexplained reason. And, so the myth goes, it is this lack that is making their parenting so difficult.

So, for the record, let me again state loudly and clearly that there are no mysterious techniques. Nothing is being withheld from you. The only “firmer grip” that the author’s parents, and others of my generation had, was a clear and unwavering notion of what constituted our parenting role: that to be a parent was to accept the role of being firmly in charge, the authority in children’s lives.

We believed that children desperately need parents to be their guides, educators, and limit-setters. We believed that being a parent was a time-consuming task, but also believed that children would eventually take over for themselves, given development and maturation, along with firm teaching.

We also believed that parents had rights to a pleasant and adult life, and that children were welcome to join in parts of that life, provided they could function within the parameters of acceptable behavior.

These were all ideas that allowed parents to function with authoritative confidence, certain that their children would benefit from their parents’ setting of clear limits and consequences.

Fast forward to today, when many parents function without that clear understanding of their important role as definite authority. When they do set limits, it is often with hesitation, as if checking with their children whether this will be acceptable with them.

Children without firm limits take over their parents’ adult lives with child-centered unpleasant behaviors. Kids are like animals: they can smell uncertainty a mile off, and respond by testing just how far they can push.

As I’ve said before, when children perceive that a wall is solid, they don’t waste time and energy pushing against it. But when they sense that they have a chance of breaking through it, they become focused on seeing if they can find a crack to open wider. Walls make kids feel safe and secure; cracks lead to uncertainty.

So stop wishing that you had the lost mysterious tricks and consider again how you define to yourself the role of parent, never mind how society or contemporary parenting philosophy defines it. Children will have a lifetime of friends, and only one set of parents.

That is the one certain truth that is no mystery.

© Growing Child 2012 Please feel free to forward this article to a friend.

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