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By Ayal Hurst
Besides love, the major part of being a parent involves being a good teacher, and setting firm boundaries. Kids desperately need boundaries, and they need to know that those boundaries are secure, and enforced. Otherwise, life is too overwhelming, too unsafe, and too threatening. If there are no boundaries, or those boundaries are not enforced, children get the clear message that there are no consequences to their actions. And that is not how life operates. There ARE consequences to our actions.
If a parent does not have the where with all to set firm boundaries because of THEIR OWN fear that their child won't "like them", or will become alienated from them, then that parent is actually hurting their child due to their own fears. That is not serving the child, and it is certainly not being the parent. Your child is not a friend. Your child is your child. What a child needs from a parent is loving, clear communication and secure boundaries that will teach him or her how to get through life safely and successfully. A child needs love most of all, but a child also needs authentic feedback how his or her behavior affects others. That is how they know what works well in life, and what will bring them pain or difficulty. That does not mean that you and your child can't have a lovely and loving relationship. But keeping your child safe, and teaching what is appropriate or inappropriate in life IS loving your child. If you don't, your child has no sense of how to relate appropriately to others in society.
Those parents who fear to discipline in a firm (not harsh, punitive, or overbearing) manner because they fear that their child will become alienated from them actually create what they fear. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, as their child will become alienated anyway, for they will, in all likelihood, end up disrespecting that parent. If they see that they can manipulate a parent, that the parent allows that kind of behavior, they will usually turn into spoiled, manipulative, selfish, uncaring, and dysfunctional people.
I've seen it happen time and time again. Some parents think that they are being a "good" parent by excusing the actions of their child for this or that: "Oh, well. Kids will be kids", and running interference between them and any censure from the world outside. Or they think they are being good parents by not being controlling and always offering their child a choice, even if that child is only two years old! That is too little to be given that responsibility, and it is giving their child too much power, too much responsibility, too young. However, it is appropriate in certain instances and at certain ages, certainly, to allow a child to develop individuality, autonomy, confidence, and creativity, to make choices: "Would you like to paint with, the red crayon or the green one?" Or, "What would you like to wear for school today?" Or "What would you like for breakfast?" Or, "Would you rather read for a while or play with Jimmy?" etc. But when a parent refuses to make correct choices for a child when they are too young to make them for themselves, that is giving over too much power to the child. That is not being a good parent. That is being a weak, ineffectual, and incapable parent.
On the other hand, it is also not at all healthy to be too controlling with your child, dictating everything thing they do or say. It is said that a parent's job is first to give your child roots (security) and then to give them wings (individuality and freedom). One must discern what is appropriate for the best development of a child, when. And to do that, one must be clear, oneself.
If a parent is so afraid, themself, that they won't be loved, and therefore they do not set firm boundaries, or make the firm choice for their child, when it is needed, or let the child know what is appropriate in a given situation, they cripple that child emotionally. Often, if a parent themself was so criticized and wounded as a child by their parents, that they have rebounded in the totally opposite direction and never want to even raise a stern voice to their child, wanting to be their child's friend and good buddy, what results can be disastrous: an undisciplined kid whose behaviors are socially unacceptable and disrespectful, sometimes even harmful, to self or others. Or they think that by disciplining their child, they are criticizing that child and therefore hurting or betraying him or her. We do not want to criticize, shame, blame, or belittle a child, for that is destructive, but neither can we turn a blind eye when a child does something that is either dangerous or inappropriate, to self or others. Going into denial and excusing one's child for their inappropriate behavior is a dangerous and harmful thing to do. Often parents will do so to cover up their own inability, fears, ineptness, or lack of strength in this area, not knowing what to do or how to enforce standards that are necessary. They back down, in effect, and let the child's will over run their own. They let the child rule. The result is usually disaster for all concerned.
A parent may think, blindly, that their child is perfect, but we all live in glass houses, and to the rest of the world, if that child has become spoiled or overly indulged, with troubled or offensive behaviors, it's VERY obvious to all - except, perhaps, the doting parent. ALL children need guidance, and ALL children will do things that require boundaries. ALL will get into trouble of one sort or another and have to be called on it. All children need to be held fully accountable and responsible for their actions, and ALL have lessons that need to be learned. If YOUR fear of alienating your child comes first before the welfare of your child - if it comes first before teaching your child how life works and that consequences will result from their actions, then you are really doing your child an immense disservice. And they will have to pay for it later in life.
What if a parent is so afraid of alienating a child, so unable to discipline, set, and enforce boundaries, that they don't do anything when a child shoplifts? So, the child grows up thinking he or she can steal with impunity, without there being any consequences. Well, guess what happens later on in life? If that child ends up in jail, because they stole, and there ARE consequences for stealing in our society, who didn't do their job? Or, what if you allow your child to hit you, or say, mouth off at you, become a screamer, or be demanding whenever they feel like it, and there are no consequences? When that child goes off to school and hits another child, or mouths off, he or she is going to get hit back, right? Or at the least be ostracized and intensely disliked by others. There are consequences to our actions, and if a parent does not teach this in a very firm, fair, and clear way, then your child is in deep trouble. There are laws that operate on a Cosmic level, and we are simply being either blind or arrogant if we ignore them. If we touch a hot iron, we get burned. It isn't the iron's fault, as it won't be the fault of other children for not liking your child if he or she is a spoiled, self centered individual. It is your responsibility to show a child, in a loving, clear way, about cause and effect. And we can learn to teach well, in ways that are kind, clear, firm, and feel authentic, so that the child can hear it, gets it, and doesn't feel preached at, belittled, demeaned, or lectured. That's a great and tremendous challenge in itself. You will learn a lot about yourself when you observe the way in which, and how well, or not, you communicate to your child.
Often parents think that it means their child is "bad" or Oh my God, not perfect, if that child needs discipline in a certain area - and they can't bear to see their child as anything but perfect. This is their own ego need talking when that happens - needing a child to be oh so perfect and to fulfill whatever hopes and dreams they did not fulfill for themselves. The parent is often still so afraid of being criticized and still so vulnerable themselves, that they cannot allow their child, whom they see as a reflection of themselves and their ability, to be viewed as anything less then perfect. When that happens, a parent has gotten deeply entangled in a stew of their own unresolved issues, and instead of seeing this clearly, and doing the inner work they need to do for themselves, they try to make the child over into their own, unfulfilled image. This is a destructive situation. It is NEVER a child's job to fulfill the life of their parents, or to fulfill a life the parents wanted, but never created for themselves. It is NEVER a child's job to make their parents happy. That is a job the parents must do for themselves.
A parent is completely fooling themselves if they do not see that their child has issues, as all people do on this planet, that need to be dealt with. I've even seen parents go so far with this that, although everyone else could see that their child was spoiled and over indulged and unpleasant to be around, someone who cheated at games, etc., in their eyes, it was always someone else's fault, or the fault of all the other children that their wonderful child was not liked. It had nothing to do with him, of course, or his behavior, or their poor parenting. Excuse after excuse was made, and the parents ran interference between him and life's realities. The child was not held accountable for his behavior. Temper tantrums and rude behavior resulted, but this too was somehow excused as normal. They truly lived in a glass house, but they could not see it.
So, do you worry about whether or not your child will like you, or let that fear influence your ability to do what is best for your child? If you do, this is actually YOU being a child yourself, operating from your own wounded, inner child, feeling insecure, worrying about being loved, about who will like you and who won't, right? Trust that you don't ever have to worry about your child loving you. That's already there. It's a given. Trust that. You can only lose your child's love if you are abusive in your behavior. Children have an immense capacity to love. Don't blow your child's well being by your own fears and therefore by an inability to do what is truly best for your child. You, yourself can remain the fearful child, afraid of losing love, or you can become the mature adult whose job is to teach your child how to be a well adjusted, caring human being.
There will be many moments that present themselves that are wonderful and important "teaching moments", between you and your child, and it is your responsibility to be a good teacher, to teach wisely, in a way that captures a child's interest and touches their heart and mind. Teach them and communicate with them in a way that that inspires them to become a clear human being. In your teachings and discussions, ask interesting, thought provoking questions of your child, so that they want to explore and discover answers for themselves.
I invite you to firmly and strongly, without fear, confront your children on their behavior, when necessary. Tell them that you value honesty between you. If you have been balanced, fair, real, and honest in your responses to their behavior, they will value that honesty between you, and seek to emulate it, as well. Tell them that honesty and trust are precious things between people, but that trust is something that can easily be broken, and therefore it needs to be something kept safe and clear and protected between you. Be a safe enough, balanced space yourself, so that your children can speak honestly with you about what's been going on, without fear. That means be clear and firm, but not critical, or explosive, giving valuable guidance, as needed, and always be open to what they have to say.
So, as a parent you are your child's teacher, and your child will also be a teacher for you. We teach, not from lecturing or preaching, or yelling, or criticizing, but by calmly and clearly showing the consequences of choices and behaviors, and asking some thought provoking questions that children can take a look at, and answer for themselves. Give clear boundaries without being fanatical. Too strict boundaries create rebellion, but too lenient ones create chaos. So, your job is to find the happy medium - what is reasonable, and fair, and safe. Be aware of not coming from fear, or rage, which will cloud your judgment. If something your child did has upset you, be honest about that, without intimidating the child, but with a clear and appropriate tone of voice and response to their behavior. Sometimes that may mean coming on stern and very strong, but do not become harsh in a harmful way, or critical. Certain things are NOT acceptable, and your response and the consequences set must be appropriate. Letting a child know ahead of time what a consequence will be, if they do such and such, takes it out of the realm of punishment, for they have been forewarned then, and it is a choice on their part to either follow or disregard the standard set for behavior.
Punishment often feels unfair and arbitrary. Knowing what the consequences will be ahead of time, however, is not unfair, if the consequences themselves are fair and are naturally a result of, and fit the situation. By setting up consequences ahead of time, and informing the child what they will be, then, if a child disregards the boundaries, they know what the consequences will be. Then, it is of the utmost importance that you make sure that YOU enforce the consequences as you said you would. Otherwise, you're a pushover, and someone whose word cannot be trusted, someone who cannot be counted on, and therefore you are not worth their respect: they again get the message that there will not be consequences to their actions, and that there is no real honesty or integrity between you.
Give clear boundaries about what your child may or may not do at a certain age while living in your home, and give clear guidelines about what is respectful behavior and what is disrespectful, abusive, and self gratifying behavior. Allow and set it up that your child participates in the chores and jobs required of living in a home, as they also live there. This teaches respect, care for, and responsibility toward others, and an awareness of giving back to those who give to them. Watch out for trying to get your child to be what you were not. Do not set your child up to be the greatest athlete, or chess player, or violinist, or math genius, unless that is what they, themselves desire. Let a child be a child, especially for the first 7 years of a child's life. During that time, one of their main jobs is to play and to get used to being in a physical body. Parents who overtax their children with this lesson and that, and rush from soccer practice to piano lessons, or what have you, are not allowing their child the down time to just be, or integrate what they have learned in life. That is too stressful and hectic for a child, and it overloads the system. Children need time alone to be in nature, or to just play and imagine with friends.
Too much TV is an immense detriment, as it gives the child already formed and programmed images rather then letting the child play with and develop his or her own imagination and creative abilities. Spend enough quality, relaxed time with your children, doing things you both enjoy, so that they know they are worth your love, time, and energy. Read to them at night when they are younger, and create those secure, warm moments and memories that last a lifetime. For, before you know it, in the blink of an eye, your time with them will be over, and they will be gone. You don't get to do it better all over again. Once it's done - it's done. We can go forward, and be better parents from any moment on - but we can not change or undo or recapture the moments we had, or how we lived them. Develop family traditions that all look forward to, that increase a child's sense of roots, security and wonder. Teach them what is True - that we are All One - the Family of God together, with all of our wonderful differences and uniqueness... and that there are many paths to God, or Selfhood. Teach them that we all have the right to choose which Path is right for us.
Parenting is probably the most complex, tough job on the planet. It is definitely the most responsible thing you will ever do. Bringing in a life - then caring for that life, loving it with all that is within you, and teaching it to survive and thrive successfully, is a massive undertaking - and a huge honor. Amazingly enough, no one teaches us how to do that in life. Somehow, we're just supposed to pick it up, or learn it somewhere. We do not learn it in school. I think that classes in parenting and in being in relationship in a healthy way are terribly needed, from perhaps fifth grade on up, as most of us all become parents, and all of us are in relationship of one sort or another, all of our lives. But, no one teaches us how to do it well. How often will most of us use chemistry, physics, or calculus, and yet we are constantly in relationships, needing to know how to operate within them in a healthy way, all of the time. We do not come in with a rule book about how to be in relationship in a good way, how to communicate well, or how to be a good parent, when we are born, and often the role models we have in our own parents carry the dysfunctional patterns of generations in them. So, copying them, which most people do, unthinkingly, or using them for role models does not usually work out very well.
Take parenting and communication classes whenever you can, and do not be afraid to face your own issues and clear them up when they arise. Develop loving compassion, balanced with fairness and firmness. When you do your own inner work, you are serving and helping your children and your family, and yourself, more then you know, in the best possible way. Hopefully then, the role model they get from you is one that is clearer and healthier then what has come before. Do not let your fear or pride get in the way of doing the inner work you need to do, to be the best parent you can be.