Parenting is the hardest thing I have ever done. It is also the most rewarding. My wife, Karma, and I struggle and we watch our friends struggle with the demands of parenting. In my law practice, I bear daily witness to the results of parenting styles and the conflict that occurs over which style is the one to use. Free range parents want to give their children as much independence as possible, arguing that it prepares them for the adult world. Meanwhile, helicopter parents endlessly hover over their kids, paying extremely close attention to their experiences and problems.
Karma and I have found that neither extreme works for us. Further, I have seen disastrous consequences of extreme parenting in the twenty three years I have been practicing family law. I believe the key to parenting success is being consistent. Here are my five tips to be a consistent parent.
Get On the Same Page
You and your spouse (or other parent) need to agree about how you will parent your children. Period. To get on the same page you must communicate.. The parents who are not communicating are inevitably the ones who have the most problems especially when the parents are living in separate houses (divorced or never married). Children are smart and they will play mom and dad against each other to get what they want if the parents are not talking about how they are parenting. In our house, Karma and I talk amongst ourselves before responding to a child’s request and this keeps us on the same page.
Be Clear about Expectations (Rules) and Consequences
To be consistent in how you parent you must clearly define your expectations for your child and the consequence for her failure to achieve the expectations. Children cannot magically intuit what they should and should not be doing. Tell your child what the rules are, rather than just expecting her to behave and getting frustrated because she is not meeting your expectations. I have found written core expectations and consequences help with consistency for both the parent and the child. Further, when the expectations and consequences are clear, administering the consequence is easier to do. Please remember that society has a clear rules and consequences and if we do not teach our kids in our internal system (home) they will be taught by external sources and the external negative consequence may last a lifetime.
Practice Authoritative Parenting
The authoritative parent sets high standards, is nurturing and responsive, and shows respect for children as independent, rational beings. Studies consistently show that the children of authoritative parents do better than children of (1) parents who demand blind obedience and are relatively unloving and (2) parents who are loving but permissive. Remember that each child is different and you probably will need to approach each one differently with your parenting.
Give Progressive Independence
As parents in a fast-paced, touch screen, drive-through society obsessed with the result at the expense of the process, it is easy to do everything for children. It’s faster. It’s easier. It’s more efficient. However, the journey to adulthood is the most important journey your child will ever take. Prepare her by giving progressively more independence (responsibility), acknowledging good decisions, and rewarding those good decisions with more independence. Through this process we can teach our children how to critically think, make predictions, test out ideas, work with others, and the value of persistence. This way, when your children make mistake, you can be there to provide guidance and support.
Don’t Worry About Being Liked
No matter what you do, as your child grows older and more impendent, she will want you involved less. How you handle this change is important. Resist the desire to be liked or to be the “cool” parent as it will negatively influence how you parent. Focus on building your relationship with your child by practicing consistent parenting and you will be a great friend and a trusted resource for your child when she is an adult.
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