How To Be A Not-So-Average Parent

There are some things in life that it’s just fine to be average at.  For instance, you can be an average bowler and still enjoy the game.  You can be an average gardener and you’ll still get some lovely greenery and blooms in your garden.  Face it, not even Master Gardeners have a 100% success rate.  You can’t always account for deer or bugs getting in the garden.  I’m not a Master Gardener but I do pretty well with my butterfly and shade gardens and other landscaping.  Still, the deer got my butterfly weed this year.  Usually by this time of summer they have gorgeous orange flowers but some deer munched them a month or so ago and it looks like they are completely done for.  Ah well.

In any case, while there may be a number of situations in life where being average is just fine, it is not a title any parent should aspire to.  Yet, it seems to me that far too many parents have believed the lie that being average is good enough.  After all, at some point all our children will make their own choices and we’re not really responsible for those, right?  Well, I have never believed that and I am not politically correct enough to avoid pointing out that if you are going to be a parent you have obligated yourself to put your dreams, aspirations, and “fun” on the back burner, if necessary, in order to devote the kind of time it takes to raise responsible human beings.

So I have decided to compile a list of what I think are must-have qualities if you want to be a not-so-average parent:

1) You must be able to give orders.  Oh, I know we’ve been told that our children’s “feelings” will be permanently damaged if we actually, you know, parent them.  But I have learned from 27 years of raising kids (and over 20 years of homeschooling) that while being a good negotiator is certainly a requirement for cops dealing with hostage takers, it is not such a necessary quality in a parent.  You are the adult for a reason.  Your child is, by definition, inexperienced, self-absorbed, and ready to take advantage of any weakness they see in your determination to be the adult in the house.  I’m not saying your house should be run like a boot camp.  Far from it.  Hugs should be dealt out liberally.  At appropriate times our children should be allowed to express their feelings.  But this is not a God-given, inalienable right any more than it is your right to tell everyone you meet what you think of their clothes, figure, intelligence or whatever.  There are times when it is fine for your kids to tell you what they’re feeling and there are times when it just doesn’t matter.  There are also appropriate ways for them to express their feelings.  For example, I once was talking to someone – who shall remain unnamed – and their child yelled at them, “I hate you” because the kid was being told it was time to come home.  In case you didn’t already know, this most definitely is unacceptable behavior!  If any of my kids did this to me they would immediately know that they had made a major faux pas.  On the other hand, because of the way I have trained my children none of them ever have said something like that to me and I’m not sure it would have ever occurred to them to do so!

Am I saying this is easy?  Of course not.  Kids have a way of just wearing you out.  And if you have more than one child, I can practically guarantee that you will end up with at least one strong-willed child!  Out of my four children I ended up with two quite stubborn, strong-willed kids – I won’t tell you which ones they are but if you have an “in” with my daughter you could ask her…she certainly knows!  Nevertheless, parenting is, to some extent, a war of wills and you must make sure that your will outlasts that of your child.  Their future absolutely depends upon it!

2) Pick your battles wisely.  There is a balance to what I said above.  There is no need to battle your child over every little thing.  Something else I have learned in all these years of parenting is that there are three things you essentially cannot control when it comes to your kids: when they sleep, what they eat, and whether or not they will go to the bathroom.  Yet it seems that these are the three things that parents spend most of their time and energy battling their kids about!  It would take too long for me to get into my opinions on those various issues but l will say that there are far more important “battles” that you need to win when it comes to being a not-so-average parent.  For instance, as I alluded to above, your child should treat you with respect at all times in their behavior, attitude, and speech.  This topic inclines me to go on a tirade concerning the whole “we have to expect our teenagers to rebel” mantra of the present age.  There are few things that cause my blood pressure to go up more than this out-and-out lie.  Do you realize that the whole concept of “adolescence” is a humanistic 20th century construct?  The idea that kids hit a certain age where we must “expect” them to be rebellious is frankly, a lie straight from the devil.  And if you don’t believe in the devil it still doesn’t make it any less of a lie.  In any case, I am a firm believer that your children will generally live up to what is expected of them so when parents expect their teenagers to rebel, it is essentially a self-fulfilling prophecy.  My kids have never used drugs or alcohol and they are all committed to remaining pure until marriage because that’s what I expect of them (and I made sure to convey those expectations regularly and clearly – I actually don’t need a PSA to tell me to talk to my kids about sex – I have talked to them at length about the subject and I don’t just “tell them to wait.”  I tell them that the Bible makes it clear that the only acceptable place for sex is within marriage and that marriage is between one man and one woman, no exceptions).

3) Make the punishment fit the crime. While I’m not against corporal punishment I think too many Christian parents (particularly) think that spanking is the only proper means to deliver correction.  My philosophy is that spanking should be reserved for outright rebellion and situations where your child is causing harm to, or could cause harm to, their self or others.  In other words, if your child suddenly lets go your hand and begins to run into the street or into a parking lot, a swat on the bottom is certainly appropriate.  Likewise, if your little one is exhibiting outright defiant behavior, again a swat on the bottom may be appropriate.  I realize there are some that think any form of corporal punishment is “abusive.”  This is ridiculous.  In fact, I think children intuitively know that it is appropriate at times.  Why do I say that?  Well, for example, I remember one day when my daughter was five and my oldest son was two I asked my daughter why she didn’t get upset when I disciplined her brother (by spanking him) in spite of the fact that he always cried when I spanked her.  She told me, “Because he deserves it.”

But as I said, I do think that spanking is sometimes overused and for some children may never be appropriate.  My middle son did not respond to spanking at all.  He would just resist correction even more.  One day, out of frustration at not being able to get him to apologize to one of his siblings for something he had done, I told him to go sit on his bed.  He did…and he immediately started crying and saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”  Being the social kid that he is it was a much worse punishment for him to be separated from the family than to be spanked.  It became my punishment of choice for this child and it worked amazingly!

Again, I think that parents would do well to be a little creative when it comes to correcting their children, particularly as they get older.  Dealing with sibling rivalry and bickering is a common aggravation for parents.  My two older sons were great playmates growing up but they would also get into ridiculous arguments (actually they still do but all I have to do now is give them a look or tell them to “stuff it” and they quit).  In any case, I discovered the best way to deal with them when they’d get into one of their tiffs was to separate them.  They simply had to sit apart without being able to do anything.  Just sit.  It didn’t take long for them to figure out they’d be having a lot more fun if they’d make up and play nice!

4) Keep your promises.  Let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no.  The “keep your promises” admonition is actually a two-sided coin.  On the one side, don’t constantly threaten your child with punishments you have no intention of carrying out.  We’ve all seen parents like this.  You might call them the “if you don’t do what I say right now I’m going to…” parents.  Their children continue right on doing what they’re doing and the parent keeps threatening until, more often than not, mom (or dad) blows up and thoroughly over-reacts to the situation because they failed to follow through.  Be sure if you tell your child that there will be a certain consequence to their misbehavior that you are prepared to follow through on that declaration.  Children with parents who don’t follow through on threats of punishment quickly learn how to manipulate situations and they eventually become the kind of kid no one wants to be around.

On the other side of that coin is the need to keep your promises to your children.  One thing I learned early on in my parenting journey was that if my child asked if they (or we) could do this-or-that and I couldn’t give a definite answer either way I would say, maybe.  “Maybe” is a very important word in the wise parent’s vocabulary arsenal.  It allows you time to think through the request that has been made.  If you are too quick to say “no” and then change your answer to a yes after your child looks at you with their big eyes and says, “pretty please” (or they simply beg and plead) your child will quickly figure out this game and you will in fact be reinforcing negative behavior.  On the other hand, if you say “yes” too quickly and then have to change your mind once you realize you already have other plans or it just won’t work out, you teach your child that you are undependable and untrustworthy.   Often I like to have a little time to think over the request.  Or I may need to consult the calendar.  “Maybe” gives me options.

5) Stay home to raise your kids (and homeschool them!)  Why the suggestion that mothers should stay home to raise their children is so controversial is beyond me.  Now granted, there are more and more stay-at-home dads these days and if that arrangement works better for a family, then by all means, do it.  The point is that you, the parent, are raising your child – not the daycare center, not the public school…you.  And that is the way it should be.  God did not give you these precious gifts, these individual and unique human beings for you to throw them in cookie-cutter situations where they will be inculcated with someone else’s values.

Moreover, the suggestion that families who choose to have a parent stay home to raise their children do so because they can “afford to” is not only ludicrous, but it’s insulting.  I have, frankly, grown very tired of having it inferred, if not said outright, that the reason I have been home with my kids for 27 years is because my family can “afford it.”  The truth is, my family, like many other families with a stay-at-home parent (and/or who homeschool) simply do without many of the “things” that our society has told us are essential.  My husband and I were married 11 years before we owned a three-bedroom home.  We already had two kids and, in fact, the reason we were able to buy that home was because we lived in Homestead, Florida (otherwise known as “Hurricane Central”) when Hurricane Andrew decided to plow through.  The home we bought had few ceilings, needed a new roof and flooring, as well as many other repairs.  We could “afford” it because it was barely habitable and the owner was selling it for a song.  We spent the next 18 months making repairs.  In fact, when we first moved in, my husband and I and our two children shared one bedroom because it was the only bedroom that had a ceiling!

I drove beater cars for most of my adult life including two years that I shared a 1987 Acura Integra with my daughter.  At the time the car was already 20 years old and had no air conditioning.  Do you have any idea what it is like to drive an un-air-conditioned car in Florida in the summer?

We rarely had vacations and have never taken our children skiing or to see the Grand Canyon.  Actually, we’ve rarely been out of the state of Florida!  My husband works in the construction industry.  Most people don’t realize that those working in the construction industry rarely have the types of benefits other industries have: there’s usually no health insurance, certainly no vacation pay.  If you’re not working you’re not making money, so you surely can’t afford to take a vacation.  We own our own company now which means we have to buy our own health insurance – a major medical policy with a $10,000 deductible (my doctor’s office doesn’t seem to believe there is such a thing – every time I go in there they are like, “What is with this deductible?!”)  And again, if my husband isn’t working we aren’t making money so in the last two years the most “vacation” we’ve had is a long weekend at the beach.

I’m not asking anyone to feel sorry for me, I’m just tired of hearing that families that choose to have a parent (usually the wife) stay home to raise the kids do so because they can “afford it.”   In most cases they are simply doing without in order to raise the children God gave them.

I could certainly say more about the whole “staying home” debate but this post is already quite long so I’m going to stop here.  I hope that my tips for being a “not-so-average parent” sparked something in you – perhaps affirming choices you’ve made or reminding you why you are doing this parenting thing in the first place.  I hope you’ll take the time to share your thoughts in the comments and then share this post with your friends.  You never know who might need a little encouragement or advice today!

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  • Captious Nut

    But is it possible to change anyone?  The wuss parents seem hopelessly immune to these suggestions. 

    Personally I think that parents won’t discipline kids, give them chores, and have grown-up expectations of them in part because of *wealth*.

    We couldn’t spill juice, eat half our dinner, or leave the lights on because my parents were scraping by.  But today even so-called poor people have cable TV, cordless cell phones, can eat to a point of obesity, etc.  As a nation we’re just so much more materially wealthy.  So what does it matter if little Joey left his basketball or jacket at the playground?  No one is going to yell at him.  And if he gets a bad grade….it must be the teacher’s fault!

    • Anonymous

      I’m aware that you live in an area where there are a lot of families that are quite well-off and I am sure that you see maybe even more than your share of really spoiled kids.  Where I live, most of the people we know are, like us, working really hard (especially in this economy) just trying to keep afloat.  I think the problem I see more has to do with “peer pressure” among adults.

      Our society makes a big deal out of being “different” and “taking risks” but the fact is that it’s mostly lip service.  Few people learn to buck the peer pressure mentality they’ve grown up with and are still trying to fit in.  The last thing many parents want is to be perceived as one of those “strict” parents who “never let their kids do anything.”  Many are also too worried about being popular with their own kids to actually parent them.

      It takes some moxie these days to go against the grain by staying home with your kids, telling them no you’re not going to have a boyfriend when you’re thirteen (imagine!) and by the way, I’m going to be homeschooling you (and no, it’s not optional).  Most people are just not willing to pay the price of being different (and possibly unpopular).  But the only way to get different results is to do things differently.

      Thanks for stopping by and offering your observations!

  • Anonymous

    I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone from homeschooling!  But as you say you have lots of time to learn and there are plenty of resources out there.  I would encourage you to start with “Homeschooling: The Right Choice” by Chris Klicka.  You can read a review of this book on my “Reviews” page.  And if you have any specific questions please fill out the form on my “Contact” page and I’d be happy to try to answer any questions you may have!