After a huge compliment regarding her family, the response got my attention. “I’m not writing the book yet” she said. This humble statement came from a woman admired for her wisdom in parenting. Even as a grandparent she understood–the job of a parent never ceases.
As a father of triplet teenagers, I’m not handing out much parenting advice yet either. I can tell you what’s made a difference for my wife and me so far. We don’t always enjoy parenting, but we do enjoy our children.
When our “Trips” were babies and we took them out in public, all kinds of parents approached us. We knew from their reaction to our train-car-baby-carriage whether or not they were having a good experience as parents. It was never neutral.
Expectations help. We expect to enjoy them amidst the fray, and, we expect there to be a fray. Parenting has no guaranteed outcomes, but I think everyone can come to enjoy it more by learning two rules every good referee knows.
Rule one: Call the game close at the start.
Blow the whistle early and often by setting clear boundaries, naming the consequences in advance, and enforcing them. We forget this regularly, but when we do remember, it’s freeing for both parent and child.
My Dad often said, “You never know what really goes on inside people’s houses.” Doing youth ministry in a church, my wife and I did. We saw two basic approaches. Some parents would call the game close early and others would let things go until it got too rough. Some of them thought boundaries stifled kids’ creative spirit, rather than making them feel secure–and loved. ”
The problem with waiting to enforce boundaries is that the risks kids take to test them get bigger. Like the boy who drove his remote control car along a high wall. When it fell, his parent got him another one, and another. Later, when he raced and wrecked his BMW, his folks felt they had no choice but to take the car away. He was enraged and severely rebelled. When risk is high, fear drives parents to punish rather than to coach and hand over responsibility.
Rule Two: Loosen up in the second half.
Once players get used to how the game’s being called, they need to hear the whistle less in order to maintain fair play on their own. With increased responsibility, kids get the message they are capable. But they also need to know they have room to test and risk.
Sometimes when freedom to fail is missing along the way, kids may come to make a big, bad choice just to make it THEIR choice. They need to practice making smaller, bad decisions and to experience the natural consequences. As Rita Mae Brown said, “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.”
Now, go play ball!
Do you have a story to illustrate the benefits of calling it close and increasing freedom?