Several times in the last 8 weeks, Jim and I have been on a parenting panel of ‘experienced’ (read that OLD!) parents answering questions for the young families at church. We’ve participated in panels on Parent/Child Relationships, Transitions, and Education Choices, including a discussion of parenting special needs children. It’s been great fun, and we’ve had the opportunity to spend some time reviewing and refining our own parenting practices. Each week, before the panel discussion, we receive a list of questions that will be asked. Not all of them come up, but we try to prepare answers for all so that we don’t look like idiots. :)
The first week, on Parent/Child Relationships, there was one question that didn’t get asked, and I wish it had. The question was
How do you strike a balance between rules and relationship?
It’s a great question. But it wasn’t asked. I’ve spent lots of time thinking about this question over the last 6 weeks. And I think it needs to be addressed. The question assumes that RULES and RELATIONSHIPS are in conflict! They’re not…at least at our house. That’s because at our house there really aren’t rules. Not in the traditional sense, anyway. Rules are generally a set of ‘do’s and don’ts’ for behavior. If you think about it much, you know that most rules are ‘don’ts’ guiding behavior. Instead of rules, we have a set of foundational principles guiding behavior. Why is that different? Because it is not a set of do’s and don’ts. So…what do they look like? This:
- Honor and obey God with our words and actions
- Treat others with kindness, honor, love, and respect
- Watch our words
- Work for God
- Be a good steward
Each of these principles has a Biblical basis, meaning we can support the principle with scriptures. (I have a long list of references for each principle. If you’re interested, let me know. We gladly share!)Having expected standards of behavior is so much simpler than having rules! Why? Well, think about this:
You have a rule in your house that you don’t run in church. But tonight is AWANA, and it’s held at church. It’s your child’s first time attending, and there’s a games portion of the evening. One of the games they play is 'Duck Duck Goose, which requires running. Your child is put in an awkward position—play the game and break the family’s rule about running in church, or choose to obey by sitting out and miss the fun.
Clearly, that’s a very simple problem, but it illustrates well how having foundational principles can be so much simpler. How? Well, at our house there’s no rule against running in church. When our guys have tried it, we’ve talked about whether or not that action is showing respect to those around us. If not, then we choose to honor them by refraining from the behavior. So, if we’re in the gym at a business meeting, running is inappropriate—it’s not showing honor and respect for others. If we’re at AWANA during game time, then go for it! Running is completely acceptable.
Using principles like those above allows parents to equip their children’s decision making tool box with appropriate filters for making good decisions about their actions. That’s the goal of rules, too, but they seldom work that way because there’s no development of internal controls. Equipping children to make decisions, allowing them to do so, then talking about the results of those decisions develops maturity. Works well. The bonus is that there’s no sacrifice of relationship in the ‘foundational principles’ model, since the principles apply to all in the home.
Developing maturity. Strengthening relationships. Equipping children to make decisions. Isn’t that what parenting is supposed to be?