May 1, 2019

Don’t Be a Flake

My teenage daughters now work with young children in their part-time jobs, one as a lifeguard and the other in a childcare center, and they regularly share work anecdotes with me. Just the other day, each was recounting recent incidents in which they’d noticed among the parents of the children with whom they work what they refer to as “good parenting” on the one hand and “flaky parenting” on the other.

When they described “good parenting,” they both mentioned calm consistency, wherein a parent set a clear boundary with his or her child and calmly but firmly held to it – without yelling – no matter how hard a child tried to push the envelope. The “flaky” parents, in contrast, were either very terse and negative with their children or did not set boundaries but, instead, allowed their kids to manipulate situations.

Not surprisingly, this discussion led to reminiscing about their childhoods. And, though I know I lost my temper far too often, I was heartened to hear from my girls that what they mostly remember from me is calm consistency. Of course, it irked them at the time that I wouldn’t negotiate when they wanted to argue or that I didn’t give in to a temper tantrum. But now that they’re sort of on the other side, they see as objective outsiders at work the different fruit borne by “good” and “flaky” parenting.

Young parents often tell me they’re afraid their children will “hate” them for setting boundaries and providing discipline; I was sometimes fearful of that myself so I understand. And if a parent’s definition of “discipline” means yelling and belittling and setting random, arbitrary rules for the sake of exerting control, that’s inevitable. But the same will also happen with permissive parenting, wherein a mom or dad sets no boundaries and lets the foolish whims of immature children rule the roost. As my teens have seen, parenting that works falls in between either extreme of its “flaky” alternatives.

Kids really do need structure and boundaries; it gives them security. And they need guidance and correction delivered patiently, in love. If you determine your family’s rules based on your values, communicate them clearly, and then consistently enforce them in the context of relationship – not as a hammer – you can avoid being either kind of “flake” my daughters have noticed.

Photo Credit: moonjazz

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