Parenting in Past Generations — Too Rigid
As I grow older, I see more with the eyes of my heart than I do with those on each side of my big nose. And the aging process has brought me to a greater understanding of my own mom and dad's parenting style. I've learned that things really weren’t as bad as I used to think they were.
My dad, like yours, was less than relational; his focus was on providing for his family. Working at the same job for 38 years; providing was his way of showing love for his family. He demanded respect. He taught us to be responsible because that’s the way he was taught, and he wanted us to live the same way.
My father worked hard because he grew up during the Great Depression, and he knew first-hand the challenges of having little to live on. He also saw to it that our family was protected. Food was always on the table, a roof was always over our head, we all went to college, and the enemy he fought in the South Pacific never marched on our homeland.
Parenting in Today's Generation — Too Relational
Then, the 60’s and 70’s came along. Some called it a revolution. Millions of "Baby Boomers" fell head over heels toward relationships and feelings of love for all mankind. Our music and lifestyle expressed our desire for universal peace and love. We swooned to lyrics like “all you need is love,” and “smile on your brother; everybody get together; try to love one another right now.” There was a “whole lotta’ love” going around. And we “showered the people we love with love...showing them the way that we feel.” Then we took our desire for peace, love and affection right into our parenting style.
Baby boomers as parents focused on maintaining peace and love, at all costs. We determined to have better, stronger relationships with our kids than we had with our parents; carrying out these normally good and healthy desires to an extreme. Out of financial abundance, we gave our kids everything they ever wanted, and more. Modern conveniences allowed for more free time and less responsibility. Soccer moms equipped with minivans shuttled kids from one event or activity to another, with stops at McDonald's in-between. We indulged, spoiled and provided too much "stuff" as misguided expressions of our love.
But Love and Friendships Are Good, Aren't They?
What's wrong with too much love? Nothing! But there is something wrong with it if it is our only focus. To put it bluntly, placing kids on a pedestal and focusing our lives on them created feelings of entitlement. Kids began equating our love with our pocket book and our willingness to do things for them. Their thrills in life came from getting new toys, new clothes, new honors, and new excitements. They became demanding, selfish, adrenalin junkies, searching daily for new thrills. When the excitement ended or the money train slowed, they became angry. We wanted to be the best parents ever, but the more we focused our attention and our money on our kids, the more they fell into anxiety, depression, and outright defiance. After all, they wouldn't admit it, but deep down they were terrified for what they would do after they left the comforts and indulgences of home. Perhaps you have a teenager fitting this description living in your home right now?
I've had the privilege of getting to know over 3,000 such teenagers in our Heartlight counseling program (www.heartlightministries.org) over the past 20 years. These are kids whose parents loved them greatly and gave them every convenience and materialistic advantage in life, yet they developed so many emotional problems that they had to be taken out of their homes. So, I've seen this phenomenon thousands of times; and we continue to receive dozens of pleas for help from parents of out of control teenagers every day.
The crux of the matter is that it is hard to be a good parent when our focus is on having peace, love and friendship with our children. This becomes especially difficult in step-families and some adoptive families. The crucial role of correcting and holding children accountable is impossible when our overriding concern is to avoid any form of damage to our friendship. But what we need to realize is that our children need parents first, not more friends.
So, the big question is this: How do parents establish their position of authority, while also maintaining their relationship with their teen? In other words, how do we find a proper balance without swinging the pendulum too far the other way?
Tell your teenager..."I desire to stand beside you and walk with you in life...but make no mistake; I will stand in front of you when I need to.”
Parenting the Right Way — Balanced
A simple answer is to say things like "No" and "Maybe" more often; and we need to apply boundaries and consequences when our kids cross over the line. Balanced parenting is applying strength when needed; and tenderness at the same time. It is not just one or the other, it is both. The essence of balance in parenting is to stand beside our children and walk with them through life, while also determining to stand in front of them when we need to stop them from their foolish ways.
Kids learn quickly when they come to live with us at Heartlight that I am an authority in their life. But that is always coupled with acceptance and love. That's why we continue to have great relationships with them over the years. I can't count how many times I've been asked to come to their college graduations or weddings, or who have connected with me on the Internet or by phone. And most of them have turned out great, so I know there is hope, even with the most difficult and selfish teenagers. There is a way to resolve this dilemma, but it takes a balanced approach.
Our goal should be to help our kids get to where they want to be, and keep them from going to a place they really don’t want to end up. But since they are too immature to know any better, we need to remain in control, no matter how upset it makes them temporarily. Then, as they mature in their thinking, the reins can be gradually released. Believe me, your kids will express their appreciation when they are older for holding them in line as teenagers, and they'll realize that you did it out of love, not to be mean or rigid. In fact, they'll ask for advice when they have children — and the beat goes on.
Scripture describes God as a mighty warrior and a fierce lion. Scripture also reveals His softer side, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you” (Isa 66:13). One purpose of parenting is to give a child a taste of the character of God, and that means giving them both sides of His character.
It’s never too late to start being a balanced parent; have a loving relationship, while also holding them responsible. Your children need your correction, wisdom, and willingness to help them travel the path God has for them. They need you to be gentle and loving, but also firm — a clear reflection of both sides of God's character.
A wise man once told me, “When you’re called to be a servant, don’t stoop to be a king.” Parents are never a more like a servant than when they willingly love a child through anything. But don’t grow weary in doing what is right, since your first job is to be an authority in your child's life. Your teen needs a parent and a friend, but when push comes to shove, they need a parent more.About the Author: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and executive director of Heartlight Ministries, a residential counseling program for struggling adolescents located in East Texas. Phone: 903-668-2173.