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Dear Mom and Dad,

Parenting is not easy and we all come to realize this. It’s truly the hardest job you will ever have and possibly the most important.

Kids need structure- the school day provides that, your meal schedule provides that, your routines on Saturday for chores or Sunday for church, these are all forms of structure. More than keeping us busy, they give our kids the picture of how we do life, how we manage our time and our priorities, it becomes a rhythm.

It makes them feel secure,

It helps them know we love them.

It lets them know they are taken care of and don’t need to be the grownup.

Consider this…

What if there were no stripes dividing the highway, no bots dots to separate lanes, no walls or fences between you and the guy next door?

You would feel vulnerable, naked, a bit fearful.

We all need boundaries, and structure is a form of boundary. Kids need boundaries, structure, a firm yes and a firm no.

Maybe is usually a delayed no, kids know that. Try not to use it.

If you are conflicted about being their buddy or fear they will dislike you, you are going to be indecisive.

If you think that allowing your children to decide:

When they go to bed ,

If they do their homework,

If they help around the house,

If their electronics are close by all night long,

If they drink alcohol at your house or their friends’,

If children are overseeing their overall governance then you are not their parent. You are roommates.

Gaining back your authority may be a tough one. And if you never had it, life will be hard for you and them as they reach adulthood. You have abdicated that authority when you decided to be friends.

Parenting your children is your primary job while they are growing up.

Consider this, also.

If you are lax with your kids and expect them to appreciate you for that, you are wrong. Your children have friends their age, hopefully. You are not their friend.

You are their port in the storm, their model, their protector, their rudder and their teacher.

Kids who are not cared for in this way feel jipped as adults.

Also, mom’s and dad’s, don’t share your innermost secrets with your children. This is too big a burden for them to carry, it causes you to lose effectiveness and it levels the playing field.

It’s not a level field. Find a friend or therapist to talk to.

There should be a clear separation between the parents and the children. I am not suggesting an adversarial position but I am urging moms and dads to be the grownups in the room. When a mom or dad has used their child as a confidante, that child will not respond well if you decide to show the mother(or father) card when it suits you. You are sending a mixed message.

And for all those who want a democratic household and the kids out number you, you are in trouble.

Fair is not the same thing as democratic.

Here are some basic steps to follow:

  1. State your expectations clearly. Hopefully realistic for your kids ages and abilities;

  2. Be kind and empathic when the kids mess up. They will mess up.

  3. Issue a consequence that fits the offense.( no grounding for life, it is impossible to enforce –you become the jailer)

  4. Give your children a way to earn back your trust, their toys, another chance.

5. Always be willing to give another chance. Kids need successes, another chance after the consequence provides this success.

6. And always love them. If you consider that kids become adults one day, figure out what kind of adults you hope to have in your life one day. Have that be your goal.

And since I mentioned grounding, please consider grounding a form of teaching. If you are furious in the moment and issue an impossible threat that you cannot carry out and your child knows it, you will look and feel foolish. Calm down before you make idle threats that you cannot enforce.

As for being a grownup, never get as angry as your child. Know your own limits, recognize when your blood pressure, anxiety, fury is rising. Don't keep going at this rate. Yes these precious people can make us so angry… usually when we are feeling fearful for them, afraid for ourselves or worried about their future.

Calm down before you continue. Think of what you are modeling

The abiding lesson becomes ‘I can calm down, you can calm down, we don’t make decisions out of anger’, we are careful and hopefully way more effective. ‘

As for respect I hope all of us want our children to respect us.

Ideally I hope we all want to respect our children as well.

Respectful people speak respectfully, we model respectful talk, we expect it in return.

We cannot expect it if we use harsh words, foul language or cutting remarks with our children or in their presence.

And finally don’t lose hope. No, our children don’t come with instruction manuals but there are great resources for parenting.

Today we know so much more than our parents or grandparents about development, brain science. Here are just a few resources that will help you. Your children will benefit. They may even thank you one day.

Daniel Siegel

No Drama Discipline

The Whole Brain Child

Parenting from the Inside Out