Dr. Wall discusses how parenting can be a rough area for married couples to navigate. He offers a few Ground Rules to keep in mind.
Fathers, do not exasperate your children.
The Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6:4
This blog to date has primarily been about encouraging couples to be all they can be, to live like husband and wife instead of roommates. One of the most significant responsibilities and privileges of a married couple is parenting. I haven’t really discussed parenting too much on this blog, and I thought it might be good to articulate some specific principles about it. Most of us learn parenting by osmosis, and haven’t even discussed it much with each other. Parenting is fraught with pitfalls and for some it is their Achilles’ Heel. Yet, with keeping a few principles in mind, it can be one of the great joys of our lives.
Parenting is one of the great blessings of earthly life instituted by our wonderful Heavenly Father and our ultimate example. Yet for so many, parenting is life’s curse, fraught with difficulty and heartache. It’s good to have a few basic ideas in the back of our minds.
Here’s a few principles, in no particular order, to keep parenting on the joy side:
Don’t discipline in anger. Kids can test your patience. A bad habit that many parents get into is yelling at their kids. The parents become noisy gongs and irritating cymbals and teach their children to disrespect their parents and to ignore them. Anger is fine in an emergency. Leave it at emergencies. Anger tells you to get even if you use it as a disciplining tool. Your job is not to get even with your children, but to teach them. When you are yelling and freaking out on your children, you are teaching them, alright. You are teaching them that their parent is an idiot. That’s not a lesson you are going to want to major in.
If your child is angry and you let your child’s anger cause you to get angry, you both are being immature. You are the adult here. Somebody has to set an example of how to handle these situations. If you use anger when you discipline, you are just being a bigger bully, because you have the parenting card. This teaches your child to be a bully and to disrespect you.
Here’s a better approach: If you ARE angry, calm down first. Send your child to their room with the understanding that mom or dad will be there shortly to settle matters and that you want them to think about what they’ve done. Then calm yourself down and let the adrenaline dissipate. Then go have a discussion with your child about the consequences of their behavior, whatever it might be.
Disagree about parenting only behind closed doors. Let your kids see you disagree about other things. That’s fine. Kids need to know that mommy and daddy can disagree and that that is Okay. But not about parenting. Except in the cases of abuse, if you disagree with how your spouse is handling a specific situation, bite your tongue and wait for the two of you to have a private conversation. If one of you tends to take things too far with the kids, have a private signal to each other that the two of you need to take a break to discuss how to handle the situation going forward.
If this rule isn’t followed you will have a mess on your hands. For example, let’s say mommy thinks that daddy has gone to far and chastens daddy in front of Junior for daddy going overboard. What has just happened? Mommy and Junior are now triangled together and daddy is left looking like a fool. This will cause most Daddies to lose it and become even madder. It creates tremendous resentment to be humiliated by a spouse in front of one’s children. It teaches the child to play the parents off each other for the child’s advantage. Mom and Dad have lost their authority and now the child is in charge. You are well on your way to creating a monster.
Here’s a general guideline to keep in mind: Discipline should be about 10 percent of parenting. Your relationship with your child should be 90 percent: chumming around, hanging out and having fun. If you find that you are mostly disciplining, something is wrong. In order for your children to listen to you they need to spend time with you and have fun with you and have a relationship with you. If the only relating a parent does is pointing out faults, we’ve got some real problems here.
You don’t have to discipline every infraction. Some things can be totally ignored. Other times use diversion.
For example, let’s say that Junior and Sally are fighting. It’s too easy for one of the parents to come in and yell at the two children. Great. Probably nothing good is being taught here. Another approach: Daddy drops to his knees and says the “monster’s going to get you” while playfully crawling toward them. We’ve diverted their energy to something else. Oftentimes, children bickering is a sign that we need to shake up the activities a bit because the kids are bored or tired of a certain activity. In other words, the fighting the kids are doing is the symptom, not the disease. Treat the symptom (e.g. boredom, fatigue, feeling ignored by their parent!), not the infraction. Wise parents have plan B and C and D in their back pockets.
The number one Parenting Ground Rule, though, is: Our Number One responsibility is to love each other (husband and wife); Our second responsibility is to love our children. This is a theme throughout my blogs. Parents need to put each other first. They set the pattern. They set the example. They create the foundation of the home.
Blessed are the children whose parents put themselves before their kids! REALLY! What is the foundation of the home, if mom and dad love each other first? Love, tenderness, compassion, caring, sacrificial love, acceptance, forgiveness, openness and grace.
What is the foundation, if the kids are first? What will happen to mom and dad’s relationship? What will the kids see mom and dad modeling? Remember: Kids learn by what you DO, not by what you SAY.
-If you tell the kids to quit fighting and mom and dad fight with each other or ignore each other, that is what the kids are learning: to fight or ignore loved ones!
-If you tell your children to be nice, and mom and dad don’t even acknowledge each other’s presence, you will teach your children to be rude.
-If you are more affectionate to your children than you are with your spouse, or if you have more fun with your children then you have with your spouse, you are creating insecure children.
Why? Because the Number One thing children need is a foundation. And that foundation is mom and dad. Their foundation is NOT that the parents each individually love them. Their foundation is that mom and dad love each other. If mom and dad love each other then kids can be kids. If mom and dad don’t love each other, or demonstrate that they love each other then kids will need to freak out and worry what will become of their family. Every kid knows if mom and dad are NOT OKAY THEN I’M NOT OKAY! If mom and dad divorce what will happen to me? Now the kids have to solve the family problems or one or more of the children will rise to be a bigger problem than the parents so that the parents can figure out how to work together on these crazy kids they ended up with!! Crazy, crazy stuff.
Parents who keep these simple ground rules in mind will be well on their way to having a peaceful home with loving kids who later on have peaceful homes with loving kids. These kids will be your grandkids and you will have the joy of seeing the fruit of your love for your spouse germinate the next generation.
That is a legacy worth leaving. But it starts with you loving your spouse.
The blog above builds on the previous one “On Triangling.” If you haven’t read that one, check it out:
On Triangling: An Open Letter to My Niece, Cassi, and Her Husband, Cam, On the Birth of their Third Child, Son, Chase
Dr. Wall uses the birth of his grandnephew, Chase, to his niece, Cassi, and her husband, Cam (their third child), to discuss the important concept of triangling.
Anger Will Get My Point Across! NOT!
Dr. Wall continues his series of blogs on communication by cautioning about using anger as an everyday communication tool. It’s better left for emergencies.
Dr. Wall continues his series on roommates vs. husband and wife by looking at the temptation parents have to invest in their kids and ignore each other. This is fine for roommates; not for husband and wife.
Dr. Wall comments on the importance of real flesh and blood dads being present with their children every day.
Dr. Wall ponders the two paths that lay before us when we get married and become parents. One is a road to maturity. The other is not so pretty.
Dr. Bing Wall is a marriage therapist with a practice in Ames and Urbandale, Iowa. To set up a time to see Dr. Wall click here or call 888-233-8473. For more information about Dr. Wall click here.
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