Wednesday, February 17, 2016

For Parents: Which Is More Important, Control Or Influence?

Children's self-control needs to increase as their parents' control decreases. 
Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night."                                                                                      - Deuteronomy 6:6-8 (the Message)

"As long as you're under our roof you'll do as we say!" is the undisputed rule in some households.

With that perspective, parents assume the right to fully control their children's choices until they are of age or leave home. Then they are presumably free to do whatever they want, regardless of how they have been taught.

Or is it wiser to gradually give our offspring more and more responsibility for themselves--within some clear and reasonable boundaries--while we are still there to guide and help them with their choices? And in the meantime, to consistently model and teach the kinds of good behaviors and values we want our children to live by?

Of course not everything is up to the child to decide, but a major part of the job description of parents is to "raise" our young, to "bring them up" in a way that helps them become responsible decision makers, and not simply to make all their decisions for them and to "keep them in their place". In other words, the goal of wise parents is to help prepare children to be responsible fellow adults who can function on their own. After all, they will normally outlive us.

Parenting expert Michael Popkin cautions against becoming either "dictator" parents or "doormat parents", but to be assertive moms and dads who recognize that control of our children, which is nearly absolute when they are infants, needs to be replaced by parental guidance and influence as they become older and prepare to launch.

When we are too set on maintaining total control, we tend to lose the influence we hope to have for the rest of our lives. But if we turn over the reins gradually, we will have fewer power struggles and we will likely be more effective in helping prepare our daughters and sons for the real world, which hopefully will not be one ruled by dictators but by citizens working together to create and maintain healthy congregations and communities.

Children are born with a drive to become autonomous and self-controlled. We often interpret that as a form of rebellion, and sometimes it does come out that way, but it is also a necessary part of their growing up and preparing to take their place as fully functioning fellow adults.
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