Before having children, I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Family and Consumer Science. In my college years, I studied human development and psychology. I researched behavioral theories and what makes families work. I learned all about authoritative parenting – the gold-standard, according to the research. I thought I was well-prepared for the rigors of child-rearing.
But real life is not the same as theories and research. It is a whole lot messier, especially in the realm of teaching kids to be decent humans.
This parenting business is a BIG deal. It is not about rainbows, butterflies, glitter, and making childhood magical. Sometimes, it feels like the weight of the world is on my shoulders because I must prepare my five children to turn into actual adults, leave home, and independently navigate the wide world. Let’s be honest, as much as I love them, I don’t want them to live with me forever. It will be better for all parties involved if they grow up and step into lives of their own.
In nearly 20 years of parenting, I have worried all the worries and felt all the fears. At times, I could almost hear my kids on a TV talk show after they were grown, blaming all of their problems on me. But through my worries and misgivings while being tossed upon the stormy sea of child-rearing, I have learned one life-altering parenting lesson:
Effective parenting is not a series of steps and how-tos. It is not a manipulation of rewards and punishments. It is an attitude of leadership.
I know what you are thinking: “But Lynnette, I need to know how to manage various parenting scenarios. I’ve never done this before. What do you mean parenting is an attitude of leadership?”
I don’t know about you, but I want my kids to follow me. I want them to learn the lessons and embrace the morals I am diligently trying to teach them. The best way I know of to encourage my naturally rebellious offspring to follow me willingly is to become a loving, persuasive, and capable leader. One of the requirements of such leadership is confidence.
Effective leaders (and parents) believe in their ability to lead.
As I already explained, I believed in my parenting abilities before I had kids. Once my home began to overflow with stubborn and strong-willed youngsters, however, my confidence went out the window. I was up to my eyeballs in tantrums, back-talk, and children spitting in my face or threatening to run away when they didn’t get their way. My kids were walking all over me, and I was honestly worried about them ending up in prison one day.
When my oldest was about seven, I realized after reading this book that I could not keep going on my current parenting trajectory. I needed a plan that did not include flying by the seat of my pants.
After some serious soul-searching, I concluded that my parenting goal was to raise responsible, respectful, confident, faith-filled adults who were capable of standing on their own two feet. Knowing that would not happen overnight, I had my work cut out for me. But my newly-defined vision made all the difference.
Seeing the big picture made daily decisions easier because I could often quickly discern whether a choice would help me reach my goal or take me further from it. I was less likely to give in to demands of the moment to keep the peace. I was able to make hard calls without worrying about whether or not my kids would like me if they got mad at me. I found myself able to stay calmer in the face of pushback without second-guessing every parenting choice I made because I had a much better idea of where I was going.
Confidence in my parental ability grew with each passing day.
In the 12 years since then, I have faced too many parenting roadblocks to count. I have dealt with an abundance of whining, complaining, eye-rolling, disobedience, dishonesty, selfishness, stubbornness, anger, stress, anxiety, laziness, and disrespect. My kids have told me they hate my guts on multiple occasions and have dramatically blamed me for everything under the sun with all manner of yelling and screaming. I would be lying if I said it had been smooth sailing.
But I can tell you with complete honesty that the parenting goal I laid out so many years ago has saved me. It has given me purpose amidst the chaos that could otherwise become all-consuming. Even during the seasons of parental worry and stress that I have passed through, my desire to raise responsible, respectful, confident, independent, faith-filled adults has provided me with the backbone to hold my ground in the face of opposition and the vision to make course corrections when necessary.
Having a plan has given me the foresight to confidently lead.
Sure, it would be nice to have a step-by-step handbook for parenting each child (because they are all SO different). My experience has taught me, however, that good parenting does not require a detailed manual. The real crux of raising great kids boils down to knowing where you are headed. That vision will give you the confidence to lead your little (and not-so-little) ones to higher ground, one day and one decision at a time. The rest of the story will naturally unfold from there.