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You’re exhausted, the kids are pleading their case (pitiful faces and all), and suddenly, you can’t remember the reason that you and your spouse ever made the rule they’re protesting.  It would be so much easier to give in than stand strong, wouldn’t it?

Tears would dry. Flushed cheeks would fade to a normal hue. Smiles would replace frowns. They might even applaud you, chant your name with glee.

What’s the harm?  You’ll find out the next time you try to enforce a rule you’ve broken and super-glued back together.  Rule #7 in The Parenting Short List is a must for anyone hoping to raise a child with a healthy respect for authority.

7.  Stick to your guns! 

It’s okay to change your mind, but it’s not okay to cave.  To change your mind is to acknowledge that there is a better way to achieve a predetermined goal; to cave is to go against your better judgment to appease someone else and make things easy on yourself.

Here are a few tips to help you stand your ground when push comes to shove, whine turns to scream, or arm crossing turns into door slamming:

  • Keep the end goal in sight.  Remember that you are not parenting for today or even for tomorrow, but for the day that your child is out on his or her own making independent decisions that will either promote or hinder the Gospel.
  • Make decisions and establish rules that fall in line with the Truth of God’s Word.   You may not find specific answers to every question you have in Scripture, but you will find governing principles to help you set guidelines and establish boundaries.   For instance, the Bible doesn’t say whether or not to let your child eat sugar, but it does say that self-control is important and that we are to be good stewards with what we’ve been given.  Depending on how sugar affects your child, you may find the answer to your sugar question in one of these two principles alone.  (Note:  Our family eats sugar for breakfast!  This is just an example.)
  • Think before you speak.  Don’t make rules just to make them, and when you do make rules, base them on overarching principles rather than minute details.  “Respect one another” is a much better rule than “Don’t tell people they look silly,” and it allows room for interpretation and broad application.  After all, sometimes telling a sibling they look funny is merciful and spares them embarrassment later.
  • Collaborate with your teammates.  Whether you are married or single, you are not in this parenting thing alone.  Even if you don’t have the help of a spouse, parents, in-laws, or siblings, you have God.  Lean on your team.  Listen to them.  Ask their advice, but understand that God is the coach.  He calls the shots, and you do what He says.  Cooperation on this point will minimize confusion, competition, and inconsistency.
  • Refuse to argue.  Listen to your child and their ideas—they might be right—but only do so when they are calm and able to express themselves in a controlled manner.
  • Don’t offer false hope.  Only say “we’ll see” and the like when you are seriously considering changing your mind.  Words like these only delay confrontation and drag conflict out.  If you mean “no,” say “no” and move on.
  • Follow through.  When your child disobeys or breaks a rule, punish them appropriately.  Kids need to understand that there are consequences for every decision they make, good and bad.  If they never feel the sting of correction, they will never develop self-control or master the art of establishing healthy boundaries for themselves. 

If and when you do change your mind from time to time, explain how you arrived at your decision for your own sake.  To the degree that they are able, help your child see the wisdom in your thinking so they don’t come away feeling they have somehow “won.”  The last thing you want to do is give your child the impression that they are in charge, that Truth is relative, or that convenience trumps conviction.   Such beliefs are the stuff that spiritual brats are made of, and you definitely don’t want to raise one of those!

Next time, we’ll find out what parents and marathon runners have in common.