When Sarah was in middle school, sleepovers were the popular event for girls. We had them at our house, and she was invited to other homes. Prerequisite: we needed to know the parents, I had to verify parental supervision and no boys. She was SO embarrassed that I would have to talk to her friends’ parents before giving permission. Neither of our children were allowed to date or attend co-ed parties until they were 16. Of course, we were terrible parents in their eyes by that point. But one thing they knew we would say before we even said it – we are your parents, not your best friends. They heard that a lot! Unfortunately, we see so many parents today striving to be their kids’ friends. Or trying to give them everything they want (or both!) It’s important to maintain a good relationship with your kids. Eat dinner together, play games together, go bowling….have fun! But when the boundaries between parenting and befriending are blurred, you’re in for some trouble. They want and need your guidance and discipline.
Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and reject not your mother’s teaching Proverbs 1:8
This is out of sequence but I thought this tidbit might also be important. Read to your kids, even before they know what the words mean. Instill in them the joy of reading, learning, imagination. As the get a little older, read books that they will remember as they mature. Books like The Chronicles of Narnia, Wind in the Willows, The Hobbit, Where the Wild Things Are. Stories about the saints written for a young audience is a great way to teach them about virtue and faith. And finally, never stop reading adult books by authors like Scott and Kimberly Hahn, Matthew Kelly, George Weigel, St John Paul II, Pope Benedict.
One thing my husband especially instilled in our kids, was the need to be honest. Everybody screws up, including us! But own up to it. If you get drunk and need a ride, call. If you get a ticket or have an accident, call. If you get in trouble at school, you better tell us before the school does. All of these things can be fixed and forgiven. But if you want to maintain trust, don’t lie. Punishment for lying would be far more harsh than the discipline for a mistake. Sarah especially took this to heart and would cry at one disappointed look from her dad. To this day, she can’t lie to us. If she tries, she just gives up and tells the truth.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother.” Ephesians 6:1-2
Guidelines and discipline are important. But without times of encouragement and positive reinforcement, a child can feel as though it’s impossible to live up to parents’ expectations. After correcting an inappropriate behavior, praise them the next time they behave properly. Be forgiving and apologize when you mess up. It’s one of the things I found hardest to do, but any discomfort you experience is worth the lesson you’ll be teaching. Give hugs for no reason at all, just to show them how to be grateful and loving. Express your excitement when they succeed in a task that is normally difficult. Even if you don’t understand their interests, encourage their pursuits. Ask them questions, be sincere. They will want to make you proud.
Our faith is a very important part of our family and frankly, the main reason we have been able to parent in an effective way. My husband and I cannot do it on our own. Others in our faith community, priests, family, friends….all have contributed to our ability to bring up a family in the way of the Lord. Most of all, we pray. To our Father to teach us, Christ to guide us and the Holy Spirit to inspire us. Going to mass, attending religious education or participating in charitable events have always been non-negotiable. Being bored, not wanting to go, not interested – no excuses accepted. Parents should be the decision makers of their child’s spiritual well being, not the other way around. We need to be the teachers and leaders, setting the example for our children to follow. Letting them believe to participate or not is their decision alone can lead them away from the church. And once gone, you may not be able to bring them back.
Recommended resources: The Five Love Languages of Children – Dr. Gary Chapman and Dr. Ross Campbell; The Five Love Languages of Teenagers – Gary Chapman; Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters AND Strong Mothers, Strong Sons- Dr. Meg Meeker; Boys Should Be Boys – Dr. Meg Meeker; Beloved and Blessed – Kimberly Hahn; Legacy of Love – Kimberly Hahn; LoyolaPress.com; RelevantRadio.com; gracebeforemeals.com from Fr. Leo Patalinghug (his book is good, too!); drray.com Dr. Ray Guarendi and his books “Raising Good Kids”, “Discipline That Lasts a Lifetime” and “Good Discipline, Great Teens”.