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Smart Stepfamilies

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Parenting: Keeping the End in Mind



Ron L. Deal, President, Smart Stepfamilies



[ Editorial Note: The process of parenting in stepfamilies is very different than in biological families.  However, once you establish a workable parenting team (see this series on Smart Stepparenting), general discipline strategies become useful to parents and stepparents alike.  This article is part of a series on general parenting strategies. ]



Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction

and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.

They will be a garland to grace your head

and a chain to adorn your neck.

Proverbs 1:8-9, NIV



            Now, if we could just get them to listen!  Parenting is a challenge, a journey that never ends with a destination to which we’ll never arrive.  Parenting is a work in progress.  We will never fully achieve perfectly behaved children—or a perfectly behaved parent for that matter!  Yet, we press on, both in self-training and child-training.  Even God himself, the first parent, experienced the frustrations of parenting.  The first time He said, “Don’t,” Adam and Eve went right out and did it.  And alas, there were consequences.  God’s punishment was that Adam and Eve should have children of their own!  And here we are, thousands of years later, trying our best to teach our children to “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5) so they can gain wisdom “for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life” (Prov. 1:2-3). 


            Wisdom is a long-term goal, but sometimes we get caught up in a short-term parenting perspective.  For example, we can discipline children harshly and generate immediate behavioral change, but that doesn’t always lead to long-term growth.  One key goal of parenting is instilling an internal hard-drive into our children which allows them to become independent, value-driven, competent adults.  A child who reacts to parental demands could be described as “obedient,” but might not be learning how to make wise choices for themselves in the future.  For example, dinner is ready and mom announces that everyone should come to the table.  But eight year-old Bryan is playing at the computer and doesn’t want to stop.  Mom begins by saying, “Bryan, I said it’s time for dinner,” but when that doesn’t work she raises her voice, “Come to dinner.”  Two minutes after the family prayer she’s mad and barks, “Bryan Tyler Johnson.  Get in here now.”  (Someone once said the reason children have middle names is so they’ll know when to behave.)  Bryan quickly comes to the table with a pout-face and mutters, “I don’t want to green beans.”  What has Bryan learned?  That he can outlast his mom until she’s really mad and that cooperation is an option.  What was mom’s assumption about getting Bryan to the table?  That this is a battle she has to win, “so he can get a good meal.” 


            What if, instead, mom announced that dinner was ready and that Bryan needed to join the family within the next few minutes if he wanted to eat.  Without sarcasm or threat, mom then proceeds with dinner without Bryan.  When he later appears on his own time, hoping for a meal, mom calmly announces that he’s missed dinner and that he should come back for breakfast.  Later that night, the hunger pains in his stomach will “teach” him that respect and obedience have their reward and that cooperation with others is a blessing to everyone.  The next night Bryan will think twice about ignoring his mother.  Long-term, Bryan is learning responsibility and that choices have consequences.

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