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Parenting Advice #3 January 5, 2006

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Love, Parenting/Children, Religion.
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The third bit of parenting advice that I’ve found helpful came from my mom. Now, to understand the irony of Mom giving me this advice, you should understand that she rarely avoided confrontation. My siblings and I have many memories of standing nearby (in utter horror) as Mom proceeded to create a scene in some public place.

Mom’s advice was straightforward:

Choose your battles wisely.

You may be thinking, “This isn’t exactly rocket surgery,” and you’re right. It’s not. The real question is, “which battles are worth fighting, and which aren’t?”

How (and why) do parents choose to battle to begin with? Consider some common battles:

  • Grades
  • Foul Language/Inappropriate Jokes
  • Haircut/Clothes
  • Body Modifications
  • Church Attendance
  • Movie/Game/TV Show appropriateness
  • Sex
  • Parental Respect (or lack thereof)

Think about it like this, if you’re fighting a war, and you don’t have unlimited resources, you may need to focus them on one battle, even at the risk of losing another. From the above list, would you choose to win a Haircut/Clothes skirmish, and lose the war on Grades? Would you bend the child to your will in the mighty Battle of Parental Respect, but lose Sex Armeggedon?

Years ago, the founder of a company I worked for had a philosophy that went like this: People don’t like rules, so make as few as you can, and only make them for the really important stuff.

Oddly enough, families are like companies in many ways. Do employees love rules? Do they thrive on the structure of a rule-laden organization? I hear parents all the time preaching that “kids need structure,” which is generally translated as “kids need lots of rules.”

I disagree. I think kids (like adults), need rules, but I think a huge obstacle to parental authority (just like in business) is a disconnect with “current market realities.” Businesses regularly adjust the way they do business to deal with the way the market works now compared to last year. Why do parents presume that we can parent the same way today that our parents did 20 years prior?

Instead of just formalizing everything and making billions and billions of rules, I’ve found it more effective to make as few rules as possible, but not giving an inch on the rules that I put down. Another way to look at it is this. If you could only have five rules for your children to follow, but had reasonable expectations that they would adhere to them, what rules would you choose?

Would you choose “Honest and complete communication,” even if it means that you hear things that you don’t want to hear? How do you come up with useful rules, short of being clairvoyant? How many rules is too many? How many is too few?

Consider the following: In the Old Testament, Moses brought down 10 Commandments from Mount Sinai, upon which the seemingly endless rules (well, 613) of the Mitzvot were based. In the New Testament, Jesus was asked to identify the most important. He responded with two, and even identified one as being at the top. Along the same lines, the most successful football coaches frequently have the smallest playbooks.

How thick is your household’s rule book?

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Comments»

1. A Fool and his Words are Soon Parted » Parenting Advice #4: Keeping Your Child Busy - January 6, 2006

[…] One caveat is that you will almost certainly hear time complaints when it comes to homework. The right way to deal with this is to make it clear that there is a “grade minimum,” regardless of whether the team (or organization providing the activity) applies one or not. This is much easier if the organization enforces one. (This is really easy with school-affiliated activities, because they generally understand that the student is a student first.) However, even if you’re homeschooling or involving them in something with an outside organization, you can enforce a “minimum grade rule.” Be careful though, because this may create too many rules. […]


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