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KENDRA SMILEY, named Illinois Mother of the Year in 2001, hosts a daily radio program, Live Life Intentionally, and speaks nationally and internationally. She graduated with highest honors from the University of Illinois then went on to earn her Master of Science from University of North Dakota.
She has written more than half a dozen books including High Wire Mom and Empowering Choices. She and her husband are co-authors of Do Your Kids a Favor...Love Your Spouse and Journey of a Strong-Willed Child. Kendra has also written numerous magazine articles, contributed to several books, and currently writes a monthly column for Hearts at Home magazine.
Kendra and her husband, John, live in East Lynn, Illinois.
Choose to Be the Parent
Honey, hop into your car seat, and I'll buckle you up."
"No! I don't want to sit in my seat! I don't want to wear a seat belt! I don't want to go for a ride!"
Now what? What's a parent to do when a request is denied? What's next when an order is turned down by a four-year-old as though it was an option? What should you do if the command to "hop into your car seat" turns into World War III with your preschooler protesting loudly, kicking furiously, and swinging like a boxer? Now what?
Scenarios like this happen every day. Sometimes the disobedience or threatened disobedience is subtle: "I don't want to get in my seat," the youngster says calmly. "I'm tired. Do we have to go to the store today? Could we go tomorrow?"
Sometimes it is radical: "I hate my car seat," shrieks the toddler. "I hate this car! I hate you!"
No one wants to have her parental authority questioned. When your child's challenge is a mild one, it is upsetting. When the response is extreme, it can be devastating. You think you are failing. Your household has been turned upside down, and you feel like you are the worst parent in the entire world! Those thoughts are very real, but they are not accurate. The question is not, Who is the worst parent in the entire world? (I'd hate to judge that contest.) The question is, Now what?
"I am the parent. He is the child." I said those two sentences more than once as we were raising our kids. Who was I trying to convince? Probably both of us, myself and my child. Actually, it was more of a reminder—a reminder I needed when there had been a mysterious role reversal. Saying, "I am the parent. He is the child," helped me restore each one of us to our proper place.
"I am the parent." Sounds simple, doesn't it? Of course I'm the parent. Obviously I'm the parent. I'm older. I'm wiser. I pay the bills. I make the decisions. I'm the one who is in charge. Well, um, maybe not all the time. In fact, my recollection is that the two sentences quoted above were uttered because I had momentarily abdicated the throne and was no longer in charge (or at least things were moving in that direction). Somehow, one of my little sweeties, albeit the cunning toddler or the charming grade school boy, was taking control. Granted, he was neither qualified nor chosen to be in command, but evidently he had forgotten that he was the child and that I was the parent. And I guess I had forgotten it too! I was in the same position as the parent with the car seat protestor. An order was given and was being debated. That parent's authority was in question.
Who's in Charge?
"We have a problem in our home," the young father began as he was handed the microphone. We had just finished a strong-willed child seminar and had opened it up for questions. "We have a problem in our home," the father said. "Our four-year-old daughter is running the house. What can we do?" That was it. This dear man was obviously at the end of his rope, and the knot he was clinging to was fraying. His authority had been usurped by a very strong-willed child.
The honesty of that father must be appreciated and applauded. In the auditorium, heads nodded in affirmation, agreement, and commiseration. Confusion of the roles of parent and child is not unusual. After having addressed thousands of parents and answered numerous questions in seminars, workshops, and via email, I can attest to the fact that role reversal is a common problem.
So what is the answer?
The first step is precisely what we heard from that father: Admit it when there is a problem in need of a solution.
STEP (1) Admit it when a problem exists.
"You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
By holding this book in your hands, it would seem that you are willing to admit, or at least consider the idea, that there is room for help in some areas of parenting. Admitting that a problem exists may appear very simple. Simple, yes. Easy, not necessarily. For many, this first step is extremely difficult. It seems to be easier to ignore difficult situations, hoping that "with time things will change." Yes, things will change with time, but if you have compromised your role as the parent, the change will not be very pleasant.
God wants you to know and admit the truth. If you are to be "free," you must deal in the facts. The father we heard from at the seminar was willing to acknowledge that somehow, somewhere, for whatever reason, he was no longer functioning as the parent, as the one in charge. Perhaps that is the case in your home. Maybe you are tired or under stress in another area of your life. Sleep deprivation is one very common stressor for parents. Maybe you are a little defensive or overprotective when it comes to parenting. Maybe, for whatever reason, you feel inadequate. "The truth will set you free." What is the truth about your situation?
The car seat protestor we met at the beginning of this chapter felt self-assured enough to oppose his parent's order. Evidently there was confusion in their family about who was the parent, who was in charge. What is Step 1 for that parent? Admit it when a problem exists. Now is not the time to make excuses. Instead it is time to get help.
Until you realize your parent-child relationship can improve, it is unlikely things will improve. There can be no problem resolution until a problem is identified. That is precisely what I was doing when I announced that, "I am the parent. You are the child." Step 1 must be taken if any further advance is to occur. Admit it when a problem exists, and go on to Step 2.
STEP (2) Build your confidence.
"The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever."
If Step 2 is to build your confidence, it might be appropriate to determine how it eroded in the first place. Many times losing a simple skirmish will trigger the wearing away of a parent's confidence. When you pick a battle, you must win.
Dad is in the local pizza parlor with a group of friends. His child has finished eating, but the group as a whole is not done. Little Hannah starts to squirm in her chair, and Dad tells her to stay seated. Almost before the words leave his mouth, she jumps down and walks around the table to visit with one of the other adults. "Is this really so bad?" Dad asks himself. "She isn't running around or causing a commotion." So he lets it go and doesn't reinforce the instruction that was given.
Is it a big deal for this youngster to leave her seat and walk around the table? No. Is it a big deal to willfully disobey an instruction from her parent? Yes! Dad just lost a battle he chose to fight. His confidence is potentially disintegrating and so is his child's respect for him. It's important to think about your commands before you give them. Pick your battles wisely.
When you choose a particular battle to fight, when you draw a line in the sand, it is essential that you win. The dad in the pizza parlor told his daughter to stay seated. The mother told her son to get into the car seat. These were not points of discussion or items to debate. The children were not asked if they would like to obey.
When an order is given, there is never a debate. And because there is no question, it is important that you give your orders wisely. The little girl must stay seated. The little boy must get into his car seat. If once or twice your child has been allowed to "win the battle," then he has learned that the orders given are debatable. Your authority and confidence are in jeopardy.
If losing daily skirmishes can tear down the confidence of a parent, what will build it up? The obvious: winning the daily skirmishes. Also a parent's confidence may be bolstered by something as simple as doing a reality check.
Too often, parents have given up their rights and responsibilities because they have lost track of what is truly reality. That four-year-old darling who had taken over the house had managed, consciously or unconsciously, to convince the adults that they were not capable of being the parents. She had persuaded them that she was better equipped to be in charge, and obviously, she was more than willing. The preschooler who was not interested in following the instruction to get into his car seat and buckle up was also questioning his parent's authority. The pizza parlor prowler completely ignored the words of her father.
These kids had taken charge or were threatening to do so. So what reality does a parent need to examine to build his confidence? It is the reality that your child is not prepared cognitively, experientially, or emotionally to be the one in control. No child has the skills needed to Be The Parent.
Perhaps the best illustration of this is one that borders on the ridiculous. Imagine riding in the car with your preschooler and taking turns at the wheel. You drive for a while and then hop out of the driver's seat and he takes over. Good idea? Of course not! He's only three! He doesn't have the skills to drive a car. He can't even reach the pedals. No parents would give control of their automobile to their child. Then why give your child control of parenting, a role that the child is not capable of handling? This decision could be equally destructive.
Snap back to reality! It is NEVER best to allow your child to control your household. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, you are better equipped for the job of being in charge. Your confidence level should be raised just by doing a reality check.
Back to reality
Please repeat after me ...
I am the parent ... THAT is reality.
He (or she) is the child ... THAT is reality.
I am older and wiser ... THAT is reality.
God has given me the parenting responsibility ... THAT is reality.
He will equip me to do the job ... THAT is realty.
I can have God-given confidence in my role ... THAT is reality.
I am the parent!
If it is your goal to Be The Parent, you must choose to, Step 1: Admit it when a problem exists; Step 2: Build your confidence (with a heavy dose of reality); and ...
STEP (3) See the vision.
"Where there is no vision, the people perish."
—Proverbs 29:18 KJV
God gave Adam and Eve, the first earthly parents, a twofold task as they started their life together in the garden. He told them to, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it" (Genesis 1:28). Complying with the first part of that instruction was not difficult then, and it is not difficult today. Becoming a parent, conceiving a child, being fruitful and increasing in number—that is usually the easy part. The difficulty comes with subduing that fruit! Therefore, it is important to have a vision. A vision will help you keep your focus. It will help you from being shortsighted.
What is your vision for your child? I am NOT talking about deciding that little Jimmy, only five years old, will one day be the pianist of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. I am not suggesting you declare that particular intent and then go after it with abandon even if little Jimmy hates the piano and has absolutely no musical ability. That is not what I mean when I challenge you to have a vision. A vision, as I am referring to it in this case, is more general and overarching. It is not a future career goal or a benchmark of society. It is not you desiring for your child to become what you have become or achieve what you have achieved. Nor is it expecting that your child become or achieve what you have not.
Let me share the vision my husband and I had for each one of our sons. We wanted to help our children "sing the song God put inside of them." This is the type of overarching goal or vision any parent can adopt. That was the vision we saw for our boys.
Seeing the vision for your child is akin to the concept presented in Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby and Claude King. The reader is encouraged to find where God is already at work and come alongside Him.
God is a sovereign ruler of the universe. He is the One who is at work, and He alone has the right to take the initiative to begin a work. He does not ask us to dream our dreams for Him and then ask Him to bless our plans. He is already at work when He comes to us. His desire is to get us from where we are to where He is working. When God reveals to you where He is working, that becomes His invitation to join Him.
Where is God working in your child's life? What skills and interests and abilities has He given your son or daughter? Identify these and get in step to enhance them and to help your child "sing his song."
The vision we had for each of our sons was to help them "sing the song God put inside of them." That was the way we worded it. We did not set out to help them sing "our song," or the song we determined they must sing. "Train a child in the way he should go" (Proverbs 22:6, emphasis mine). Each one of our three sons was and is very different. How can three boys with the same parents, the same grandparents, living in the same community, attending the same church, all be so different? Because that is what God intended. If our Creator can make each snowflake an original, I'm certain that creating every human being to be unique is in the realm of His ability.
"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made."
That verse is the beautiful, poetic explanation of each person's individuality. My sons used a more humorous approach. "Mom always reminds people that they are unique—just like everyone else!" Yes, we are all different, all unique, and each one of your children and mine is an individual. So how did we go about accomplishing this vision? We had to carefully observe our boys and get to know them as individuals. We had to listen to their dreams, their fears, and their ideas—starting when they were very young.
Listening takes time—time alone with each child and time together as a family. We took the time to work together and to play together. But it isn't just time; it's listening too. You must listen as your child expresses himself. Too many times, parent-child dialogue is actually parent-driven monologue. And usually that monologue sounds like a list of dos and don'ts, like an instruction manual. "Don't do that. Do this." We already live in a noisy world. You will have to make a conscious choice to listen to your child.
The Five-Day Challenge
So how can you be intentional when it comes to communication with your child? Take the five-day challenge. Announce that for the next five days, the car is not only going to be a transportation vehicle but is going to become the place for conversation. All distractions: cell phones, DVD players, CDs, the radio are forbidden, outlawed for five whole days! The only sounds allowed within the confines of the automobile will be those of the driver and passengers engaged in conversation! This will be a chore for most families who have found these distractions very convenient. They may be convenient, but they definitely stifle communication. The challenge is to turn off the distractions for five days and connect with your family. You will need to ask open-ended questions to begin the conversation. For example:
1. Tell me about your favorite piece of playground equipment. Why do you like it? Do you think I would like it?
2. What is one color you really like? Can you guess what my favorite color is? Why do you think I like that one?
3. Do you have a favorite song?
4. Can you remember the Bible story from last week's Sunday school lesson? Did you learn a Bible verse this week?
The questions do not need to highlight monumental things. The point is to converse. Be a listener and be willing to share. Obviously the questions will change as the age of your child changes. There were times when we made the conversation into a guessing game.
"Who was in Sunday school today?" I would ask.
"Try to guess," was the answer.
And then I would guess various names (some legitimate, some silly) and our conversation was fun and lively.
Take the five-day challenge anytime you feel that communication has been stymied. Pay attention and you will actually hear what your child is thinking and dreaming. The better listener you become, the better opportunity you have to help your child determine the song that God placed within him—and the more likely you are to see the vision come to life!
Being able to see the vision for each one of your children is an important part of proactive parenting. Just as it is important for the mother of our original car seat protester to admit that she needs help, and to build her confidence through a reality check, she must see the vision for her child. As this mother strives to help her son sing his song, she will have increased determination to calmly and confidently win the battles she has chosen. This mother can be certain of the value of restoring and maintaining peace. By being the parent, she will ensure that the time she and her son have together will not be wasted in useless, disrespectful chaos but will instead be positive and productive.
Excerpted from Be The Parent by Kendra Smiley, John Smiley, Ali Childers. Copyright © 2006 Kendra Smiley. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1. Choose the Parent
2. Choose to Be a Role Model
3. Choose to a Present
4. Choose to Be an Encourager
5. Choose to Discipline in Love
6. Choose to Allow Failure and Success
7. Choose to Pray
Posted April 9, 2011
Let me paint a picture of something that happened somewhere today. A little girl, younger than 3, went to the door to open it. The woman in the room, who was not the little girl's mother, reminded her that she was not allowed to go outside by herself. She looked back at the woman and reached up for the door handle with the look that tells an adult "I'm going to do what I want to do." The woman reminded her not to open the door and that the little girl was not in charge. The father, who happened to be present in the room, replied "Well, she makes the decisions at our house." The father had no compunction or regret in his voice. It was as if a smirk could be detected in his tone. He didn't tell her to wait. He didn't tell her to stop. He didn't even tell her not to open the door. The danger in the situation is that two days ago, this little girl climbed into her parent's car--into the driver's seat when no one knew it. Her older sister followed her with glee and smiled at the angry faces that found them where they were not supposed to be. What if the car had shifted into gear? What if it had rolled backwards into the street? Outside that door was a world where a tiny little girl could easily be run over in the street when the little girl is one who will not listen, but would rather run into the street if she pleases.
I once had a mother say to me that she didn't have the energy to discipline her daughter. My heart hurt deeply with the conviction that we have to do what our children need us to do. We need to be their parents--even if there are times when one parent isn't present for one reason or another. There is no justifiable excuse for us to check out and abdicate our responsibility as our child's parent. There are enough times we get distracted on accident--we need to be careful not to check out on purpose.
We need to be our child's parent. It is important for them and for us.
The week before last, I read this book by Kendra Smiley with input from her husband, John Smiley. Ms. Smiley talks about the seven basic choices that we can make to raise our kids well. On the cover, it actually says "The seven choices you can make to raise great kids." Now, while I actually don't think that we can guarantee that we can raise great kids, we can do the best we can to love them well. That is the point of this book. We need to raise our kids with a vision and goal in mind. I agree with what Ms. Smiley says our goal and vision for our children should be. It should be our desire to a great kid... "someone who loves God, who obeys God, and who glorifies God in what he does." p. 138
The seven choices Ms. Smiley talks about are choosing to be the parent, to be a role model, to be present, to be an encourager, to discipline in love, to allow failure and success, and to pray. This would be a great parenting book for the parents of a little one. It will give them a good balanced view of parenting and what our job as parents is. It really covers all the bases of caring for the spiritual and emotional well being of your child. The What to Expect Series really covers how to care for the physical well being of your child. I would dare say that a child's spiritual and emotional well being are just as important if not often more so.
Ms. Smiley takes a very strong stance that parents are the parents--not the children. It is up to the parents to be do their job and teach, love, and care for their childre