If you missed my post yesterday about controlling parents, I recommend you read it to get the history of our journey.
There was a point last year in our parenting when we would repeat the same phrase over and over again.
“Raven, we just can’t trust you.”
There was a lot of half truths and secrets deeds going on in those days. Every time we caught her in a lie or an infraction of the rules, harsh punishment would follow. Extra chores, no tv/computer for days, a long lecture about honesty and character.
But it only seemed to make things worse.
Slowly over time it dawned on me. I went to Jay and explained:
“Jay, we keep saying that we don’t trust her, but I think the real problem is that she can’t trust us. She doesn’t tell us the truth because she fears our reaction. We aren’t really even giving her a fighting chance to be honest and open with us.”
We both realized that our two main parenting tactics were control and fear. We didn’t intend them to be, but in the minds of our children they were never given the grace to make mistakes. We would say we forgave them, and at the same time they would see our disappointment and dissatisfaction in our actions.
Building Up Trust
We knew that we had to find a different path than the one we were marching down.
Prayer was a huge part of our search for answers. Our children are so precious to us – we were hurting over the idea of losing that close connection with Raven. We prayed for God to deliver us from drifting apart.
I read a lot, and discussed everything with Jay. I asked a lot of questions on the Christian unschooling group.
Let me just explain now that I am looking back on this experience after a year of making slow changes and seeing gradual progress. That is the only reason I am able to give 3 pithy points to building up trust. We muddled through most of it – through trial and error.
And each family is different. Every family has to find their balance of peace and grace. The following advice I’m going to give is to be taken as general principles – ok?
There were 3 basic changes we made to our parenting style, and our way of thinking towards our children, that made a huge difference over the past year.
1. Everything is open to questioning
Every rule, every consequence, and every decision that affected our children became open for discussion. This sounds scary – and it is. But it is NOT about disrespect or your kids getting the better of you.
We simply explained to our kids that if we asked them to do something, or told them that something was wrong, they could require a reasonable explanation.
Sometimes they didn’t even ask for one, Jay and I just realized on our own that what we had been doing was simply out of habit, not out of logic.
Bedtimes, for instance, were always a strict time for each child. There was no compromise on bedtime unless we were travelling or we were doing something as a family. But after opening it up to discussion, we realized that some nights it was ok to let the girls stay up and finish projects – we homeschool and really don’t have to get up early every morning.
2. We set the example first – no double standards
This one I think is still the hardest. It’s easy to tell our kids what to do, and what is right and wrong. But isn’t it a little hypocritical to hold our kids to one standard and let those same (or similar) things slip in our own lives?
I could list a thousand things that parents complain about yet they don’t hold themselves to the same expectations:
- cleaning up after themselves
- doing the same chore at the same exact time every day
- focusing on work/homework
- eating right
- speaking respectfully to family members (kids are family members)
- etc. ad naseum
This step right here set the stage for many humbling experiences for me. I really struggle with some areas of my life. So I went to Raven and apologized for expecting so much from her when I myself was doing horribly at the same things. Now we hold each other accountable and talk and pray about it freely – because it is an area where we both need grace.
3. We give our kids as much freedom as possible, in the areas they desire
It was pretty awesome to see this principle develop in our family. Raven desired more freedom in different areas than Denna. They both wanted responsibility over things that I thought they were just lazy about.
Denna needed to be heard about her taste in foods, and when she was hungry vs. when we said she should be hungry. Raven on the other hand wanted more freedom to use the computer and skype to friends. She also questioned us about quitting Awana and going on to youth group instead – and we eventually left that decision up to her.
We started by simply trying to say yes to more of their requests. If yes wasn’t a possibility, we compromised or we referred to principle #1 – and gave our logical reason for saying no.
Principle 3 is really the antithesis of principle 1. If we couldn’t justify a no, the kids got a yes or at least a “we’ll try”.
Growing Away From Us
The biggest factor throughout these three principles was the idea that our children were their own people, with their own ability to make decisions, and their own portion of the Holy Spirit to guide them.
Both of our girls have faith in Christ and are partakers of the same Spirit and power that we have. They both have received grace from God. So why can’t we treat them as fellow Christians? They may be younger, less mature believers – but does that give them any less importance in the kingdom?
And as they grow away from needing us – shouldn’t we become more democratic in our dealings with them?
Do you have any questions about peaceful parenting or our journey? I would love to share more next week about where we are now in our family dynamic!
Here are some of the books that I read while searching for answers: