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Do you ever wish you could step into your child’s mind and see whether or not the things you say make an impact? There are so many parenting resources out there claiming to have the “key” to molding strong, independent kids who grow into successful adults, but how do you know if what you’re doing is actually working?
Today I’m chatting with author Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach about her book Why I Didn’t Rebel. This isn’t a typical parenting how-to guide. It’s written from the perspective of young adults who are reflecting on their childhood, and giving insight into the parenting practices that created closer bonds between parents and their kids versus those that pushed them to rebel.
Parenting Formulas Don’t Work
Parenting formulas so often miss the mark because they are too focused on controlling behavior rather than actually embracing and learning about the person behind the behaviors.
You are the best parent for your kid. They are in your care for a reason, and no one loves them more than you, so you have to learn to trust your gut. Because no one can tell you what is best for your particular child. Every child is different. Every family is different. Every parent is different.
Relationship is built on knowing and really seeing your child for who they are.
Reasons Over Rules
There’s a danger zone when it comes to setting hard and fast rules without exception or discussion.
Rebecca had a lot of friends growing up in homes where there was a very strict, very kind of cold relationship between the parent and the child, even though they loved their kids very much, the interactions weren’t personal. They were more about, “Have you followed the rules? Are you doing things right? Here’s how you’re not doing it right enough… Here’s your punishment.”
But in Rebecca’s family, they didn’t have a rules list on the fridge, and everything had an exception. Because their family structure wasn’t about “don’t run in the house.” It was about why we don’t run in the house: Because we can break things. We can crash. We can hurt ourselves. Because we want to respect the things in our house. Because it will make mommy sad if you break that picture from their wedding. And then, when they were at someone else’s house, they didn’t need the rule because they understood: you shouldn’t run in this house either because there’s still pictures to break.
Obedience As A Reason
So a big question then becomes, how do I teach obedience first if my child is always waiting for a reason to comply. And the answer is that obedience can be a reason.
When they were little, Rebecca’s mom was reading them The Little House in the Big Woods, and there was a scene where Laura Ingalls is out with her mother and her sister, and her mother goes outside because the cows got out again. And mom goes and smacks the cow to get it back in the pen and realizes that this is not a cow. This is a bear that she just smacked on the butt.
So she very quickly says, “girls go inside,” and they immediately obey. And after they finished reading that chapter, her mom closed the book and they had a conversation about how you always need to obey mommy first, because mom sometimes knows things that you don’t.
Mom is older than you. Mom has more experience than you. And also, Mom cares about your safety more than anything else in the entire world. But she also gave them permission to ask why afterwards.
So we always obey our parents first. But if we don’t agree, we could go to them afterwards and say, “hey, that wasn’t fair.” And then mom says, “oh, it is fair because the cow was a bear.” And then we know, “oh, that was fair.”
But the issue is that when we focus on obedience first, often the conversation about why gets lost. And the focus becomes short term gain rather than long term success.
Creating A Place of Trust In Your Parenting Relationship
As kids get older and they enter the angsty teen phase, where they feel like no one understands them, they need to feel understood by their parents – not isolated by rules they feel are unfair – or they’ll seek trust elsewhere.
Reasons help your children understand that you have their best interests at heart, even if they don’t necessarily agree with the boundary you’ve set. And they also help your child trust that when they need a safe escape – after drinking at a party, for example – they can count on you. It’s not easy for a kid to call and ask their parents to pick them up when they know they shouldn’t have been drinking, and when we harshly punish their bad choice instead of validating the good choice, we push them away. There might still be consequences, but only after a conversation about what went wrong, and praise for what they did right.
This model allows you to become your child’s confidant rather than their adversary.
Is It Beneficial?
Rather than pushing compliance and obedience, what if we teach our kids how to think through whether or not something is beneficial.
“Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is beneficial.”1 Corinthians 6:12
Having conversations about reasons helps your children develop the critical thinking skills they need when they get out on their own to choose whether something benefits them without needing to be told by an authority figure. And that’s the real goal, right?
Not just to have compliant kids, but to have kids who will be able to make good choices once they’re out in the world. They need wisdom and discernment more than steel bars.
Reasons Based Parenting Is Faith Based Parenting
So often rules based parenting is actually fear based parenting, while reasons based parenting is faith based parenting.
And one of the main things Christian parents fear is that their children won’t grow up to love God. So instead of having faith that their example of loving God will lead their children to Christ, they impose strict rules about Bible reading, and prayer, and devotion time. And, as one girl in Why I Didn’t Rebel said, “God became a part of the rules I hated.”
And instead of drawing our kids closer to God, we push them away.
You’re A Smaller Part of A Larger Community
Discipline is not about imposing something bad on your kid, it’s about teaching them the right way to go.
It’s like, okay, you know what? You didn’t clean your room, and it got so bad that mom had to spend five hours while you were at school making sure that cockroaches didn’t start getting infested. And that was not appropriate. Because when you’re lazy, you steal time from other people, because you make your problem someone else’s.
And so you’ve done that, and that was really inappropriate. And you know what? Your mom lost the whole thursday because of that. And so you’re going to give her some time this weekend. She had this errand, she was going to have to run and do this cleaning, and you’re going to do it instead. Because you stole that time from her. And so you’re going to have to give her some time back. That’s very different than you didn’t clean your room, therefore you’re grounded for a week, right?
It teaches your kids that their actions effect other people.
Influence Versus Control
Most parents fall into one of two categories – they are looking for influence, or they’re looking for control. But more often than not, if you shoot for influence, you get both. But if you try for control, you get neither.
It’s really about the kind of relationship you want to have with your kids. You can be the person they turn to for advice, their friend and confidant. But if you force yourself on them, you’ll have no influence at all.
More From Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach
Hit play to hear my full conversation with Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach about how parenting with reasons instead of hard and fast rules allows your children to understand why something is important, and opens a dialogue that will allow them to carry the lesson into future situations.
Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach is an author, podcaster, and full-time mom to a rambunctious toddler. Since signing her first book contract at only 21 years old, Rebecca has been passionate about using research to ask the question: “What Christian advice actually works, and what has missed the mark?” You can find her, the other members of her research team, and the results of their ground-breaking research of over 20,000 women at tolovehonorandvacuum.com
Resources we talked about in this episode…
Why I Didn’t Rebel: A Twenty-Two Year-Old Explains Why She Stayed On The Straight and Narrow — And How Your Kids Can Too by Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach
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