Since we parents are imperfect, we don't want our shortcomings to help define who our children become. A giant step in accomplishing this is to constantly emphasize "principles over personalities" while parenting. Since we are imperfect, we must teach our children that our principles are their ultimate authority, not us. Making principles the final authority also avoids unnecessary power struggles with growing children.
Even the best parent will sometimes be inconsistent or wrong, which invites any child to challenge parental boundaries. But principles will be the same tomorrow as they are today, leaving children to question parental interpretation of principles, not parents themselves.
By emphasizing principles, we help make children responsible for their own growth. If we parent "out of our heads," the burden is on us to create rules our children can follow. But principles shift this responsibility to kids, who then must learn to interpret the principles in order to determine for themselves what actions may be right or acceptable in various situations.
When we set rules, it is up to us to enforce them. In essence, we become like traffic cops issuing disciplines and penalties when the rules are broken. It puts the burden of responsibility on us as parents and is a poor learning tool for children.
When we establish principles, it is up to our children to respect them, or else face the loss of privileges earned with that particular level of responsibility. (For example, if trust is betrayed, a teen or pre-teen child might lose free time, but will gain taking on the responsibility to earn back that trust.)
The burden of responsibility to adhere to a family principle is on children, not parents; how children handle it reveals their level of maturity. Being judged by one's principles is far more meaningful to children, and they gain much more respect from that than from just obeying rules.
The best way we teach children is by example. Principles make us practice what we preach, and therefore principles become the means for kids to understand our parenting in a deeper way.
Our children are born with a spirit, a unique potential and a natural capability to love. However, they also have basic self-gratification, self-protection and self-centered survival instincts we parents must help them transcend in order to fully realize these deeper natural gifts.
Children learn to transcend these lesser instincts by our example. As we fully address our own self-gratification, self-protection and self-centered drives, our children will follow our lead.
Since the family is life's primary classroom, we parents must ensure the family remains primary in the lives of all family members.
We need family traditions to reinforce this priority: occasional family meetings where we share what is going on in our lives; a family sit-down meal with the best plates and some candles; "mandatory fun," where a member chooses a weekly family activity or outing; family vacations; family chores and so on. We may take family traditions for granted, but their impact upon us is far deeper than we realize.
The family itself develops a personality. Is it a commitment to always doing our best? Are we a spirited bunch? Do we always follow through? Are we concerned about others? Bring your family together and try to define the family's personality.
Every family needs discipline. Some actions and/or behaviors should not be acceptable. For example, respect: if children do not learn to respect their parents, they will have difficulty respecting others and themselves in life.
If we have our children's respect, we will ultimately have their love. Seek their love, and we will end up with neither.
We should also not accept any attitude that undermines our child's best, no matter what it takes.
Next Week: Part 5, Taking Hold and Letting Go