Question: "I'm not asking to be voted Most Popular Parent of the Year, but how can I be the best parent I can be?"
On May 10, 2012, the NBC "Today" show gave one lucky woman, selected as "Mother of the Year," a check equal to the estimate of what a mother should earn for her daily work based on current wage scales. What figure would the average mother earn for her work in today's market? $112,962.00.
Parenting is demanding work. Those who raise children are required to wear many hats (CEO and janitor, nutritionist and nurse, counselor and cook, plumber and many others). So, how can parents guide their children into successful adulthood? One of the essential requirements is learning how to establish healthy boundaries.
Moral boundaries are limits based on right and wrong. Personal boundaries are limits that indicate where you begin and another person ends. Parents need to help their children develop moral and personal boundaries that will equip them to live independently once they leave the "nest." The goal of a good boundary is to teach self-control, which, in turn, develops godly character and an inner moral compass. That moral compass will guide your children to make wise, God-honoring decisions throughout their entire lives.
Kids understand boundaries. They already live with them – from stripes on playing fields to curbs on city streets. When parents establish boundaries, their children have a choice of two "Rs": Stay within the boundary, they earn a reward, but if they cross the line, they receive a repercussion. Once boundaries are in place, it's the child – not the parent – who chooses to receive either the reward or the repercussion.
Guidelines for Godly Boundaries
For boundaries to be effective, they must fit your child and also conform to biblical principles. For example:
• Enact boundaries because your child needs them, not because your child has hurt you.
• Eagerly compliment your child's success at honoring boundaries and deliver appropriate rewards.
• Enforce boundaries consistently.
• If you are unable to deliver on a repercussion at the time the boundary is crossed, tell your child the issue will be addressed later … and then be sure to do so.
• As you administer repercussions, make sure your children know you love them. Don't react harshly or unreasonably. Never give the impression that you hate them – only that you hate the boundary violation, itself.
• Value your children as the treasured gifts from God that they are.
Isn't it interesting how Solomon (called the wisest man who would ever live in 1 King 3:11-12) advises parents: "Discipline your children, for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to their death" (Proverbs 19:18 NIV).
Let me illustrate with this true story. While sitting beside a college freshman on a flight from Los Angeles to Dallas, I asked, "Did your parents ever give you boundaries?"
"Yes they did," he quickly answered.
"Did they enforce them?"
"Oh yea," he replied, nodding his head. "Last year, my parents set a midnight curfew … but one night I came in around 2 a.m. – and that was it! They refused to let me drive my car for two weeks."
"How did that affect you?"
"It was awful," he moaned. "Every day I had to ask somebody to drive me to school, and then someone else to take me home. I also needed transportation to and from all my extra-curricular activities. I couldn't do anything for myself."
"Did that repercussion make any difference in your life?"
"You bet it did – whenever I was out late, I watched my watch like a hawk!"
"Did you feel your parents were unloving?"
"No – my parents did what they did because they love me."
"Did you feel that the repercussion was excessive?"
"Oh, I thought it was at the time. But all kids think that way when their parents enforce a consequence they don't like. Yet today, I see how being without my car helped me become much more time-conscious. Now that I'm on my own at Texas A&M, I'm thankful for what my parents did. In fact, I think they're great!"
The moral of this story could be summarized this way: Parents who enforce boundaries may be afraid of looking like villains who wear "the black hat." But one day they will be amazed when they see the black hat turn … white.
Created to Soar
Just as arrows are made to be launched from the bow, children are created to soar on their own.
The more you pray and trust God's personal involvement in your children's lives, the less possessive you will be – the less reluctant you will be to release them into His hands. Remember that part of being an effective parent is knowing when to "let go."
• Let go of seeing your child as an extension of yourself.
• Let go of your desire to possess your child.
• Let go of the inclination to control your child.
• Let go of your personal demands for your child.
• Let go of jumping in to save your child from failure.
• Let go of being a peace-at-any-price parent.
• Let go of your need to be appreciated.
• Let go of parenthood as your primary identity.
Wise parents know the goal of setting boundaries with children is to build inner character. In turn, inner character produces trust. And trust is the major building block for bonding within all relationships.
If you establish healthy boundaries and enforce them at the proper time, your children may not always vote you "The Most Popular Parent of the Year." But just wait a while – the Bible says, "For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:11 ESV).
Ultimately, enforcing boundaries with the two "Rs" (rewards and repercussions) will help you win … not the war, but the relationship. And that's a real win-win.
Learn more about June and Hope for the Heart by visiting hopefortheheart.org/CP. Here you can connect with June on Facebook and Twitter, listen to her radio broadcasts, or find much-needed resources.
June is the author of Bonding with Your Teen through Boundaries. Her new book, Bonding with Your Child through Boundaries, is scheduled for release in 2013 from Crossway.