The Wisdom Behind Great Parenting
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Andy and Sandra say that to get it right, parents need first to define and agree on what “it” means. What’s the goal, the end game, the win to which all their parenting decisions will lead? And why do parents need to think about that? “The direction we choose for our parenting has the potential to affect our kids emotionally, relationally, and spiritually, as well as academically and professionally,” Andy says. If parents don’t think about and choose their “it,” he warns, it will be chosen for them by circumstances, the culture, the expectations of others, even the kids themselves.
All parents have an “it,” which may be at cross-purposes with their spouse’s “it.” Andy says possible “its” are: safety, obedience, graduation, getting to the NFL or Broadway, confidence, competence, or accomplishment. The Stanleys, whose two sons and daughter are now all in their late 20’s and married, define their “it” this way: “Kids who enjoy being with us and each other when they no longer have to be.” The Stanleys can gratefully confirm that they’ve achieved that goal.
FOUR STAGES OF PARENTING
As young parents-to-be, the Stanleys read books, took classes, and talked to all the experienced parents they could pin down. “One of the first things somebody explained to us was the four stages of parenting,” Sandra says. “To say it has shaped most of the moves we’ve made is not an exaggeration.” Those stages are:
• The Discipline Years (0-5 years old)
• The Training Years (5-12 years old)
• The Coaching Years (12-18 years old)
• The Friendship Years (18+ years old)
Distinguishing between the stages has helped them understand the primary goal for each one and about how long it would last (which sometimes seemed like forever). Sandra explains that the discipline years are when parents teach kids that there are consequences – good and bad – to their actions, and help them strengthen their “obedience muscle” through multiple repetitions and appropriate consequences.
The training years, she says, are for helping kids understand the why behind the rules and expectations, telling them what to do and why it matters. In the coaching years, they say parents should focus on connecting more than correcting. Sandra suggests several ways to connect: cultivate constant conversations, don’t bail; let ‘em fail, and get interested in what interests them.
Speaking of getting kids to talk to you, the Stanleys have suggestions. Getting to know each of your kids and when he or she is most comfortable opening up is important. For one of their sons, it was over a meal, for another, it was during a backscratch before bed, and for the third, it was right when she came in the door from school. They also recommend using a poker face when kids do open up. “Don’t freak out. Whatever you do, don’t freak out in front of your teenager. And their definition of “freaking out” is any strong emotion. So dial it back. Respond, don’t react,” Sandra advises.
“OH NO!” AND OTHER TIPS
Andy and Sandra believe that discipline shouldn’t center solely on punishment, which communicates the message, “If you don’t obey me, bad things will happen to you.” Rather, they say discipline should teach a child how to restore a relationship they’ve damaged, and requires two things: confession and restitution. Kids need to be taught how to apologize appropriately, taking responsibility for specific misbehavior, and how to do whatever’s possible to make things right.
To preserve the parent-child relationship, they add that parents need to use two words: “Oh no!” As Andy explains it, the usual reaction of parents to misbehavior is phrases such as “No!”, “You know better than that …” or “How many times have I told you…?” which puts the parent and child on opposing teams. “Oh no! is siding with your child against their disobedience. It’s Oh no! We – you and I – are so sorry you did that because now you’ll have to face the consequences. Oh no! I am for you, and I hate that you are going to be penalized for your behavior. They aren’t off the hook, but you aren’t the bad guy.”
When it comes to kids hearing what their parents say and actually mean, Andy and Sandra believe there are three dynamics at play:
• Words are not equally weighted. “While most words carry some weight, parent-to-child words carry extraordinary weight. This is why it’s imperative that we counterbalance the accidental and occasional killer words with intentional life-giving words. Negatives must be the exception rather than the rule.”
• Source determines weight. As an illustration, Andy suggests that a casual friend’s words may weigh five pounds, while those of someone we deeply love and respect weigh fifty. And, he says, a dad’s words usually weigh more than a mom’s. “And no, that’s not fair. But it’s often true. There’s something about the acceptance and approval of a father that runs extra deep,” he says.
• Intent is irrelevant. Andy points out that we all hurt others with our words, usually with no intention of harm. “Unintentional words still leave a mark. Unintentional words still require recovery time,” he says. Parents need to allow for that. “Every time you speak to your children, these three dynamics are running in the background. They determine what your children hear and feel regardless of what you say.”
HOW MARRIAGE AND FAITH FACTOR IN
In the early years of their marriage, Andy and Sandra worked in student ministry. “And we saw it all,” Sandra says. “But in all those observations, as we had a clear context for the broader family dynamics, we concluded that the best parenting tool of all might be a healthy marriage,” she says. “The emotional climate in your home affects your children’s current and future well-being.”
Sandra offers a list of ways to build a healthy marriage, e.g. prioritizing and investing in the marriage, being a student of one’s spouse, being his/her loudest cheerleader, and showing gratitude. “In marriage, like in parenting or managing, what’s rewarded is repeated. It feels good to be appreciated, to get credit for our work, and to be noticed for what we do and who we are.” She says the effort is well worth it. “That selflessness preserves and protects the relationship in the short term, thus giving our kids security now. But it also casts a vision for our kids’ future marriages. It gives them a healthy benchmark of expectations and a leg up in their own future marriages and families.”
Passing their faith on to their kids was extremely important to the Stanleys. “We wanted our kids to acknowledge and embrace a sense of personal accountability to their heavenly Father as early as possible,” Andy says. “Then, as they got older, our hope was that they would actively follow Jesus.” They believe parents play a key role in the development of their children’s faith. “As it relates to the endurance of your child’s faith, what happens at home is far more catalytic than what happens at church.”
Some ways the Stanleys nurtured their own kids’ faith are: Emphasizing a personal relationship with God, and teaching them to pay close attention to their hearts. They asked questions like, “Did anybody hurt your feelings today? Are you mad at anybody? Is there anything you want to tell me but you’re not sure how?” “The condition of our children’s heart is above all things because their emotional health determines their relational health and, ultimately, their behavior and performance,” Andy states. He and Sandra also prayed with their kids every night, through every season, were open about their own faith journeys, and kept their children engaged with their church.
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