It’s a rare opportunity. I have a prodigal son, soon-to-be-released from prison, who is clear-eyed, grown up, sober, and has returned to the Christ he has known all his life. In a phone call last night, I asked what advice he would give to parents.
It was painful to hear my parenting failures talked about. Again. Out loud. My son and I agree, though, that God has given us this chance to speak into the lives of others. We want to make it count! Here are his rules, mostly in his words.
Ricky’s Rules for Parenting
- Start early. Don’t let your child think he can boss you around. You are in charge. The temper tantrum of a toddler, if not dealt with, will eventually become the rebellion and anger of a six-foot-tall, 180-pound fourteen-year-old.
- Don’t back down. Don’t be intimidated by your kid. Call out the bad behavior and give them a consequence that is hard to live with. If not, they’ll be bullying you by the time they are twelve.
- Loss of privileges. Here are some privileges you can suspend: freedom (grounding), privacy (take the door off their room), game systems, phone, bike or skateboard. Even their earbuds can go if they aren’t listening to you. Ricky was adamant about using the loss of privileges to manage behavior. Remember, prison is the ultimate loss–of freedom, privacy, clothes, phone, internet, and control of your own environment. If you aren’t willing to suspend a privilege now, sooner or later the department of corrections will take them all.
- Stick to it. Don’t forget the reason for the consequence or what specific limits you’ve set. If you’ve taken their phone for a week–keep it for a week. Ricky’s example is: If your kid is getting bad grades, they lose privileges until the next report card.
- Go as far as you need to break the bad influence of a “friend”. If your child has a new friend or group of friends that seems to be having a negative impact, don’t give the friend the benefit of the doubt. [This was probably my biggest mistake with Ricky–Judy] Ricky says that parents should speak from the heart, but the bottom line is: The friend is gone or you lose privileges.
- Don’t give them too much unstructured time. As a Montessori teacher and a Baby Boomer, I felt that it was important that Ricky had time to explore, discover, and create on his own outdoors in nature. I wanted him to play with the kids in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, Ricky spent his time exploring the woods to create a space where he could discover the pleasures of smoking with the kids in the neighborhood. He told me that he only spent about five percent of his free time doing anything productive or memorable. [Note: Dr. Montessori opened her first Casa Dei Bambini in Rome because the children of factory workers, left alone by their parents, were vandalizing their neighborhood. My interpretation of freedom was not “Montessori”!]
- As soon as they’re old enough, they need a part-time job. I had one. Everyone I knew had one. Most of my other kids had one. This will not interfere with schoolwork. It will make them better managers of their time.
- Pay attention. Check in with them, make them hang out with you every day just to talk, drive carpool, coach their team, volunteer at their school. Ask nosy questions. Get to know their friends’ parents. Always let their friends hang out at your house when you’re home.
- Stay on their case. Follow up on concerns. Always check the teachers’ websites for homework updates. Check in with teachers and coaches on a regular basis.
- Finally, DON’T BE IN DENIAL! You’ve been alive three times as long as they have. You have life experience that they don’t. All of us, by the time we’re parents, have the ability to detect B.S. You’ll know when your kid is lying to you. Don’t be afraid to challenge them, and don’t ignore what’s staring you in the face. As the old saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
A Word From the Default Mom
Ricky and I have spent the past three years digging deep, working on, and analyzing ourselves and our relationship. Joining forces to fight addiction, co-dependency, grief, and anger have made all the difference. Still, Ricky’s list, which poured out in a 10-minute phone call, was hurtful to hear.
My sins as a parent have been confessed, forgiven, and I have repented of them. The scorch marks of those sins will remain forever. This is why I reach out to other parents, hoping some of you will see yourselves in what I write before it’s too late.
If you don’t believe me, believe Ricky, the Prodigal.
God’s Word on the Subject
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.
Grace is real–
Judy, the Default Mom