Most of the time, it’s pretty gratifying being the tough parent. You know what I mean. Maybe you make your kids do four hours of yard work every Saturday. Maybe they have to practice their instrument for an hour every day. You get to brag to your friends and display to the world how in control of your kids you are. You might even go viral for taking your kid’s door off the hinges because she wouldn’t clean her room, or slapping your hoodie-clad teenage boy upside the head on the public streets for being involved in a riot. You will get a ton of generic societal approval for parenting this way. Badass parents! Woo!
Except for, when being a combative superhero isn’t really the best metaphor for parenting.
You notice that we get neither the backstory nor the end result in these strangely attractive parenting stories. What the heck was going on that house where a dispute over a messy room got to the point where somebody took out the tool box and started dismantling doors? Did that kid actually clean her room? Or did she just run away, or maybe clean it and two weeks later it’s a pit again? Why was teenage Riot Boy on the streets in the first place, and after that maternal beat-down, did he become a straight-A student who volunteers at the soup kitchen?
The thing that is great about these kinds of parenting stories is that the parents are involved and trying, seemingly bold and brave. These stories are incredibly seductive, but they can also take us in the wrong direction as parents. When parenting is about power and control, that is going to become a problem for you and your child eventually - during the teenage and adult years for even the most craven and dominated child, as soon as preschool if you get one of those strong-willed types. Those kinds of kids require a kind of parenting that isn’t a battle.
Are you brave enough to ensure your kid is physically and emotionally safe? Your kid needs to know you can be trusted to help, not to harm. When you knock on their door, you will wait for a reply because everyone needs a space. If they make a mistake, you will help work through it, not berate or mock.
Are you determined enough to spend two to ten times as much time in non-judgmental, non-directive shared activities and conversation with your kid as you do in telling them what to do? Will you build that relationship so that when you have to correct your child, they’re 100% sure that you care?
Are you bold enough to prioritize choice and control for your kid? Are they confident that you won’t just ride roughshod over them? Are you courageous enough to let them make their own absurd, frustrating and totally asinine mistakes without mockery or scolding?
Are you heroic enough to collaborate with your kids because they need both their own ideas and yours? Are your kids certain that you’ll listen and actually care enough to get their buy-in and draw out their own ideas?
This kind of parenting won’t get you a million likes on Facebook, but I think most kids respond to it, and some won’t respond to anything else. If you’re trying as hard as you can and not getting anywhere with your rebellious child, try being this different kind of badass parent: one who is persistently, heroically present, involved, safe, trustworthy, respectful and collaborative. It takes as much guts as anything, and it works.