Raising Children of Peace

Edited by Farley and Betsy Jones

Children of Peace

True Love
Chet Johnson

"A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove... but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child."

The wisdom of the ages teaches us that children need both love and truth to grow into responsible, caring adults. In our hearts, each parent also knows this to be true. Children need love-true love, unconditional love, sacrificial love. They also need, indeed demand, "truth"-guidance, discipline, boundaries.

We know this, yet most parents struggle with how to effectively deliver this care package of love and truth to our children. Most mothers and fathers feel a natural impulse to love their children. Yet we may have difficulty demonstrating our love unconditionally. All of us have our own ideas about discipline and at the same time often feel either overly permissive, too harsh, out of control, or all three.

As a result, our children may experience feelings of anxiety. They feel anxious about getting enough love and feel unsure about how to behave. For children to feel better and behave better, parents need to support each other, show their children love and affection, and provide effective discipline.

Both parents need to provide love and discipline, sometimes referred to as love and limits, love and truth, kindness and firmness, and so on. Mothers need to be both loving and effective disciplinarians. Fathers need to be able to talk about their love, demonstrate their affection, and, when necessary, administer discipline.

Love comes first. Discipline is second. When children feel loved and a sense of belonging, they require less discipline. It's as simple as that. If your children are misbehaving frequently, start by loving and encouraging them more. Then find more effective ways to discipline. Discipline means to teach, not to punish. Discipline requires parents to establish clear guidelines for behavior based upon age and understanding and to establish clear consequences when rules are broken.

Sometimes in a family, one spouse does the loving and the other is the disciplinarian. Of course, both parents love the children, but they have either unconsciously or consciously divided the roles. Often, one, say the mother, is very caring and nurturing but unable to get her children to obey or listen to her. She finds it easier to let the children do what they want, just to avoid a conflict. This occurs with many children around the issue of television or bedtime.

As a result, the children love their mother but don't really respect her-they don't do what she requests. As they get older, the mother's control slips further and further. Children who are never expected to be responsible will almost certainly behave in particularly irresponsible ways during their preteen and teenage years.

Parents who love but do not discipline also confuse their children when they provide them with what they want, not what they need. What children want and need are very different.

Allowing children always to have what they want puts them in the position of parent. This opposes the natural order of the parent-child relationship and confuses the child, causing anxiety and a "pushing of the limits" as the child attempts to find out "what is true'."

Sometimes the father, perhaps home less often, is the designated "disciplinarian." How many children are familiar with the phrase "just wait 'til your father gets home" The children obey him (when he raises his voice or threatens or spanks) but may keep their distance or even be afraid. Many adults express a longing for their father's love, approval, and affection.

The father may appear to be effective at discipline, but the method is flawed by being unbalanced -- the demonstration of love is missing. Children often feel unsure of their father's love, as his most powerfully demonstrated emotions are frustration and anger, even rage. Children feel frightened. They may feel afraid to really try, afraid to fail. They fear authority and yet rebel against it, desperate to prove themselves, to find out who they really are.

Boys grow up thinking that aggressive, even violent, behavior is acceptable. How many schools and neighborhoods are troubled by violent youth? Why are our male "heroes" television and movie actors who hurt others? Girls grow up confused about what love is, often making poor choices as adolescents and young women. How many girls "fall in love" and have children before they are capable of caring for them?

Children raised by an overpowering parent will learn to behave only when threatened or when the parent is around and only so long as the "disciplinarian" is bigger and more powerful. Much of the "natural" rebellion of adolescence is not natural at all. It is the result of parenting which is neither balanced nor whole.

In my work as a pediatrician and specialist in child behavior, I have seen these roles played out in hundreds of families. I see how we "teach" our children to assume the same roles by our behavior-the most powerful teacher of all.

In my own family, my wife has difficulty expecting our four children to be responsible. She would sometimes rather "let it go" I, on the other hand, am sometimes too harsh and impatient. I find myself yelling and see the confusion and fear in their small faces. I see that I am out of control. I see that they are afraid.

How do we help each other? What are some principles of parenting to help us be more loving, more effective, and have more fun? Here is what mothers and fathers can do together:

1. Slow down. Carve out some quiet time for yourself in the midst of your busy schedule. Think about the purpose of your life. Think about the purpose of your life in relationship to your children. The most important work you'll ever do is to raise caring, responsible children. Think about how important this is to you. Find your passion for doing this important work. Savor the feeling. Your clear sense of purpose will help you through the hard times.

2. Get serious about parenting. Really serious. Not just interested. Serious. Don't just read some articles on parenting in throwaway magazines to pass idle time. Purchase one good book on parenting, study it, discuss it, practice it. Take a "positive parenting" course or another course that's based on being "kind and firm" and start behaving differently. You can't change your children's behavior until you change your own.

3. Decide what kind of parent (person) you want to be. Then work toward it. Don't blame anyone else for the way you are. It's a waste of time. Just get on with who you want to be. Start to truly love your children and learn how to provide effective discipline and you'll be amazed and delighted at the results. If you don't get results, it just means you haven't yet decided to change your own behavior. It's simple. Be honest with yourself. Have I decided to change? It's your decision. Be okay with it, either way. Just realize that the change starts with you-what you say, and especially, what you do.

4. Sit down with your spouse and decide on your long-term goals. What do you want for your children? Take a couple of hours. Brainstorm. Take notes. Most of all, listen to one another. Then write down your long-term goals. Write down your goals. It's not enough just to talk about them. Writing down your goals is the most important step toward accomplishing them.

S. Write down your short-term goals. Same process as above. Bring a pen, note pad, an attitude of listening, and a sense of humor. Have fun. Sit, talk, laugh, write, revise, write.

6. Share your goals with your children. Do this after a meal or at a special family time. Get some feedback from your children. See what they think. You might even want to modify some of your goals. Your children might not have anything to say, especially if you don't often ask their opinion. The first time, you'll feel uncomfortable because it's new. After a couple of times it will feel more natural, and there will be more participation, as long as it's fun and everyone gets a chance to speak their mind.

7. Support each other. Help each other to do your best. Encourage one another. This means no pointing out failures or criticizing. We've all had plenty already. Find ways to relieve tension in difficult situations with the children. Help your spouse be effective in a loving way. Offer to help out when stress is high. If you are concerned about your spouse's behavior, discuss it in private several hours later. Be thoughtful about how you address your concern. Be sure it's really important and not just an opportunity to "be right" and feel superior to your spouse. You'll have to take an honest look "inside yourself" to see if this is going on.

8. Talk to each other. Talk a lot. Talk about everything. Listen a lot. Laugh a lot. Don't talk about important issues like discipline, money, or in-laws after 9:00 p.m. You're both too tired and it's easy to get into an argument. So after 9:00 p.m., do other things together, but don't discuss important "issues."

9. If you are facing a difficult situation with your children (you are frustrated and feel out of control), calm down and give yourself a two-minute "time-out:" "Time-out" works great for adults but not very well at all for children after age two to three. If possible, seek the assistance of your spouse. If not, two minutes will help you decide a different (probably better) course of action. Your children will certainly be surprised and may well be better prepared to cooperate.

10. Establish a real relationship with the Creator. You can accomplish this in an infinite variety of ways. Find your own way. Help your children to do the same. This will help them to look "within" during times of difficulty, change, or confusion.

11. Establish a real relationship with one or two people with whom you can really "share your heart:' If at all possible, connect to a person who can be a "parent" to you-your mother or father, a teacher, or respected elder. Help your children do the same.

12. Establish traditions in your home that connect you to each other, to your community, and to your world. Teach your children the value of serving others. Teach by your example.

13. Turn off the television, the VCR, and the video games. Limit TV and video viewing to no more than two hours a day. TV is a passive medium. It is a myth that children "learn" in any significant way from watching television. Most parents use TV as a babysitter. It encourages violence, poor attention span, immediate gratification, irresponsible sexuality, and materialism. Having a TV on for long periods of time is like allowing a stranger in your home to teach your children-a stranger whose values you probably oppose. So, do what it takes and turn off the tube. This allows children and families more time to learn and play together. Take a walk, play hide-and-seek, make a cake, help a neighbor paint their porch. The opportunities are endless.

14. Read aloud to your children. Read to your children of all ages. This is one of the best ways to spend time together and one of the best ways to teach children the value of education and continuous lifelong learning. Encourage older children to read aloud to you and to their younger brothers and sisters. Share interesting stories (even the comics) with your spouse. Laugh. Cry. Share. Live.

15. Enjoy one another. The purpose of life is joy. Joy is experienced through passionate involvement with people and the world around us. Teach your children joy by enjoying yourself, loving your spouse and family, and loving others.

The above fifteen recommendations are just that-recommendations. They are not rules or regulations. My family and I do our best to live by the recommendations I've shared with you. Sometimes we're successful, sometimes we're not. We're always learning and, I believe, improving. We have learned to provide both love and truth to our children-and to each other. We experience a lot of joy and a lot of fun. I sincerely hope and believe these recommendations will be of value to you. Did something you read trigger some new ideas or inspire you? Please share what you find valuable with your spouse. Decide what you can put into practice today (tomorrow is always a day away). Your decision will definitely make a difference-in your family, your community, your world. Good and God bless you.

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