Do you remember trying to remain balanced while standing in the middle of a see-saw? It took steady focus and constant readjustments to keep both ends of the see-saw balanced and level. In many ways, parenting can be like riding a see-saw…one minute you are up in the air, enjoying warm, loving interactions with your children and the next minute you feel yourself falling to the ground as you discipline unruly, disrespectful behavior. Up—down, enjoy the love—dish out meaningful consequences, offer warm nurturance—practice energetic control. As parents, we stand in the middle of the parenting see-saw trying to keep a steady focus on our goals and making constant readjustments to keep both ends of the see-saw level. Yes, parenting involves both ends of the see-saw. Effective parents strive to balance two equally important tasks: providing warm nurturance and practicing confident authority. If we ignore one of these tasks, parenting becomes unbalanced and you find your feet dangling in the air while you hold on for dear life. Typically, a parent is better at one of these tasks than the other. That means we all need to learn and grow in our role as parent. Let me explain these two tasks in more detail.
1.Effective parents practice confident authority in the home. Part of the parents’ job is to establish a loving structure that includes boundaries, limits, and rules. Parents establish boundaries, limits, and rules with their children’s best interests in mind, not their own. The rules are not designed to make life easy for you as a parent, but to guide your children toward maturity and help them internalize the positive behaviors your family and society value. Parents who exhibit confidence in their authority teach their children the limits and rules by offering instruction as well as loving consequences. They accept their own discomfort around watching their children squirm and whine in response to negative consequences, knowing that negative consequences will help them learn and grow more mature. Effective parents know that establishing limits and authority actually allows their children the freedom to explore the world around them in a safe way. The parent with confident authority is not overwhelmed by their children’s anger. They emit a presence that is more powerful than their children’s anger. By upholding the limit and continuing to communicate love for their angry children, they show that they are more powerful than their children’s anger and hateful words. Ironically, this provides children with a sense of comfort, safety, and security. Children, who may feel as though they cannot control their anger, learns that their parent can control that anger. Their parent is powerful…and loving! As a result, children experience the freedom to explore, learn and grow.
2. Effective parents also initiate and cultivate warm, nurturing relationships with their children. They nurture their children physically and emotionally. Healthy parents nurture their children physically by providing them with food and shelter. Even more, they nurture their children with regular, generous doses of loving touch. Nurturing parents give their children loving hugs, affectionate kisses, and other forms of attentive touch. Effective parents nurture their children with words of affirmation and affection as well. They voice an understanding of their children’s disappointments and share in their excitement and joy. They use words to help their children label and express emotions. Effective parents also become a student of their children. They learn each child’s strengths and vulnerabilities so they can build on the strengths and lovingly support them in confronting their vulnerabilities.
What happens if a parent focuses on only one side of the see-saw? Well, too heavy on the authority side of the see-saw and children fall into discontent, withdrawal, and distrust. Sitting on the low side of the see-saw with their parent hovering over them actually leads the child to question their parent’s authority. Eventually, children begin to resist their parent’s attempt to direct and teach. They often become disrespectful and rebellious, stepping off the see-saw and letting their parent crash to the ground.
When parents lean too heavily on the warm, nurturing side of the see-saw, their children sit on the high side of the see-saw and tower over them. This parent expends so much effort and work to keep the ride going that their children simply “enjoy the ride.” Their children do not experience the consequences of their behavior; they only enjoy the rewards of their parents’ work. As a result, these children do not learn to be self-reliant or self-controlled. They explore less, letting their parent do all the work. As they mature, they exhibit less confidence in navigating the world independent of their parents. And, they are less likely to respect their parents as authorities. With little boundaries and little responsibility, they may simply run wild.
As you can see, balancing the parental see-saw is absolutely crucial but also rewarding. Children, who live in a house where parents balance warmth with authority, become more content and confident. They show greater confidence in navigating the world independently. They exhibit greater success at “leaving the nest” to succeed on their own. Children raised by parents who balance the roles of parenting also perceive their parents as legitimate authority and accept their parent’s input into decisions. As they become adults, they develop mutually gratifying relationships with their parents.
So, stand right in the middle of that parental see-saw and balance warmth with authority, love with limits, and grace with truth. Although challenging, the rewards are immeasurable!