This big question dwells heavily on the hearts of countless parents, and the answers often seem confusing and elusive. After over a quarter century of studying research, working with families, and being humbled by my own children, I’ve learned many things the hard way.
I’d like to share one of these things in a story about a rebellious and unhappy son. Let’s call him Ethan. He and his parents represent thousands I’ve met.
Ethan’s parents were growing more exhausted by the day. He’d developed a nasty habit of making nasty comments about everything they said. Chores were not getting done, homework was suffering, and he complained incessantly about his deplorable living conditions. The Wi-Fi was too slow, his phone was too old, and the parents of his friends were far more understanding and compassionate.
Ethan’s parents were baffled. Being kind and conscientious, they tried even harder to provide a consistently comfortable and love-filled daily experience for Ethan. Fretting, they wondered, “What else can we do? Our son is so unhappy and disrespectful, and disobedient! What can we do to improve our relationship?”
A friend of many years shared some wisdom:
“He’s acting this way because he sees you as weak. He doesn’t respect you because you don’t expect anything of him.”
Though provided out of love, their friend’s remarks stung. As their pain subsided, mom and dad began to see the truth in it. As a result, they set a strong limit over what they would provide and under what circumstances:
“We are happy to do and provide extra things for you when we feel respected and you are completing your chores.”
As you can imagine, Ethan’s initial reaction was not positive. As days passed, though, Ethan’s parents were surprised to see a happier and more respectful kid. They remarked, “It’s true! Kids do need, and want, the loving leadership of limits.”
Have you seen this story unfold in your life? Have you witnessed a friend who discovered that avoiding conflict with their child was merely creating more of it?