As I was waiting in line one afternoon in a hotel lobby, I observed a toddler having a conniption, as we say in the South. Actually, it was a full-throttle temper-tantrum. The child made it clear that she wanted to ride the motorcycle in the arcade, despite the fact that her father was trying to get on the elevator. When a child throws a temper tantrum in public, it’s awkward for everyone, especially for the parents. For that reason, I usually feel sorry for the parents because there is no easy way for a mom and dad to deal with that in public. As a parent, you know that others are annoyed, because you are annoyed. And parents also contend with how others will perceive them if they get firm with their child in public. But in this case, I lost my sympathy for the father when I saw how he reacted. He picked up the child, ran into the arcade, and sat the toddler on the motorcycle. He folded. His daughter manipulated him by pitching a fit, and she got her way. He gave in to his child to make her happy; but in reality, he jeopardized her potential to become a happy person in the long-run.
Some consider firm parenting to be unloving, but that’s either an excuse for being weak or a misguided perspective that fails to see the end-game. Firmness and love should actually accompany each other, not compete with each other. Firm parenting results when parents have goals for their children, and they’re determined to help their children achieve those goals. The opposite of firm parenting is emotional parenting.
What does emotional parenting look like? Here are some instances when emotional parenting emerges:
- When parents seek the approval of their child
- When parental decisions are made based on the parents’ comfort
- When parenting prioritizes convenience over principles
- When parenting decisions are whimsical rather than goal-oriented
When you contrast emotional parenting and firm parenting, you see a completely different approach. What does firm parenting look like?
- When parents are willing to say “no”
- When parents are willing to disapprove of wrong behaviors or attitudes
- When parents prioritize morality and responsibility over personal comfort
The result of emotional parenting is a heartbreaking scenario. Rather than the parents training the child to become a responsible, humble, and cooperative person, the child trains the parents to give in to every demand in order to avoid conflict. When parents make decisions based on the whim of the hour, they fail to look at the long-term consequences.
A parent recently told me that he and his wife were doing their best to stay firm amid the poor decisions their young adult children were making. The immoral decisions his children were making were heartbreaking to him and his wife. They knew that these decisions would only cause their children more anxiety and discontentment in the long-run. Situations like this are especially difficult because the parents have no control over the actions of their children. And once the kids are old enough to make their own decisions, they often don’t care about their parents’ opinions. However, it’s important for mom and dad to remember the power of their position. Just because they cannot make their children do what’s right, does not mean they are without influence. When you consider the biblical story of the prodigal son, imagine what kind of father the son would come home to if the father had conceded to his son’s harmful, sinful lifestyle. The father would not have been in a position to restore his son if he had fallen as well.
There are times when parents need to stay firm even though they have no control, because their belief system has a powerful effect. If you are in a situation where your children are making poor decisions, they need you more than ever to be an unavoidable, persistent lighthouse. Some conveniently look the other way and ignore their children’s mistakes in an attempt to keep the relationship smooth. Others waver in their beliefs to avoid “rocking the boat” and making the parent-child relationship awkward. However, our children, no matter their age, need us to be a solid, committed reference point for them. The biblical term for this is steadfastness. And when being steadfast is overwhelmingly difficult and we need some encouragement, always remember the promise that accompanies the command: “…be steadfast, immovable… your labor is not in vain in the Lord…” (I Cor. 15:58).