"Pick your battles"

That is a very common phrase quoted by mothers everywhere.  Including ,on occasion, myself.  I have heard those words or some combination of them a lot in recent years.  Maybe because most people I know are also parents who are are overwhelmed, busy and too tired to do battle with their kids.  I know I feel like that most days.
I was thinking about this "I'm picking my battles" line today.

What issues and behaviors in our children should we "battle" and which ones should we avoid bringing to a head to head war?
Every decision, every choice, every minute of the day cannot be a constant battle of wills.  That will NOT work.  Strong willed children will see it as a challenge and compliant ones will get even eventually in more passive aggressive ways or outright rebellion in later years.

That being said...
As parents we must expect and hold our children accountable to a certain standard of behavior.   If we expect nothing from them they will give us exactly that.
Peace at any cost will cost us our children in the end.   Appeasing tantrums, whining, selfishness and disrespect with rewards (even the reward of gum or juice) will  prove unpleasant in the long run...even disastrous.  I know this from experience as an imperfect, sometimes lazy mom who  would rather pretend I don't see or hear it than actually DEAL with it.

I am writing down a few of the battles that I feel are important for parents to fight and eventually win.  Things that are the foundation of good character, social function and integrity.  There are probably more but these are the ones that come to mind and seem to be tragically lacking in this generation of children.
By "battle" I don't mean screaming matches, combat, verbal, phsyical or emotional abuse of any sort.    I mean consistent expectations and consequences,  patient teaching and training.

Battle #1
RESPECT: Respect for us as parents, for authority, for teachers for anyone put in a position of leadership over them (actually for anyone...even the dog).  A standard of respect and honor should be evident in how they speak to us, answer us, and relate to us in general.   This does not for a second mean that they should fear us, feel they need to hide things from us, or never respectfully question us.
 We should also model a standard of respect in how we relate to our children.  Belittling, putting down, name calling...not respect.
So, when your child screams in your face, disregards you, ignores you, smacks you, rolls their eyes or makes some other gesture of disrespect PLEASE parents expect better.  You deserve better.  Teach them how to treat you!   If you don't teach them respect...they won't learn to treat anyone else in their life with honor, respect or esteem.  Hold up a standard.  If they don't meet it correct them, make life uncomfortable for them until they learn it.  Be consistent.  Expect it and correct it every time.  If they are being rude to other authority, teachers,  family members or peers this should never be overlooked for the sake of "picking my battles" or even worse defended.  It should be dealt with.  Respect for others also includes the property of others.

Battle #2
Lying, cheating, being sneaky.    This is not one of those areas we as parents can shrug off, laugh off or ignore.  There is a learning curve and for a young pre-schooler the difference between fantasy and reality is fairly blurred.   I never scold my child for making up wild imaginative tales  or "stories" that are  a natural part of child hood....they love to talk about their pet dinosaurs, Superheros and space aliens.
When it is a problem  is blatant denial of wrong doing.  You know when they are lying.  Call them on it.  If you don't know if they are lying..outsmart them and persist until you get the truth from them or figure it out for yourself.   Never let them succeed in deceit.  Praise them when they are honest.   Have consistent consequences for lying no matter how big or small.   The habit of lying starts small and grows until it's a life style.   (Never teach your child to lie to cover your own butt!...wrong on so many levels).   This leads into battle number 3.

Battle #3
We need to teach our children responsibility for their actions or lack of actions.  When they screw up, make a mistake or blatantly do something they know they shouldn't do they need to OWN IT.   Admit , confess, and ask for forgiveness.  Expect an  "I'm sorry".  Not a be-grudging , I don't want a consequence , sorry but a genuine remorse and willingness to do what it takes to make it right again.   Lying, making excuses, blaming someone else are all signs of a child that is not taking responsibility for their own actions.   This is hard for most adults to do, including myself, but it is a standard we can instill at a young age.   We should always be sensitive and seek to understand the motives behind the action and who actually is at fault.   If we jump to harsh conclusions too quickly we will be doing more harm than good.
There are more aspects of responsibility that we should teach and expect at an age appropriate level.

Battle #4
This could also fall under respect.   This speaks not only to a following of societal rules for ettiquite and poise but more to the attitude of the heart.   Being expected to ask for something in a respectful way "May I have some water please"..(or something of the sort) teaches a child that you are not his servant and the world does NOT owe him anything.   When a child whines, demands, shrieks, grunts or mumbles commands, not only is it a sign of disrespect, but also of them viewing themselves as the center of the universe.   I am more worried about the condition of my childrens hearts than about putting on a show but consistent expectations of   courtesy trains their little hearts to ask for what they need graciously  and to receive gratefully.   When we choose to not pick this battle we are not doing ourselves, our children or society in general any favors.  As humans we are naturally self preserving and self focused.  We need to teach our children to be aware of the needs others and to show kindness.  This may be something simple like  holding a door open for someone  or offering the last cookie to someone else.

Battle #5
This does not refer to a control freak parent on a power trip "jump when I say jump..just to prove that I can control you"  scenario.   I hate to break it to you but you cannot ultimately control your children.  You can teach their little hearts , provide an example, hold up a standard and enforce it with consequences but at the end of the day it comes down to them.
Obedience involves trust.  I obey God because I trust him even when I don't always understand.
 Our children need to learn to trust our knowledge,  our decisions, and that we have their best interest at heart.  If we don't have their best interest at heart but rather our own selfishness when we tell them to do something....thats something we as parents need to evaluate.  Sometimes loving them best means being the "bad guy".

You may get the impression that I have picture perfect children and I am some sort of parenting guru by the content of this post.  Neither is true by a long stretch.
I will roll up my sleeves, get my feet dirty and otherwise immerse myself in the battle to teach and train my children into adults of strong character and values....but they will still disappoint me sometimes,  they will most definitely embarrass me, and they will make a mess of things quite often.   They are sinners in need of grace just as much as I am.   That is where grace plays into our parenting.  It will take persistence, patience and a lot of prayer.    Ultimately we have to trust God with our feeble efforts and allow him to make up for the areas we lack.
One of the best ways to instill these virtues in our children is to genuinely model them ourselves.  Our kids can smell a hypocrite a mile away!

Kids are all so different.  Some are naturally honest.  Some have a natural inclination to lie.   Some kids are naturally empathetic while others need a lot of help to learn it.   Some are easily persuaded.  Some have very strong opinions.   Keep at it!
This parenting stuff is hard work!   It isn't always cut and dry or black and white.   It is complex and it changes constantly.   It takes sensitivity, understanding, intuition, tough love, compassion, boundaries, and grace all rolled up together.

Words I frequently say to my children are "I love you too much to allow you to......(act disrespectfully, lie etc)".  That and "I'm sorry...will you please forgive me".  Even us moms need to "own it" once in a while.

Some other battles that are worth fighting are  related to physical safety and health.   Bike helmets, reasonable bed times, seat belts, eating nutritious food (that the rest of the family is eating) ...these are not options.  If we don't give our kids an option when it comes to sitting in a carseat why do we give them the option of lying?  Both are potentially destructive to them.

It is a myth that a child will outgrow selfish, rude, defiant behavior.  It will only get worse.  Of course as they morph from a raging two year old into a non-barbaric older child there will be higher expectations.

Freedom within  basic but very firm boundaries could describe my style (or at least goal)  of parenting.

What are some of the "battles" that are important to you as a parent?  What words or sentence could describe your parenting style?


Michelle said...

I was thinking about some of these exact things today. Thanks for the outline. I like that you think manners and courtesy are as important to people's character (not just social appearances) as I do. I personally struggle with giving in due to whining, tantruming, yelling, etc. when we're in public and I'm trying not to escalate a situation. It's not working for me obviously, any suggestions?

Allison said...

I appreciated your post as well. And I have the challenging children, who push the line, want to battle, etc., so it's always encouraging to read stuff like that, to know that I'm not the only one who believes in this whole "training a child in the way he should go" thing! And because of my children's personalities (and they come by them quite honestly!!), I always do have to be on my toes and it gets tiring. I have to think long term, otherwise it is too easy to let things slide...

Carla said...

Keep at it ladies! I know what it's like to have "spirited", strong willed children keep us on our toes..especially in the pre-school years when our training work is the hardest. You're right Allison you always need to think long term. Results don't always happen overnight but it does get easier once you've laid the ground work. I am convinced that kids that are the most work, have the biggest personalities and the strongest wills have the potential of being the most incredible adults.

Penelope said...

Wow! This is such an incredible post! You MUST submit this article for publication on one of the big sites (like BlogHer)! So helpful!