Mike Berry explains why consistency is the secret sauce of parenting.
One of the most important things a parent can do for their children is parent with consistency. Setting up clear boundaries and emphasizing consequences when the boundaries are crossed is critical for a healthy upbringing. But how do you accomplish this? And, what are the ramifications if you don’t?
I recently heard the story of a parent who grounded her junior high daughter from her iPhone because she made a series of bad choices. Really bad choices!
In the beginning of the grounding the mother stood her ground, making sure her daughter understood that she would forego the device for the next two weeks. No Facebook, no Instagram, and absolutely no texting! That’s pretty much like taking the oxygen away from a junior high kid! Just three short days later, the iPhone was back in her child’s hand as she hung out with friends at a church event.
The kid’s attitude was nothing short of entitled and there was zero remorse. Could you blame her? She probably knew from the beginning that the consequence wouldn’t stand. She was right!
A Common Trait In Parenting
It happens all the time. In fact, you and I have probably been guilty of this at some point in our parenting. Sometimes, we stand our ground with our kids, determine the boundaries, and then go back on them over the course of a few days, or weeks. After all, we’re tired and stressed. We desire to be good parents, but we’re also human beings. We make mistakes too.
If that’s you (like me), don’t beat yourself up too badly. Remember—parenthood is a series of trials and errors. You try, and sometimes fail. You try again, and maybe fail again. Hopefully, you pick yourself up and work to get better!
In this process, it’s critical to understand why fickle parenting can be a detriment to the healthy upbringing of your children. In our family, we have been blessed with children who are stubborn and, at times, manipulative. My angelic darlings can bat their eyes and soften their voices to mouse-like tones with the best of them. This becomes exponentially greater when they’ve blown it and are facing a big consequence. I’m the weakest when it comes to this (don’t tell my kids)! I have reversed or softened more consequences because of precious hugs or puppy-dog eye batting.
We’ve wrestled with fickle-parent-syndrome (is that even a real thing?). Here’s what we’ve discovered that it does to our children:
1 It embeds irresponsibility in their DNA. Bouncing back and forth in your parenting, like a ping pong match, teaches your child irresponsibility. In fact, it embeds it deep into their DNA. It shapes who they become. Over the past (near) two decades that I have served as a pastor to families, I have watched fickle parenting unfold countless times. In spite of my advice to parents to take a stand, set firm boundaries and emphasize consequences, they continue down a path of inconsistency. I have had a front row seat to watch their children grow up and do much of the same stuff. Personally speaking, I’ve learned that I need to practice what I preach with my own children. There have been many times where their lack of responsibility can be attributed to my fickle parenting. I hate that! It’s now how I want my children to grow up and it’s definitely not who I want them to become.
2 It makes light of inconsistency. Inconsistency breeds irresponsibility. The two go hand in hand. Inconsistent parenting runs ramped in this age, with children nearly running the show at times. When a parent is inconsistent with their boundaries or the consequences for crossing the boundaries it lets a child now one thing—“Mom and dad don’t mean it. I don’t have to take this seriously!” It’s true. I’ve seen it with my own children and I bet some of you have also.
3 It gives a skewed perspective on the world they live in. Although we could point to many fickle aspects of the world we live in, it’s just not true to real life. In fact, as our children grow into adulthood, they will be faced with big decisions and some of those decisions could affect their lives forever. The people they learn decisiveness from is us. Their parents. The inability to make up your mind gives them this twisted idea that the material world in which they exist is the same. We want to raise confident children who grow into adults that are confident and sure of who they are. I want my children to be able to make up their mind when it counts.
4 It erodes integrity. When children bear witness to their parent’s inconsistency, it non-verbally communicates that they don’t have to keep their word. They can say one thing and then do another. They can go back on their word and almost be two different people. How deeply could this affect them in their adult life when integrity is so crucial to the health of their marriages, their jobs and their parenting? This is probably the one point that freaks me out the most in raising children. I pray that my children will grow up with integrity. I believe that when a person lives by integrity, nothing said against them will have a leg to stand on. But when they don’t, they will fall hard! I don’t want this to happen to my kids.
5 It compromises character. People can pick up on a lack of character pretty quickly. It bears blatant fruit. Our children learn to live by character from us. We are the most influential people in our children’s lives. Fickle parenting that is left unchecked is a serious lack of character. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s true. If you continue to go back on your word with your children, it shows flaws in your character. It also has a direct effect on your children’s character now, and in the future.
6 It taints their future parenting. What they learned from you, they will model with their own children some day. This goes both ways. If they grow up with structure, discipline and boundaries, they will model that in their future parenting. If they live with parents who go back and forth on their expectations and rules, they will model this someday. There are a few exceptions to this. Some children grow up to be fantastic parents, in-spite of their own parent’s fickle parenting, but they’re the exception, not the rule!
7 It devalues structure. Children thrive in structure. A lack of structure creates chaos. It’s that simple. Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. You may even be able to point to certain moments when you defied the structure and chaos ensued. Fickle parentings is like a blow torch to a a steel frame. It causes the structure of your family to weaken. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve learned this lesson.
The Beginning Is Today
If you’re anything like us, you read content like this and sort of throw up your hands. You want to quit. Or maybe in your overwhelmed state, you just don’t know where to begin. How do you create consistency and get over fickle parenting? It’s a question we have to ask ourselves all the time. Here are a few quick ways you can begin to turn the tide:
- Re-set the boundaries. It may sound simple but start right now by making a list of every boundary you have set (or would like to set) with your children. Then sit them down and explain to them that things are going to be different. You have to start somewhere and this is the best place.
- Don’t give in, at all! When you make a reset with your boundaries and expectations the first thing that’s going to happen is that your children will test them. Oh, will they test them! They want to see if mom and dad are legit. Don’t give in at all, regardless of how tired you may be. Giving in will just cause your children to not believe you even more.
- Continue to emphasize. Over the next two to three weeks, continue to emphasize the boundaries and expectations to your children. Do this especially when they are pushing you. Make sure you do it gently, but firmly. And, whatever you do, do not do this in order to hold something over your children’s head or gain power. That will backfire.
- Point to a conclusion. One of the biggest things that will cause resentment in your children is unclear punishments or expectations that have no end-goal. In order to help your children see the value of the boundaries you’ve set, or the consequences they are serving, point them to an end goal. For instance, if your child gets their phone taken away, put a clear ending on it (providing they do not mess up anymore), and point to that over the course of the period they are serving the consequence. “I know you hate this, but it’s two weeks. You can do this and you’ll be a better person for it,” or “This is going to stink but that’s the consequence for your mistake. In two weeks, providing I see change, you’ll get your phone back.” Make sure you stick to your guns on this and you’ll start to see momentum.