You’d think I would have been embarrassed when teachers and parents began questioning the way I was raising my children. In their defense, my approach to parenting isn’t something that many families are used to, and hearing that our house had “no rules” must have come as quite a shock. Let me backtrack a bit, and tell you the story of how my twins left everyone astonished – what some people may have perceived as a “shameful” parenting moment was truly one of my proudest…
When my twins began 5th grade, their Sunday School teacher was going over the class rules and asked the students, “How many of you have rules to follow at home”? All of the students raised their hands…except my twins. The teacher, doubting my twins’ absence of raised hands, questioned them directly, “Do you have rules at home”? Quite innocently, they replied “No, we don’t have rules, we have principles.”
When it comes to the question of how to best raise our children,
I think it’s important that we first look at what we are trying to achieve in the long-term.
I think every parent would agree that the desired end result is that our children are able to make good choices, leading them on a path of happiness and success. My four beautiful children are truly the joy of my life, but the gift of motherhood can also be hard. And not just physically, but mentally as well. I spent a lot of time thinking about how I could help my kids become the best that they can be. I finally concluded that children either follow or break rules. However, principles become a way of life, defining who we are. I didn’t want to control my children…I wanted to guide them.
Rules vs. Principles
Rules: Cause you to act or behave by someone else’s definition of what’s right and wrong.
Externally restrains you through authority and discipline, usually resulting in defiance.
Principles: Allow you to differentiate between what is good and bad based on who you are.
Internally inspires you to do the right thing.
One of the greatest lessons I have learned as a parent is how to mentor my kids independently. What I mean by this is that each child is their own special and unique person. In order to cement core values within them, you have to approach children as an individual. Core values (principles) are the basics of “right and wrong” and come naturally when children are taught based on who they are. I let my values be their guide, and through example, our family’s principles have become second nature to all of my children.
If ever something “wrong” came to the surface, I let natural consequences be their punishment. For example, one of my daughters cheated on a test. She was so determined to get a good grade, and somewhere along the way she made a poor choice. Because of her strong moral values, the natural consequence of guilt was enough for her, and she corrected her mistake with honesty.
Also, learning how to fail was an important lesson for my children. Robert F. Kennedy once said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” You see, the only real failure in life is failing to TRY. Most kids are taught only about winning and success, but nothing about what leads to these. Teaching my kids that failure is part of the foundation to triumph, that it’s simply a required step in achieving their goals, has proved invaluable to their success as adults.
I wanted my children to “shoot for the stars”
and think nothing less of themselves if they fell short.
I’ve found that in life, limits only sustain people. I knew that limitless potential required my children to be confident in themselves, and I wanted to give them stepping stones of responsibility and control at a pace that fit each child’s developmental stage. So I gave my kids choices…choices that they could handle…choices that would foster independence and confidence. Giving them the power to choose for themselves, was like planting the seed of self- reliance and confidence.
Empowerment gives us such great satisfaction. It allows us to feel like we can conquer anything, and more importantly, that we (not others) have the power to define our lives.
Every parenting technique is different, as well as every child. In my experience, principle based parenting worked for my children. I never worried about them blindly “following the crowd,” because I taught my kids how to act/react based on their principles. I never dealt with typical teenage defiance because there were no rules to defy.
Doing what is best for you and your family is going to look different from mine, but ultimately when it comes to the question of how to best raise kids, the answer is love…hands down.