Balanced Parenting: An Unattainable Myth or An Idealized Reality
Balanced parenting is the idea that you strike a perfect balance between nurturing and controlling when parenting your children. The people who propose it as a goal note that too much controlling or rules is not good, and that too much nurturing at the expense of discipline can also be bad. Obviously, both of these things are true. We’ve all seen kids whose parents are too strict and controlling and kids whose parents have the attitude of “anything goes” and it is tempting to try to find a middle ground, but what about a perfect balance?
A simplistic solution would be to alternate your “yes” and “no” so that you end up with the same amount, however, in real life, this would never work. Imagine if you tried this and your children figured out the pattern?
“Can I have more orange juice?”
“Do I have to clean up my dishes?”
“May I have twenty dollars?”
Definitely unworkable! Besides, the balance may be the wrong way to go anyway. Maybe half and half isn’t even the right ratio. Perhaps, as you probably already suspect the ratio would change for each individual child, some need more nurturing, others needing more rules. Things get tricky quickly if you have more than one child, nurturing the one that needs more while putting more boundaries on the one who needs guardrails may be seen as “picking favorites” or worse.
What’s a parent to do?
It’s easy to lose sight of the goal when you’re surrounded with rabbit trails of parenting advice. Remember what is important, you’re raising children to become adults. What kind of adult do you want your kid to be? This is the prime question and the amazing answer to all your problems.
Generally, we want adults to be confident, honest, hard-working, caring, kind, pleasant to be around, loyal and smart. Maybe you’ll add in a few other “wants” but if you can get this list accomplished you’re doing better than most.
So we start from a premise of “how does this thing I’m doing accomplish these goals?” and we work from there.
Rules should be focused on achieving one of these goals or preventing the opposite from happening, with the understanding that no child can or will follow every rule every time. Make sure that when you’re making a rule that it is clear, important, and easy to abide by. Rules that keep a child safe, or help them understand to respect others are a must. Manners are important, but make sure what you’re requiring is actually relevant and not just something silly people get hung up on for no reason.
Nurturing comes in when you realize that a child breaking a rule always has a reason for it, even if they can’t or won’t tell you what that reason is. Maybe they were over-tired, over-stimulated, or just being asked to do something they developmentally weren’t ready for. Perhaps they were doing just fine and testing the waters of rebellion to see what would happen. Regardless, it’s good to remember that kids are not mini-adults, but people who are figuring the world out and sometimes those experiments don’t make a lot of sense to us. It’s important to find a way to nurture a child through this without shaming them, making them feel like a failure, or damaging your relationship.
When the trouble starts
While balanced parenting in the sense of a perfectly even amount of rules and nurturing can be impossible and maybe not even a recommended path to take, the effects of unbalanced parenting are wide-reaching and negative.
Too many rules
If you have too many rules and micromanage your children you might find they have little self-confidence and often do not have the courage to make their own choices. This leads to low self -esteem and often the inability to make friends and maintain friendships. You can do a double-check to see that you’re not being to controlling by making sure you’re not overly critical of your children’s habits to the point that they feel paranoid, overriding your children’s feelings and discounting their preferences, treating any independence on your child’s behalf as a rejection towards you, treating your kids like they have to earn your support by obeying you always.
If you’re too permissive your children may act out trying to remedy the situation. Kids thrive on routine and boundaries if your rules are unclear or inconsistent it sets up a situation where your child will continually test them to find out where the line really is, and this sets you up for a lot of frustration and lashing out arbitrarily. If you ignore your child’s rebellion in matters where they are behaving unsafely or when it hurts their friendships you can be setting them up for a very unhappy life.
Coming back from the brink
You may have realized there are areas where you’re too strict or too permissive and want to know how to get back to a more balanced existence. The best advice is, to be honest with your child, explain that new boundaries are needed and work together to stick to the new plan. Give your child space to be angry or resentful and keep in mind that more rules are not always the answer. Have an attitude of grace during the adjustment period but keep things as consistent as possible. It’s okay to realize that your child broke a rule because of circumstances outside their control and maybe give them a little bit of a break but the conversation about following the rules and reasons they are important still needs to happen.
Head off trouble by trying to avoid enforcing rules during times when it’s better to be more lenient like when your child is over-tired or ill, and rely on nurturing to help your child learn to express and cope with the negative emotions that happen when they are caught doing things they know they shouldn’t.
Learning balance is a lifetime journey, and you may mess up along the way, but give yourself some room for that, no parent is perfect just like no child is perfect, we can only try our best.