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Strict Parenting a Bit Differently

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Erin was playing a recording of an interview she did, but I made her stop it abruptly at one point.

"You just told that lady that I was not a strict parent." I asked her, "How do you figure I was not strict as a parent?"

The conversation that ensued was eye opening for both of us.

I had not realized that my children regarded parenting with an emphasis on positive motivation and with high expectations as not being strict. My children had not considered that not being mean was not the same as not being strict, and that I was quite strict about them meeting standards set quite high in order to earn trust, freedom, and allowance.

Much of what I did as a parent was done because I was single and the custodial parent. I also had two part-time jobs in addition to my full time job to make ends meet as best I could. Their mother and I were able to work out a good arrangement when we split up, but that fell apart when she moved to the east coast a few years later. I needed my children to be responsible to do the things that needed to be done without me utilizing punishments that I could not enforce while I was at work.

Erin said that I did not yell at her and Candace like other parents yelled at their kids as one example of me not being strict. However, when reminded, she did remember some stern conversations we had regarding behavior and expectations. She admitted that those stern conversations were more effective at resolving issues than was the yelling she witnessed elsewhere.

She said that I would allow them to stay the night at friend’s houses on school nights. I reminded her that was only allowed with trusted friends, and began as a necessary arrangement for me to work one of my part-time jobs. As my trust grew through them demonstrating responsible behavior, it was allowed at times when there was no need. Those times were always conditional upon them doing any chores at home that were assigned, and upon them getting to school in the mornings (with me picking them up and taking them if that were pre-arranged). It was also mostly Erin who exercised that privilege, with Candace usually doing it in reverse by having friends over on school nights. A couple of her friends stayed in school only because that was the condition for them staying over on school nights as they essentially lived with us.

She told me that other things I did to show me how strict I wasn’t included letting them eat when they were hungry and drink when they were thirsty without first getting my permission! Apparently not all parents allow that! I think, at that point, she was grasping at straw!

I reminded her of the time she wanted to quit the basketball team to hang out more with her friends. I told her that thinking she would be free to hang out on the streets if she did not have practice and games was not going to happen. I also made certain she understood that not playing basketball was an option the next year, but that quitting during the season was not allowed. She laughed and remembered the time she was giving the coach a bit of grief, and he asked her if she wanted him to call me down out of the stands! She agreed I was quite strict about her doing what she did to the best of her ability!

I reminded her of the time that her fifth grade teacher called me in for a conference because she was not turning in her math. When I asked her why, she shrugged her shoulders. I told her that was not an acceptable reply, and asked again why she was not turning in her math. She shrugged her shoulders again. In a matter of about two seconds I stood her up to swat her, but before I could she said "Okay, okay, I’ll talk!" We not only discovered the problem, but we also worked out a solution involving her teacher and me communicating via notes on how she was doing and what she struggled with on her home work. It not only resolved her problem with math, she excelled in it to such a degree that she was chosen later that year to be a teacher’s aide for her first grade teacher. She remembered that was really cool!

I told Candace about our conversation a few days later. She laughed. "You weren’t strict with us," she said. "We didn’t even have bed times!" I reminded her that there were wake up times, and asked if she remembered what happened when she tried to sleep past that. I asked her if she remembered the times I was called in for conferences with her teachers. I asked her if she remembered the time she tried to run away. She did, and she remembered those were not particularly fun times. After thinking about it, she, too, recalled that the freedom and allowance to do things were highly conditioned upon meeting rather high standards of behavior.

We had our struggles. My children were not perfect, nor was I. We were dealt hands that were difficult to play at times, but we always played those hands as best we could.

Now that my child rearing days are behind me, and I look at the two beautiful daughters I raised to be productive and responsible adults, the challenges that seemed almost insurmountable at times all seem worthwhile. That we all love each other, and can trust each other without second thoughts, is testament to my belief that placing enormous trust in positive motivation over punishment was, indeed, the correct way for me to raise my children. The fact that both children had to be reminded of the times that I had to put my foot down, but recall me as the coolest of all the parents of any of their friends, tells me that emphasizing character and personal responsibility as primary keys for trust, freedom, and allowances worked for me.

I suppose I should regard it as a compliment that both my children thought I was not a strict parent until, of course, I reminded them how strict I truly was. It wasn’t a strictness that included being mean. It was strict parenting a bit differently.

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