As parents, we’re faced with the ever-evolving challenge of setting up a structure for our family that is healthy and balanced and serves to guide our children through life. We are charged with equipping them to face hardships, to show kindness, and to do for themselves. A huge part of raising our kids is discipline – equipping them with expectations, guidelines and principles that they are expected to follow.
When it comes to discipline, no two families are alike. We all have different preferences, goals, and standards for our children. While I may value and work to instill good manners, my friend may put a greater premium on cleaning up messes. For all of us, there is an ideal, an equilibrium we are seeking to achieve within our households. The things we strive to teach our kids is the fabric of who we are, the sum of our own childhood, our decisions, and our spousal agreements and disagreements. It is the essence of our hope as parents – a hope that we will send our children into the world as caring citizens who will chase down their own dreams and build a life of their own.
Because the genetic make-up of how we raise our kids looks different for us all, so do the types of battles we choose to fight. We can probably all agree on the big stuff (punching your teacher is not OK), but in the daily, mundane grind our words of correction sound very different.
The first challenge in choosing your battles as a parent is identifying areas where you’re fine with a little flex. I find that these questions are helpful in discerning the more flexible areas:
Is this behavior harming anyone (including your child)?
Does this behavior negatively impact your child’s character?
Do I want to correct this behavior because it’s best for my child, or best for me?
These questions are not an exhaustive list, but a simple starting point in deciding if the battle is one we’d like to fight. When I asked some of my mom friends about areas where they choose not to combat their kids, many of them agreed that clothing is a battle not worth fighting. A mismatched outfit will not harm anyone. It will not negatively affect the child’s character (hey, it may even enhance their creativity!). And it’s (usually) more about mom than child to have a well-dressed kid.
When it comes to choosing your battles, it doesn’t just end with a decision to act or not to act. How we address behavior is also incredibly important. A friend told me that when she decides to engage, she seeks to let her words be “few and kind.” This really struck me. Are we engaging in a battle with our kids as if they are the enemy, when indeed they are our charge to protect and nurture? Lacing our words with kindness does not mean that we are not firm and steady with our children, but it means that we keep our own emotions in check and demonstrate patience and love, even while doling out a punishment.
Another key to choosing your battles wisely is consistency. When our children are clear on our expectations and standards, we create a safe and predictable environment in which they are able to thrive. When we battle an issue one day and let it slide the next, we create confusion and chaos. Sometimes I find this consistency the most difficult, especially when it is inconvenient, in public, in a mad rush to get out of the house on time, or just the hundredth time I’ve had to repeat myself (and it’s only 9:00am). But I’m reminded that through consistency and well-chosen battles, there is fruit – even if I don’t see it today (or tomorrow).