As a parent, I’ve had many successes and many failures. I have realized that when things go well, I’m using relational parenting over authoritarian or disciplinarian methods. What do I mean by this? I am constantly aware of maintaining a strong relationship with my kids. And when I have to make decisions as a parent, I run it through the filter of if the decision will strengthen the relationship or not.
A Common Example
So, if my son asks me to help with a project the night before it is due, I could yell at him, tell him he’s going to have to take a low grade for not preparing in advance, or some other form of tough love. But those reactions may not build the relationship or teach my son any lesson except that I’m a hard parent. The next time he has a problem, he may not be inclined to talk to me about it. If I’m acting as a relational parent, I treat him with respect as I explain to him that if he has a project due, he needs to give me warning. I need at least a few days so I have time to get supplies and plan it out. I’d be happy to help him because I care about his education, but my busy schedule does not really allow me to give time to a project with one day’s notice. I would say all of this calmly, not giving a lecture. I wouldn’t drop everything to help him, I’d do what I can. If the project suffers, I’d ask my son to ask the teacher if he could redo it. He’d still have to do the project. As a relational parent, I will teach my son what to do next time, but not make him feel bad about himself in the process. I would have empathy and care about his feelings. I may have to do this several times for a kid who’s less organized than others. But I would continue to teach and explain in a calm way that maintains our relationship. That would build trust, honesty, and openness.
Relational Parenting is Different from a Being a Friend
Recently, I had to make some tough decisions about my son’s screen use. As he nears his teenage years, he may be exposed to inappropriate content. I had to put my foot down and say no screens behind closed doors. He was mad. Really mad. He didn’t see the harm in it. But I sat next to him while he raged, and repeatedly said very calmly, “I’m sorry, but this is the decision I’ve made.” He eventually stopped and took a break. As a parent, my relationship with my son is not like the relationship of a friend. I sometimes have to guide him and make decisions he doesn’t like. But I do so calmly and explain the why behind what I’m doing. I maintain a relationship.
Building the Relationship is Fun
Relational parenting doesn’t just come into play when I have to establish boundaries. Building the relationship is fun too. I like to spend quality time with my kids. I like having deep conversations over ice cream where we connect on an emotional level. I like taking walks with them just to talk. I like getting hot chocolate together when it snows outside. I spend time with my kids that is just fun time.
Connect on an Emotional Level
I also talk…really talk…with my kids about anything. I ask them what they did in their days every time they come home from school. This usually brings up topics to discuss. I ask them how they felt about struggles or triumphs. I bring up uncomfortable topics like sex and sometimes use humor to lighten the mood. I don’t talk down to them. I ask them what they think and I get their opinion on negotiable things like where we should go eat that night or how we should handle conflicts with our siblings. They feel like they can share their honest thoughts and feelings with me without judgment. I’ve established openness and honesty and I tell them no matter what they do, I’ll always still love them. Whenever I say that, they say, but what if I murdered someone and I was in prison. I assure them, even then, I’d still love them. They are never afraid I’ll leave them or will be too angry or judgmental with them. They know I’m safe and supportive. Always.
When You Get Angry
This doesn’t mean I don’t ever get angry with them. Or lose my patience. But when I do, I apologize and give hugs. I’ll always make up with them and try to be more flexible next time. Flexibility is really important in relational parenting. I like to negotiate with my kids and listen to their opinions unless it’s a safety issue or big deal rule that I’ve got to stick to. This changes everything. They feel like valued human beings this way.
I have a great relationship with my kids that will last throughout their lives. I truly enjoy their company. I love them more than anyone else, and I look forward to how our relationship will grow as my children age and become adults. I will always be there for them to guide them and listen. I will respect them and encourage them. I value them and love investing in them as individuals. My relationship with them is of utmost importance.