Parenting is one of the greatest joys; and yet, at the same time, it’s one of the greatest challenges we face in marriage. I don’t think I have ever heard anyone say they felt totally competent as a parent. For most of us, parenting involves on-the-job training, and we usually feel we are playing catch-up for eighteen years or so. We don’t get a practice kid. We are “live” with the real thing from day one. So what do we do?
First, I am not a parenting expert. I never have been and don’t think I ever will be, but there are a couple of things Nancy and I learned that seemed to make sense and—for the most part—work. They are be fair and be consistent.
For us, being fair was defined by the standards we set in our home. As our kids were growing up, we wanted their privileges to be fair. What one got to do at sixteen, the other one got to do at sixteen. Being fair had nothing to do with what the kids down the street got to do. Being fair centered on our kids and our home. That was tough because sometimes it seemed like “everyone”—not only on our street, but in the entire world—got to do something or go somewhere and our kids did not. Someone once told me that parenting is not a popularity contest. That was great advice—but not always easy to follow. Our pattern was to listen to our kids together, talk it over in private together, and tell them our decision together.
Being consistent was much harder for me than it was for Nancy, so I needed to listen to her on this one. It worked best when we set up guidelines and then determined the consequences for breaking them ahead of time. That kept us from over-disciplining. (Example: “You can’t drive the car again for the rest of your life!” That’s not only unfair but also impossible to enforce.) If we grounded one of our kids, they remained grounded until the time was up. Keeping consistent helped us in a number of ways, but it definitely helped us keep the discipline fair.
Being fair and being consistent works. It works at two and at seventeen. It establishes a framework in which you can raise your kids, and it keeps both parents on the same page.