Parenting is an example of leadership in which relationships require us to straddle a fine balance between being friendly and being directive. Our love for those we lead can see us desire a closeness that can also undermine our need to provide strong overseeing guidance. Unhealthy motives such as a desire to be in control, though, can compromise or overshadow genuine love. Of course, the extent to which this balance becomes a challenge depends in no small way on the person being led. Children are all so different. Those resistant to a directive parenting style, though, have often already taken advantage of their mum or dad. The trick to best handling our responsibilities here is in what I call ‘loving forward’.
Whilst parents are not their children’s ‘friends’, as such, there can still be a friendly relationship. In the same way, the job of leading a child can’t be so directive that there is no evidence of love (perhaps other than that supposedly passed off as ‘tough love’). ‘Loving forward’ is not permissiveness and it is not authoritarianism. It provides an atmosphere of relationally-evidenced love that can calmly and confidently challenge and question choices and directions where the primary driver is (honestly) the welfare of the child and not the fear of any consequences of being disobeyed.
For a stronger-willed child, they are testing boundaries and fundamentally need to know that there will be clear, coolly-enacted, and consistent consequences for violating them. These are a must, but so too is that a child will be unconditionally loved in spite of a bristling attitude. Joking and light-heartedness work best when there is a regular attempt to build relationship through breakfasts together, playing sport or video games, or even the routine business of life such as helping with homework. Delivering an ultimatum from on high can seem ‘oh so right’, yet be ‘oh so wrong’ when there is not a healthy context for doing life together. The nagging intensity of a parent can seem worse when secondary behaviours are enough of a focus that they avoid discussion about primary concerns because they also communicate a lack of care about what is truly important.
Pulling rank, rather than loving forward, is so easy to justify in the face of parental busyness, but working hard to build a healthy ‘tomorrow’ doesn’t replace the need to live a healthy ‘today’. Where this is simply not working, it is important to get help. This can just be a second opinion of parenting strategies from a trusted friend, or some helpful suggestions of what has worked for another parent with a child with a similar personality type.
Finally, it would be fair to say that these strategies work for almost any relationships. Trust is foundational, but won’t be built unless the welfare of the individual is of paramount importance. Great employers, teachers and coaches all know that a variety of styles and personalities can be tolerated and worked with, provided that care is in evidence and not simply alleged whilst actually covering for other greater motivations such as payment, affirmation or control.
Loving forward is easier said than done, but worth the fight and worth eating humble pie over when we need some assistance. No parenting or leadership venture can surely be effective without love or without realising the important goal of moving those we lead further forwards in life.