Rules vs. Relationships. The first time I heard about this was at a local homeschool convention. There was a man speaking (I can’t remember his name) about how he damaged his relationship with his son by putting rules ahead of relationship. He was so rigid with his rules that his son felt unloved and misunderstood. When he recognized what he was doing (destroying his son’s spirit), he turned that around and his relationship with his son was healed. Let’s face it… parenting teens is tough business, but the last thing we want to do is to crush their spirits. Sometimes relaxing a little and prioritizing our relationship with our teenagers above a long list of rigid rules will do wonders to bring peace and harmony back in our homes.
I’m not talking about being a pushover or some crazy idea that you should have no rules. Rather, it is about prioritizing your relationships over your rules so that you don’t cause unnecessary emotional baggage for your children. They should always know that we are on their side, even when they’ve done wrong.
It’s easy to be angry when our children do not respect our rules, and probably rightly so. Since our rules are usually for their protection, when they don’t abide by them it’s like they are sabotaging our job. It’s my responsibility to protect my kiddos and I don’t like people sabotaging my efforts.
However, sometimes rules are just for my convenience. As parents, we tend, at times, to make too many rules. Rules that don’t necessarily have anything to do with their safety or security, but more to do with our comfort. So what happens when we react with anger over an infraction? What happens to our children? Do they feel safe and secure and thank us for providing such things for them? No, not usually. More often, they internalize the anger and their focus then becomes our angry outburst rather than the fact that they broke a rule.
So, how do rules get in the way of relationship? The rules we establish for our children should be fair and reasonable and almost never non-negotiable. That doesn’t mean your child gets to argue with you when you try to enforce a rule that has been established, but it means that you might make exceptions when to do so would preserve their dignity and show that you respect them as much as you expect them to respect you.
Let’s take curfew, for example. Now, cities have curfew laws regarding kids and of course, you should always teach your children to respect the law. But what if it’s not a case of breaking the law? What if it’s a parent-set curfew? Should the child respect it as well? Absolutely! But here is the kicker. When enforcing that curfew might damage the relationship, maybe an exception could be made.
Maybe something happened that was outside of her control, but you don’t allow her to explain. Could there be a good reason why she violated her curfew? Could she have called ahead to explain? Could you help her see how she can make better choices next time rather than just dish out a punishment and send her away to sulk?
You have a choice in this situation, too. You can be rigid in your requirement and just tell her she’s grounded for being late, so she has a good week to think about how unfair you are or you can have a discussion with her about why curfew is important and what could be done differently next time.
Discipline is about teaching our kids to make good choices, it’s not always about punishment. Sometimes, grace is necessary to ensure that we are disciplining our kids and not just punishing them. Usually the difference is that discipline is about them and punishment is about us: how they disrespected us, how they don’t listen to us, how upset we are. Whereas discipline is about helping them, teaching them and loving them enough to care that they do the right things and helping them find a way to do better in the future.
How does this affect our relationships? That’s a good question to ask yourself when you’re about to dole out a punishment. How will this affect our relationship? Am I teaching or punishing? Will my child receive any benefit out of my response or is it just to satisfy my frustration? Am I helping my child or hurting him with my response?
Please hear my heart on this. I’m not saying that every rule should be flimsy and flexible or that there shouldn’t be consequences, but just that our response to the rule-breaking should be one of compassion and love for our children and aimed at preserving our relationships and teaching them to do right. Sometimes our response can do way more harm than the infraction they committed could ever do. We need to discipline our children, most definitely. But, sometimes that means we are willing to offer grace when needed.
Have you reacted to a child’s disobedience with a punishment that you later regretted because it caused him to harden his heart toward you? Did that make it harder to truly discipline him at a later time because he was more focused on your reaction than on his actions? How did you overcome that to restore your relationship?