Q: Our family schedule is pretty crazy, and it seems like we're all just getting busier. We're trying to make changes, but meanwhile I'm concerned about staying connected with our children in what little "free time" we have. What do you suggest?
Jim: Parenting can certainly be challenging, and it's easy to let the serious business fill every hollow. But sometimes you just have to know when to be playful.
I'll share a personal example. I came home from work one day just as my boys came dragging into the house from the backyard. Troy was limping and Trent had a black and blue mark emerging on his chin. "What happened?" I asked. Troy said, "Don't jump on the trampoline with Mom. She landed on my ankle." Then Trent said, "Her knee cracked me right in the jaw."
Obviously, that playtime didn't go so well, but believe it or not, it did have a positive outcome. First, it was a moment we all still laugh about. But more importantly, Jean's playfulness drew the boys closer to her. The bum ankle and sore jaw are long forgotten, but my boys will always remember their mom taking time out of her busy schedule to play with them.
That's a great reminder for every parent. The pressures of adult life can make us a little too serious sometimes. Be playful. Play board games, wrestle on the floor, throw the ball around. Find something your children like to do and join them. It'll deepen your relationship with them, and they'll see you as more than a disciplinarian or someone who cooks dinner and does the laundry. They'll see you as someone who really enjoys spending time with them whenever you can. And to a child, that equals feeling loved.
Q: Our son is 10 years old. Up to this point, I'll admit that we didn't give much thought to entertainment, since he was content with what we gave him. But now he's starting to develop his own interests and tastes, and we want to establish some reasonable guidelines. What are your thoughts?
Bob Waliszewski, Director, Plugged-In: The key is to avoid extremes. Many parents take an "all or nothing" approach, rather than teaching and reinforcing values on a case-by-case basis. These Moms and Dads tend to swing to one extreme or the other -- something that's easy to do.
The first extreme is permissiveness. Some parents seemingly can't say no to their children. They so much want to be liked by their kids that they seldom risk setting limits. They adopt an "anything goes" philosophy: No boundaries, everything is OK, do what you want. This approach leads to "indecent exposure" as children wander, aimless and wide-eyed, through the mire of the entertainment culture. We have to be parents who know how and when to say no.
The other extreme is legalism. Parents at this end of the spectrum rarely explain their decisions, but simply respond with a blanket "No." This type of parenting purports to be about safeguarding. It isn't. While this approach may simplify entertainment decisions, it also can breed rebellion. Human nature being what it is, at some point kids will want to sample "forbidden fruit" just because "everything" has been refused without context. That's why we also need to be parents who can say yes when it's warranted.
Neither of the extremes works. A discerning middle ground -- that not only articulates what (yes or no) but also why -- is the most reasonable and protective plan of action. Teaching discernment encourages balance, leads to critical thinking, bonds families, and gives tweens and teens life skills they'll carry throughout adulthood.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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