I am 6’2” tall , and I have size twelve feet. Long ago I accepted the fact that “one size does not fit all!” Occasionally, however, I would forget that this truth also applies to parenting. It never took long for one of my children to remind me.
Sometimes I realized my mistake after an awkward conversation with one of my children while driving them home from an appointment. At other times, the light would come on after a tearful conversation at bedtime. The most painful conversations often occurred during special family business meetings initiated by one of my offspring. If I got off easy, it only cost me an expensive family outing, or a puppy. Other summits, however, motivated me to reevaluate my parenting methods.
I have concluded that many parents are susceptible to cookie-cutter parenting just as I was. I believe there are at least four reasons why.
First, parents tend to utilize the same parenting methodology that their parents used on them.
We parent what we know. Our experience, even when painful, is our default This was never more evident to me than when I chose to enroll my children in the local public school. My parents obtained their education in public schools. They naturally dispatched me, and my four siblings, to public school in like manner. My father was a Baptist pastor, and he expected his children to be “salt and light” to their classmates. I certainly had a few shining moments during my educational odyssey, but many of my memories are still painful to recall.
I transferred to a new school at the close of third grade after my father relocated to a new church field. The resident third grade bully was concerned that I might be tougher than he was, and he was anxious to assert his alpha male status. I, on the other hand, desperately wanted to make a friend. When I refused to fight him, he had his brother in the ninth grade intercept me after school to teach me a lesson I would not forget. When I staggered home from school, my bewildered father could only cite scriptures about being “salt and light” to comfort me. In seventh grade, I was the only student in my grade who had never been heard to use profanity, and that bothered many of my classmates. They made it their quest to drive me to whatever extreme was necessary to motivate me to curse, and, if possible, abandon my faith. Perhaps the climax of their efforts occurred when a student slashed my wrist with a sharp object during class. I ultimately contracted blood poisoning and was taken to the hospital. Let’s just say, the seventh and eighth grades were two of the most difficult years of my life.
But do you know what I did when my first child was old enough to enroll in school? I carted him off to public school, as my parents had done with me. Because that’s all I knew to do. None of my friends had their children in Christian schools. After all, we wanted our children to attend university eventually. Homeschooling was completely out of the question!
Fast-forward several years. My second son was experiencing bullying in seventh grade. I determined to do something about it and scheduled an appointment to speak with the principal. When I explained my concerns, she readily acknowledged the problem. She informed me that the police had been tracking those particular bullies since the fourth grade. When I asked what she intended to do, she teared up and confessed that she, too, had suffered horribly during that same grade. I kid you not.
It dawned on me for the first time that I had more parental options at my disposal than merely copying what my parents had done. It was liberating! Soon all three of my children were happily ensconced in a Christian private school.
The issue was not public, private, or homeschool. The key was deciding whether I would do exactly as my parents had done or if I would find what worked best for my children.
Second, parents succumb to the mind-numbing influence of conventional wisdom.
Conventional wisdom consists of widely held beliefs people hold because it is the current trend or commonly held viewpoint. These practices are rarely challenged because they are heralded as “common sense.” There is often a kernel of truth to these opinions, or perhaps the methodology was effective years ago, so it makes them seductive. It’s ironic that parents will lecture their children about not conforming to the crowd and then those same parents will blithely fall in line with the current parenting trends unquestioningly.
Over the years I learned it was ok, and even healthy, to push back on conventional wisdom if it was ineffective for one of my children. For example, conventional wisdom declared it was unhealthy for children to quit what they started. That sounded reasonable. After all, who wants to raise a quitter? However, I discovered that there were situations when it was foolhardy to force my children to persevere with activities that were quenching their spirit. Common wisdom suggested that to raise good, Christian children, parents needed to surround them with ample rules and curfews so they would not go astray. I learned that a household filled with rules was usually short on character. I was also informed that children needed to hear regular doses of “no,” so they do not grow up to be spoiled. However, I learned that the world regularly stifles children’s dreams and passion. I concluded that Christian homes should focus on possibilities rather than prohibitions. This is not to say that conventional wisdom should be discarded wholesale. There can be great value in collective wisdom. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, the key is not what everyone else is doing, but what works best for my child.
Third, parents are seduced by early success.
If your firstborn is good-natured and compliant, you assume you can apply the identical parenting techniques to all of your children. After all, “it” worked for your first one. Too often parents cling to earlier success and fail to adjust to the unique personality and needs of each child. I have three children. Each one challenged me to adapt and adjust (and pray) until I found the approach that worked best for them. Don’t squeeze all of your children into the same mold!
Fourth, parents fail to consider options.
Raising children in today’s society is an enormous undertaking. Our children face dangers, temptations, and predators unlike anything we encountered when we were growing up. Nevertheless, with today’s problems, are also a plethora of options. There is a multitude of educational tools, tracks, and helps. Technology offers a wide array of parenting tools. There are many family support organizations and programs. Don’t assume that what is best for your child is too expensive, time-consuming, or difficult. Answers are available. The key is to take the time to discover them, and use them.
Each child is an amazing, undeserved gift from God. Don’t minimize their uniqueness by parenting them in identical fashion. Be creative! Be daring! Be willing to do whatever it takes so each child thrives.
Editor’s Note: For more help on parenting, we recommend a recent book Richard Blackaby and his daughter Carrie co-authored, Customized Parenting in a Trending World. This book will help you find the courage and creativity to challenge cultural norms and customize your parenting so each of your children can thrive. For a limited time, receive a 30% discount if you order at www.elevatepub.com/books/customized-parenting.
Dr. Richard Blackaby is the president of Blackaby Ministries International (blackaby.org). He is a prolific author and international speaker on the subject of leadership in the home, workplace, and church. He is married to Lisa and has three children.
This article originally appeared in The RENEWANATION Review, Volume 6 Issue 2. If you would like to become a member and receive a print edition of the magazine, please click here. If you would like to learn about other ways you can get involved, please click here.