My children were great bargainers, and me being quite the free spirit, I tended to listen to the bargaining and give in from time-to-time. The thing about making rules and then bending rules is that very soon no clear rules exist. Then when a situation popped up that required me to stick to the rule and not budge an inch, they could not believe how “unfair” I had become! How could I be so mean? How could I not see their sides? Did I not trust them? Nobody else’s parents have such a ridiculous standard! You get the picture. The result was a lot of misery on both sides.

As a parent and a naturally soft-hearted person, rule enforcement was not easy, but it was mandatory . . . And let’s admit it—there are times when an appeal to the rules should be made. If bedtime is 8:30, but relatives from afar are visiting, maybe we stretch it that night. If folded clothes are to be put away in their drawers by suppertime, but they had a school project they were finishing up, then make sure it is done before bed. But as a general rule, a rule is a rule and should be ruled regularly with no room for unruling the rule. I had to relieve myself of the ogre image I turned into every time I had to enforce something, so I made a plan.

First, I made the rules clear. I also clarified which ones were nonnegotiable. I then set penalties and consequences for the rules. I let them know that if negotiation took place, it was prior to bending, not after—full consequences would still be enforced. So, when a rule was violated, I was no longer the bad guy, because I would remind them that they knew the rule and the result. 

My teenage daughter had slyly developed a habit of putting her cleaned clothes back in the dirty clothes hamper if she were rushed for time to get them put away (Really???!!!). Normally she would squish them up, so I had no idea, but one time I found them still folded and in the hamper! I faced her with it and explained calmly that it was to never happen again, and if it did, I would ground her for a week. I did laundry daily for six people, and that was inexcusable. Well, it happened. She was in a rush to get her room cleaned before 5:00 on Friday. If a room was not cleaned by then, no weekend activities with friends. Lo and behold, as I glanced in the hamper, there were her still-folded clothes. I calmly walked into her room—as she frantically got ready to go out for the night with her friends—and held out the clothes and explained she was grounded for the week . . . starting now. Oh my, the bargaining began, followed by the meltdown, then finally, the closing of the door to mourn. I never yelled or even got upset. I simply reminded her that she knew the rule and had made the choice to defy it. It was actually a freeing moment for me, because the reality was she had made the decision and held the responsibility for the consequences. And for a few moments that evening, I had mastered parenting . . . briefly. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, just as a father disciplines the son in whom he delights”

(Proverbs 3:12, CSB).

— Daphne Murrell 

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