Facts for Living: Wise parenting – Aim for the right purpose

By Rebecca McFarland, Frontier Extension Agent

As a parent, when your teen breaks his curfew for the second time in a week, you may want to punish him by grounding him for a week, after you let him know how upset you are with his decision. If your focus is on punishment for disobeying you, you may feel better in the short run, but it’s doubtful that your child will learn anything of longer-term value. But, if you focus on a more caring and long-term purpose, like helping your child learn responsibility or the importance to living up to agreements, the response is likely to produce future benefits.

Without some clear goal in mind, some larger purpose to guide the problem-solving process, it’s a lot less likely that you’ll reach a wise solution. A wise purpose is about what you would ideally like to achieve.

When I provide parenting classes, I often ask parents to think long-term and ask them to fill out a worksheet called “Opening the Door”. The worksheet requires the parent to think about what qualities they would like to see in their child in 20 years when they come home to visit. I then ask them to think about how their child is going to acquire those qualities and why it is important to look at parenting as a long-term project.

Knowing how to aim for the right purpose can be challenging. A wise purpose often has the following features:

Unselfish. A wise purpose gives priority to our child’s best interests, rather than the parents’ needs.

Balance long-term aims and short-term solutions. In the short run we want to keep our child safe and healthy, but our long-term aim is to help our teen develop the judgment and ability to manage their own health and safety in the future.

Principled and ethical. A wise purpose is consistent with our moral and ethical values and is about doing the right thing for the right reason. For example, asking your teen to treat you with respect and consideration because “in our family we follow the golden rule and treat others the way we would like to be treated” is a more constructive and valuable purpose than doing it to avoid punishment.

Focuses on positive aims. A wise purpose is more about achieving hopes and possibilities than to avoiding fears and dangers. For instance, rather than focusing on how to prevent our teen from doing drugs, we might try to help him or her develop a healthy lifestyle built on responsible choices.

One of the biggest mistakes parents make when addressing child-rearing problems is implementing strategies that have little to do with solving the problem. That is because they are aiming for the wrong purpose. When we are clear about the purpose – what we’d really like to see accomplished – the strategy or tools that are needed to achieve it become clearer.

Identifying purpose is perhaps the most important step in wisely responding to most parenting challenges. Until we know where we’re headed, it’s impossible to know which road to take. I encourage parents to think long-term and “work themselves out of a job”.

McFarland_RebeccaRebecca McFarland is the Frontier Extension District family and consumer sciences agent. For more information, she can be contacted at the Extension district’s Ottawa office, 1418 S. Main, Suite 2, Ottawa, KS 66067, or call 785-229-3520, or email [email protected].

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