Strengthening Your Parental Influence

On Saturday February 27th, 2010 three letters2 were printed in the Deseret News, a Salt Lake City newspaper, in a feature column called “Annie’s Mailbox”. These highlight how challenging parenting has become.  Common themes are feelings of helplessness and anger. What would you do in these situations?

Letter#1:

Dear Annie: My wife and I have been happy together for 25 years.  When her adult son lost his job, we let him move in with us so he could get back on his feet. Three years later, he is no better off than the day he arrived. “Joe” will find a good job, work for a while and then quit. Sometimes he won’t get out of bed until the afternoon. He contributes absolutely nothing toward the bills.

I am angry that we are living paycheck to paycheck because of the extra money we spend to feed and house Joe. He is wasting his life. I’ve suggested he move in with his father, who lives in another state. My wife says, “If it bothers you, say something to him.”

Annie, I resent that she is putting this problem in my hands instead of dealing with it herself. I know it bothers her, too. I want my home back without the extra baggage. What do I do? — Lost in My Own Home

Letter #2:

Dear Annie: I have repeatedly told my daughter to remove her things from my home because we no longer have room for them, but it does no good. We plan on moving soon and cannot take along 10 boxes of our daughter’s books and clothes.

She lives out of the country and visits two or three times a year. Each time she visits, she buys more than she can possibly take back and leaves the rest here. It is prohibitively expensive to ship boxes of books to her. What do we do? — Out-of-Space Mom

Letter #3:

Dear Annie:

Boy, did I see our family when I read the letter from “Frustrated Mom in Michigan City,” whose 14-year-old son doesn’t turn in his homework or feed the dog, but spends hours on computer games. When our son was 14, the computer games seemed harmless. He is 21 now. He dropped out of college and has an entry-level job and no future. I wish we had cut the games off completely when his marks were low. — My Avatar is General Mom”

In the above letter’s parents have lost their voice– the parents  feel stuck and powerless. Helpless. 

Think about it. Our parents would have had no problem telling us to move out, take care of our own stuff and to turn off the TV. They would have scratched and shaken their heads at us, their children who are now parents, and what we allow our children to get away with. What is happening to the modern family? Because of our cultural shift towards affluence and the technological gains we enjoy, the perfect storm has been created. In order to afford the American Dream and all the things that are being marketed to us, we have to figure out a way to pay for it. Materialism and consumerism  has made us busier. It is hard to  make the time to attach to our children or   help our children become responsible. I know it’s easier to have the above  14-year-old  gaming because we don’t have to make him do anything, like homework, or chores, or interact at dinner, but at what cost?  Allowing unlimited gaming/screen time puts parenting on autopilot and  so I get it. It’s so much easier, short term.  Technology enables  us to take  the intention and will to follow through on what is good for our children and numbs it. We will enforce the rules…later.

 There was a lot of resentment in the above letters, ironically, because they weren’t holding their children responsible. They were victims of their own bad parenting choices. There is a big price to pay when you enable your children to not be responsible. The above parents seem bewildered on how to help their children progress and step up to the plate of life.

How do we focus on developing inner attributes and strengthening our parental influence? I feel the following 13 ideas are the most essential ones I have found as I was raising my family. I will include the first one here and then follow up in the next few posts with the other twelve.

#1: A Religious Life

One way for us to strengthen our family and teach them the difference between right and wrong was to choose to be a religious family.  A focus for our family was to be connected to God, and His Son Jesus Christ.  This connection showed up as we said morning and evening family prayers, valiantly tried reading the scriptures together, saying   prayers of gratitude over our meals, and attending church and other activities during the week that reinforced learning to be like Jesus. We wanted to teach our children that we could be strengthened to get through life’s challenges by leaning on our faith and  our positive religious experiences.  A religious life for your family  will help reinforce the good values and  the connection to God  you are trying to teach your children, every week, year in and year out. You also involve your family in a community of good people, also trying to be better. This reinforcement is a big deal, with many people caring over and loving your children, and being a great example of character. The caution here is it only enhances a family’s life where there is no hypocrisy  in the parents and religion isn’t used as a weapon to punish. Otherwise, religion can be  a disaster. 

Please stay tuned for the other twelve ideas on building a strong family. There is so much that we can do to strengthen our families when we are intentional and focused.

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