Maintaining Parental Power And Transmitting Our Values

At a seminar I gave, I spoke about the necessity of transmitting our values to our children, not only with words, but with actions. I talked about the need for children to have limits and for parents to remain firm in their convictions when they made decisions, especially decisions that are based on values. A woman raised her hand and said "But how do we do that? My nine year old daughter wanted to see "Titanic". I saw it: it had nudity, it was a love story and a tragedy, and I felt strongly that it was inappropriate for her. But all her friends saw it, and she wore me down. I finally let her see it." Another woman spoke up. "I believe it's really important that my children take swimming lessons. I signed them up for group lessons, but they insisted that the only way they'd learn to swim was if I gave them private lessons instead. I can't really afford it, but I don't know what else to do."

As these parents spoke, I was struck by how helpless they felt, and how powerful their children must feel. This feeling of powerlessness on the part of parents today is alarming, and it is becoming more and more prevalent. Some parents can't get their child to go to school some days, and with a shrug of their shoulders say "What am I supposed to do, drag my child there?" Others put up with children who won't go to bed until midnight, refuse to do chores, engage in incessant fighting with siblings or use foul language and are rude to the point of bringing their parents to tears. Universally, parents are feeling more and more impotent. They shake their heads, bewildered as to what they should do. This feeling of powerlessness makes it almost impossible for parents to transmit their values to their children. A powerless parent equals a valueless child.

At a time when society is rapidly changing, our ability to transmit our values to our children is gaining primary importance. And we can no longer assume that they will adopt our values simply because we live them. We can no longer assume that we are the primary influence on our children, and that they will automatically respect our opinions. We can no longer count on our children adhering to our limits simply because we're the parents and we said so. They are being told otherwise by far too many outside sources. This means that maintaining our position of power within our homes and being effective in transmitting our values requires that we first and foremost have a clear understanding of what our values are and why.

Many people know that they have values, but they rarely take the time to articulate them. Articulating your values is important when you have children, however, for without doing so, you can't be sure that you're effectively transmitting those values. To help you begin this process, take a moment (with your partner if you have one) to answer the following questions:

* What values do I have with regard to my body? How do I feel about nudity? What about sexuality? Is premarital sex o.k., or not? What about drugs and my body? Or drugs and my child's body? What will I tell my child about nudity, sex, drugs, and alcohol? If my child comes home with a joint in his backpack, how will I feel, and what will I say? If (s)he's had sex, how will I handle it?

* What values do I have with regard to "family"? How important is family time? Are there things which take precedence over the family?

* What values do I have about the household? Is it important that the house remain "picked up and neat"? Does a little clutter simply lend an atmosphere that the house has been "lived in"? How do I prioritize household "neatness"?

* What do I think about responsibilities? Should everyone in the family contribute, or should some members be "exempt" from responsibility? What, exactly, does responsibility mean? What kinds of things should people be responsible for?

* How should people behave towards others? Does it matter whether the "others" are family or strangers? What if someone behaves badly towards me? Does that change the "rules" about how I behave towards them?

* How do I feel about being honest? How do I feel about lying? Are some kinds of lies o.k.? What lies are, and what lies aren't? How do I make decisions with regard to being honest with others?

This is by no means a complete list, but it will get you started. As you answer the questions above, you will probably think of things to add. Do so. Make as complete a list of your values as you can. Then ask yourself: are these values my parents had, or ones that I've developed? Are they based upon both history and education, or upon one or the other? Are these values consistent - that is do they apply to both adults and children?

Once we thoroughly examine and articulate our values, we must then take a proactive stance and determine if the actions we take with our children, and the limits we set with them, uphold our values. For example, if you feel it's against your values for your child to view nudity prior to a certain age, but let him or her go to a movie that has nudity in it, you're essentially saying to your child "my values are meaningless."

In subsequent issues, we'll look at how "today's children" struggle for power. We'll examine techniques that you can use to firmly uphold your values, no matter how your children struggle for power in an attempt to get you to change your mind. I believe that when you set limits that uphold your values, you'll discover that it will free your children to be children, to enjoy their childhood without the weighty responsibilities of too much power. And you will create a healthier, happier family in the process.