This week, in one of our rambling conversations about what's up in our lives, my son schooled me in military leadership. Turns out it's really similar to parenting.
'A general can't really lead through fear or violence or rewards. He has to make the troops love him. Because people will fight for love. But if it's just fear, they'll run away as soon as they can.'
So similar to parenting, right? Using force (physical or emotional or mental) is not sustainable. If we control a child through fear (of what we'll take away, of disappointing us, of bad things that will happen if they don't listen) or rewards (a cookie or a new phone, the lure of getting into a 'good' college, our approval and love), they're going to run as soon as they can. 'Running' might look like moving far away from us when they grow up, but it's more likely to look like distancing. Maybe they won't talk with us about their joys and sorrows, won't reach out for our help when they're confused,
'But a general has to command respect. He has to be tough. And be able to do the things soldiers do.'
Same with us as parents, huh? It's important to earn our kids respect by speaking honestly and respectfully, by treating ourselves with respect, by living with dignity. And we have to be courageous enough to set clear and fair limits, even when we know that the limit could blow up into a drama.
Parenting is leadership, and a good leader builds a solid foundation of connection. Not intimidation, control, or placating, but connection. When we love them exactly as they are, they feel safely connected. Then, things go better.
As a mom (to 2 teenage sons), wife, and person in the world, I have been on a long imperfect journey. I have made many mistakes, but with mindfulness, emotional reflection, and lots of support I have learned enormously from those mistakes.