Should Parents Always Win?

Before I had children, I was talking to a mom about her parenting philosophies. I remember that she told me that she made it clear to her children that she would always win. I thought that was very wise to make it clear to the children that mom was in charge and it showed that this mom was willing to do whatever she needed to do to enforce the expectation she had set.

Over the years, I have seen many parents following this approach to parenting. The basic idea is that once the parent sets an expectation (ie. you must eat this, you may not play with that now, you cannot wear that, you must clean your room, do your homework now, etc.) the parent must follow through with enforcing that expectation. Backing down from the expectation would undermine the parent’s authority and teach the child that they can argue with the parents and win.

This approach to parenting leads parents to sometimes enforce expectations they set even though they realize they may have made a mistake. But, the thinking goes, “It is important that I win because my child must understand that I always win. I am in charge.”

I think you can really only take this approach to parenting if you are a perfect parent. I will be the first to raise my hand and say that I am not perfect. I sometimes set expectations that are not fair and are not the best for a given situation. In those situations, I am not afraid to back down and change my expectations.

I believe that this prepares my children best for the real world. I want them to think for themselves rather than mindlessly follow orders. I want my children to know that I am  not perfect and I have no illusions that I am perfect. I want to have a relationship with my children based on healthy dialogue, not authoritarian commands.

Its important to keep in mind the following if you are going to choose to let your children win sometimes:

First, children can begin to think that every decision their parent makes is up for negotiation. Children need to understand that sometimes what mom or dad says is the way it is. Period. No discussion. Some children are great negotiators and will try to turn every situation into a negotiation. You need to tell your children (in a calm voice) when you have made your final decision and there will be no discussions.

Second, when children disagree with your decision they must respond in a respectful way. This approach to parenting should not open the door to whining and complaining as children seek to get their way. My children are free to explain their thoughts on an expectation I set, but they must do it in a respectful way. It is healthy to even use the language, “you need to speak to me respectfully”, or “because you did not respond in a respectful way, this discussion is over. However, I would love to hear your thoughts next time if you are willing to respond in an appropriate way”.

Third, keep in mind that giving children good choices is the best approach to parenting in most situations. This approach respects the ability of your children to make good choices and prevents many power struggles. If you are afraid that allowing your children to win sometimes will give you too many headaches, maybe giving choices in some situations is the right step for you. This typically avoids a lot of discussions because the child is allowed to choose for themselves. This is often a win-win approach to parenting.

If I set an expectation and one of my children gives me a good reason to change the expectation, does that mean that they won and I lost? I don’t think so! If my child is able to articulate a legitimate concern and provide a good alternative to my expectation, I would call that a win-win.

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