I often vacillate between two approaches to parenting: strength and tenderness. Holding both together at the same time is difficult. When I’m only being strong with my kids, strict boundaries and immediate consequences, I often feel that I’m missing them and if I’m giving them too much to bear. On the flip side, when I’m only tender with them, not reacting to their violation but welcoming them into forgiveness without clear consequences, I’m giving them too much power.
At the core, kids are always asking their parents if they are loved and if they can get what their way. Exhibiting only strength tells them that they cannot get their way and that they are not loved. On the other side, Exhibiting only tenderness tells them that they are indeed loved and that they can get their way. Neither of these are very good options (nor is the response, which I won’t delve into much here, that they are not loved and that they can get their way, which is neither strong nor tender) in and of themselves.
Being a good parent requires, among other attributes, a lot of self-sacrifice, patience, and sleep; and ultimately good parenting goes only as far as the parent’s ability to be the adult/grown-up with their kids. Mimicking their child’s behavior in response to the child is telling the child one thing, and one thing only: You are not safe with me. You are not safe because I don’t have the ability to manage my own emotions, and when you need me most (which is often when a child has royally messed up), your emotions are going to erupt and go everywhere. Our kids need us to be the adults, the healthy ones who can manage our emotions and not let ourselves get out of control. This is not to say that emotions need to stay internalized or to not be expressed, but that they be expressed in a way that is constructive, not destructive. I’ve spoken with a lot of parents who get the emotions right, but deliver them in harmful and subtly destructive ways.
Exhibiting both strength and tenderness with kids tells them that they are indeed loved, so much so that it would be unloving to not bring about some sense of consequence due to their actions. Strength and tenderness is when your lap and arms are open for your child to crawl up into after you’ve dolled out some consequence. When our kids know that we’re going to be a safe place for them to return, they are free to be who they were created to be. There is freedom, ultimately the only way of freedom, in boundaries, consequences, and rules.