QUESTION: My husband and I are doing far too much disciplining of our kids. Is there another way to encourage them to cooperate?
JAMES DOBSON: The best way to get children to do what you want is to spend time with them before disciplinary problems occur, having fun together and enjoying mutual laughter and activities. When those moments of love and closeness happen, kids are not as tempted to challenge and test the limits. Many confrontations can be avoided by building friendships with kids and thereby making them want to cooperate at home. It sure beats anger as a motivator of little ones!
QUESTION: It has always been my understanding that marriage was supposed to be based on unconditional love. That is, the commitment to each other should be independent of behavior, no matter how offensive or unfaithful. But your concept of accountability seems to be, "I will love you as long as you do what I want."
DOBSON: You've misunderstood my point. The limitations of language make it very difficult to express this concept adequately, but let me try.
I certainly believe in the validity of unconditional love, and in fact, the mutual accountability I have recommended is an expression of that love. For example, if a husband is behaving in ways that will harm himself, his children and his marriage, then confrontation with him becomes an act of love.
The easiest response by the innocent partner would be to look the other way and pretend she doesn't notice. But from my perspective, that is tantamount to a parent's refusing to confront a 14-year-old who comes home drunk at 4 a.m. That mother or father has an obligation to create a crisis in response to destructive behavior. Love demands that they do that!
I'm trying to say that unconditional love is not synonymous with permissiveness, passivity, weakness and appeasement. Sometimes it requires toughness, discipline and accountability.
QUESTION: I'm 22 years old and am still living at home. It's driving me nuts. My folks are in my face every day. They want me to get a full-time job because I only work part time at a gas station. Why can't they get off my case and leave me alone?
DOBSON: With all respect, I think it's time for you to pack. Many young adults like you continue to hang around the house because they don't know what to do next. That is a recipe for trouble. Your mother and father can't help "parenting" you if you remain under their noses. To them, it seems like only yesterday since you were born. They find it difficult to think of you as an adult.
The way you live probably irritates them, too. They may hate your messy room. They may not like your music. They may go to bed early and arise with the sun; you may keep the same hours as hamsters. Perhaps you drive the family car like you've been to Kamikaze Driving School. They want you to get a job -- go to school -- do something. Every day brings a new argument, a new battle. When things deteriorate to that point, it's time to get out.
QUESTION: What would you and your wife do if the resources permitted her to stay at home after the kids were in school?
DOBSON: I don't have to speculate about the answer that question. Shirley and I did have that option (although we sold and "ate" a Volkswagen initially to make it possible), and she stayed at home as a full-time mom. Neither she nor I has ever regretted that decision. Now that our kids are grown, we would not trade the time we invested in them for anything on Earth. Looking back today, we feel it was especially important for Shirley to be at home during our kids' teen years.
(James Dobson is president of the nonprofit organization Focus on the Family, P.O. Box 444, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80903; or www.family.org. Questions and answers are excerpted from "Solid Answers," published by Tyndale House.)
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