My kids came running upstairs buzzing with excitement, saying, “Mom! Mom! Tom just did four hundred push-ups! We counted!”
I laughed at their excitement and wondered what other surprises would be in store for us in the week ahead. Tom, his wife Hannah, and their three children were staying with our family for a week.
Tom and Hannah have been my husband’s and my best friends for many years. A military family, they are currently stationed in Hawaii, so we hadn’t seen them in a while.
Over the summer they came into town for a family wedding. We were excited to have them stay with us and enjoyed watching our kids play together and having late-night chats after the kids were in bed.
What I didn’t expect was how much I would learn from my friends. Their kids were very respectful and well behaved, so I was curious about their parenting strategies and paid close attention.
Knowing Tom was in the military, I wondered if he would be a bit of a drill sergeant, in the line of Captain von Trapp and his whistle. Instead, what I noticed was totally different … and it amazed me!
Kind, firm, and no yelling
The first thing I noticed was that Tom and Hannah never raised their voices to get their kids to listen.
What did they do instead? I began to notice a pattern.
Every time one of their kids wasn’t listening, Tom would stoop down to their level, look them in the eye and lower his voice to repeat the command in a kind voice. It looked as though every time he was tempted to yell, he slowed down and got quieter instead.
Their kids responded really well to this kind but firm insistence. Without getting angry or yelling, Tom and Hannah would hold the boundary of expected behavior. (Hannah did the same, but it was more noticeable from Tom, given his military background.)
Speaking gently from experience
Tom isn’t the kind of guy to read piles of parenting books, but he is the second oldest of nine kids and grew up with babies and toddlers in the house well into his teen years, so I have a feeling he’s learned this tactic through lots of experience.
I asked Tom about his parenting philosophy, and he told me,
Children see their parents as gods, as larger than life. We can present the world in whatever way we want, and they will accept it as truth.
But we aren’t larger than life. We aren’t bigger or more important than them. They are our equals; fellow travelers on the same road that just happen to be a few hundred miles behind us in this journey.
It’s our responsibility to present a world of facts, rational choices and corresponding consequences.
We aren’t gods; we are guides.
A guide doesn’t scream at the travelers for walking too close to the edge. He informs them of the danger and warns them of the consequences. Not because of his authority or a sense of superiority, but because he himself, in the past, has fallen down the cliff.
Wow, what a powerful reflection!
During their visit and after they left, I began trying to copy their parenting tactic. When I felt myself about to yell at one of my kids, I try to take a deep breath and slow way down instead.
There is something so powerful about slowing down to speak in a gentle, quiet voice right when a child expects anger. It really seems to help kids realize that you are serious about the command, even as you remain calm and in control of the situation.
I’m glad I have such great friends to inspire me in parenting and life in general. Now the next tactic I want to copy is learning to do 400 push-ups. That one will take me a lot longer to master!