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Proper Parenting

Children Need the Right Blend of Boundaries and Flexibility

By Jocelyn Green

The Baby Schedule Ruler. The Sleepeasy Solution. The Everything Baby’s First Year Book. The New Basics: A-to-Z Baby & Child Care for the Modern Parent. These and hundreds of other books promise parents keys for raising well-adjusted children. Many of them promote schedules as a critical tool — but taken to the extreme, experts say, rigid schedules can actually do more harm than good.

“Parents of a lot of our kids take advice from doctors and books to the extreme,” says early childhood intervention specialist Mariah Bradford, children’s pastor at Freedom Fellowship International Church, an Assemblies of God congregation in Waxahachie, Texas. “We find a lot of times, kids are running the roost now. They stay home for naptime no matter what. But if you don’t ever take them out when they’re tired, they never learn to self-soothe, or how to react in the environment under different circumstances.”

The opposite end of the scheduling spectrum, however, is just as harmful to children. David Taylor, an Assemblies of God chaplain, founded the Ranch of Hope in Westcliffe, Colo., which offers five-day intensive seminars for hurting marriages, families and individuals.

“We see many more families that have no boundaries than families who operate by a strict schedule,” he says. “The kids are chaotic. They will be sexually promiscuous because they have never found true boundaries — or they will be angry at a parent who lets them do anything and not know why. Kids on the street are most violent because they have no boundaries.”

While boundaries are healthy, some parents make them too important, according to Hope Taylor, a counselor at the Ranch of Hope.

“Some degree of schedule is really healthy,” she says. “But anything that becomes rigid becomes unhealthy, even if it’s a good thing. We’re seeing that schedule governs family in some cases. If you raise a child strictly by a schedule, you are raising a compulsive, narcissistic person who believes life revolves around him or her.”

Hope shares the illustration of a mother who insisted upon having absolute silence during her child’s naptime; no one was even allowed to flush the toilet. When the child grew up, she had trouble functioning as an adult because if there was any noise at night she couldn’t sleep.

Flexibility in the eating schedule is important, too, Hope says.

“If you raise a child to eat according to the clock and not because she is hungry, are we not promoting unhealthy eating habits?” she asks. “You can say, for instance, ‘It’s really important that before you go to school, you spend time with the Lord.’ But dictating the exact time and place for that is going too far. When we take responsibility for children’s behavior, which is often what we do with schedules, they aren’t learning how to do it themselves.”

Striking the right balance with a schedule is not only critical for healthy child development, it’s also crucial for the health of the parents’ marriage.

“Couples who read every book and follow every rule get stressed out, and it affects the marriage,” says Charles Bazan, AG chaplain and president of Hope Family Services in Graham, Texas. “Parents who are extreme in structure aren’t realistic. They miss events because it throws the schedule, and that doesn’t produce a healthy family.

“There needs to be a balance. It is possible to be structured and still be active in church and not get stressed out. Leaving church early to take a nap is unrealistic. You need to look at the healthiness of everything, not just the kids.”

Most clients at Ranch of Hope are empty nesters who no longer know how to relate to each other, Hope says.

“Their entire life has been focused on the kids’ schedule,” she says. “It was so filled up that they didn’t have time for each other. When it came time to just spend time together, they were exhausted and had nothing else to give. This goes strictly against the Word of God. The best gift to kids isn’t a filled-up schedule; it’s loving your mate. How can they role model it if they’ve never seen it?”

One of the key ingredients in the area of marital intimacy is taking time away from the house together, Bazan says. Effective parents should schedule at least two evenings out per month, he says.

Parents need to realize that the spousal relationship is more important than the parent/child relationship, David Taylor says.

“We are only parenting our kids for about 18 years, then they will live three times longer without us,” he says. “But our spouse is here for life. So we raise up loving adults by modeling a loving husband/wife relationship.”

With more than 1,900 books and magazines on parenting to choose from, there is secular advice for every possible aspect of raising a child. But for a Christian, Bradford says, the biblical non-negotiables for parenting are fairly straightforward.

“Raise your child up in the way of the Lord,” she says. “Bring your children to church, socialize them. That’s a fundamental part of growing.”

Part of raising a child up in the Lord, Hope Taylor says, is teaching and demonstrating prayer to them. It’s important to remember that your child may be someone’s future mate. “So raise them up to be good mates,” she says.

Bazan says two biblical imperatives for parenting are to be a godly role model and to develop children’s souls.

“If you’re working on these two things, whatever mistakes you make in technique can be overcome,” he says.

While the Bible doesn’t address age-appropriate schedules for children, structure and boundaries are a helpful component of raising kids, Hope says, as long as they are seasoned with a healthy dose of flexibility.

“Schedule doesn’t dictate your life,” she says. “You dictate the schedule.”

JOCELYN GREEN, a frequent news contributor who lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa, is a mother of two.

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