Put it into Perspective – #6 in the Top 10 Strategies to Turn Away Wrath
By H. Wallace Goddard

Editor’s note:  This is an excerpt from the book The Soft-Spoken Parent:  The Top 10 Strategies to Turn Away Wrath.

Just as I was finishing graduate school, Nancy and I bought an almost-new car. It was quite a contrast with our old station wagon with fake-wood siding that was peeling off. Our children felt that the days of their humiliation might finally be over.

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I remember the first time I drove the car off the lot after signing the papers. As I sat in the driver’s seat enjoying the many things that worked properly, I noticed a small dent in the hood. Perhaps a mechanic had bent over the car and dented the hood with a tire gauge in his shirt pocket. It was a small dent. But for several months it was the only thing I saw when I looked at the car. I hardly noticed the shiny paint, the uncracked upholstery, or the hardy engine. I only saw the dent.

Most of us do the same thing in family life. We notice the little thing that isn’t quite right. Sometimes it is the only thing we notice.

Tidying our Hearts

My son Andy has always been creative. As he got older he got more and more artistic. He has always been a kind, generous, and respectful boy. But, when he was a teenager, his creativity was more evident in his room than was his respect for the family rule about keeping his room clean.

We would remind him, but the creative projects would still accumulate. We would “consequence” him and leave his unhampered laundry unwashed. But he just didn’t worry about tidiness the way his perfectionistic dad did.

We had two choices. We could increase the volume on the demand. Or we could let it go. We chose to let it go. We did not want to torch a relationship with our son for the sake of a little tidiness. (We did reserve the right to close his door when the disarray bothered us. And, once in a while, we asked if he would humor us by tidying things. He did so gladly.)

The Thick of Thin Things

Many of the power struggles between parents and children are about matters of taste and preference. A mother may not like her daughter wearing T-shirts to school. It may suggest disrespect and rebellion to the mom. To the daughter it is merely a matter of personal expression.

If we over-interpret children’s behavior as signifying rebellion, we are likely to over-react and create rebellion. As Chieko Okazaki advises, “In principles, great clarity. In practices, great charity.” [1]

In contrast, if a child wants to buy a prom dress that is clearly immodest, we can empathize with her desire while setting a firm limit: “I can see why you like the dress. The fabric is elegant. We don’t buy strapless gowns. Have you seen others that you like, or do we need to keep looking?”

We can deliver a firm message without ever becoming disagreeable. When our daughter cries in desperation, “Mom! It’s not that bad. It is exactly the dress I want. And Becky has one just like it. Don’t be such a prude!” We can keep our balance. “Wow. You really like that dress! And I can see why. Since it is strapless, we can look at some other store or we might look online. Which sounds good to you?”

If we believe that we must convince our children that we are right and if we expect them to appreciate us in every moment, we will be disappointed. Good parenting requires us to set some limits that children will dislike. But we can always be pleasant.

And we can recognize that a lot of little choices should be left to them.

Reflection: Think of a time when you have put children’s actions in perspective – overlooking little mistakes and allowing them to follow their preferences. How did it feel? What helped you get there? How can you get there again? How can you make that experience more common for you?

Stay tuned for another strategy next week. Or purchase the book, The Soft-Spoken Parent: More than 50 Strategies to Turn Away Wrath (which just arrived at bookstores from the printers!) by visiting your local LDS bookseller or by clicking here.

[1] Chieko N. Okazaki, Lighten Up (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1993), 17.