The Private Parent

I have the most interesting discussions with my sons…

On the veritable cusp of manliness, we talk more now than we ever have and our discussions range from “Why did you cut your own hair when you were 4?” to “Why don’t bananas turn smoothies yellow?”  All deep. All the time.

We have entered into what I have affectionately, and admittedly somewhat counter-culturally labeled ~ The Golden Years.


I have no words for how much I adore my teen boys with their stark realities.  All those hard lines jumbled with relative idealism and a worldly naiveté that both frustrates and challenges me.  Convicts and inspires. Always refining. They are my heart.

We have a strong relationship, the boy-bots and I.  And that isn’t a pretense or wishful thinking.  We still hold hands driving down the road.   There are daily walk by hugs and kisses rained down upon my curly head. We sit long in the driveway and talk by the light of  motion sensors on the corners of the garage, waving hands to keep the lights on and the shadows at bay.

It is my daily prayer to cherish each and EVERY moment of their presence.   Even the trying ones.

When they were babies I looked forward to toddlers and I wasn’t disappointed.  They made me laugh, cry, cackle maniacally, and pray.  Oh, how we have prayed.

But, honestly?  More than we prayed?  We worked hard.  We worked on manners like “Please” and “Thank You”, “Excuse Me”, and “Can I help you?”

We noticed people in the grocery store who needed a door opened, a cart returned, a cascade of falling change returned by eager grubby hands and smile saying, “Are these yours?”   We talked about big ideas like love, honor, kindness, grace, gentleness, and compassion.

You see, I have always had an end game in mind for my sons.  I know the vision of the men they can become. 

If we work hard.  Every day.

As they grew, and were welcomed everywhere we went, it wasn’t uncommon to hear, “You are SOO lucky!”   Honestly, the words always felt like a slap in the face.

Because really?

Luck has nothing to do with it.

See, you weren’t there for the fourth dropped cup of milk and the time out or spanking due to rude behavior.   No one else oversaw the treasured item boxed up for a month or two so we could relearn how to value the things God had given us stewardship over.   We didn’t have help settling rebellious 5,6,7,8 year olds who thought they should be able to go to bed whenever it suited them and not when it was time.  You didn’t see the gagging 6 year old who got to drink vinegar for lying and the red faced apology to the neighbor for behaving badly. (Additional Info for clarification: So, vinegar consumption clarified: It was a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar. Coupled with a lengthy discussion on the “taste” of a lie in the ear of the hearer. There was copious gagging, coughing, hystrionics, and then it was over. He gagged a little.)

No one saw the cumulative hours we spent at dinner encouraging proper manners, kind conversation, or polite responses to new and unappealing foods.

No… When we went out our door, we had practiced and practiced until we were ready.  Then we ventured.

And some one would invariably say, “You are sooo lucky.”

Back to the conversation with my boy… We were talking about evalutating a difficult situation and his review of my job performance.

As a person, and especially as a parent, I don’t have many mountains to die on, however,  I’ve always strongly adhered to one common theme  learned early in our marriage.

Encourage in public.  Exhort in private.

Private can mean a group of close and trusted friends with the purpose of bringing light and encouragement.   Public could be in front of a single untrustworthy acquaintance.

Wisdom knows the difference.

But mostly?  Private means private.  At home.  With family.   Face to face.

That’s where my parenting happens.   Not with loud voices, or accusations, name calling, or volatile emotional outbursts that slice and dice tender young hearts until compounded anger, bitterness, resentment, and emotional scars block the sound of my love.   No… With clear instruction,  waiting for the opportune moment even if it is days away, discussion.  Bold parameters when conversation fails us.  It is our privilege and our responsibility to be the safe place, the immovable refuge, the unwavering boundary while they struggle.

We pray together.

It is a family mandate that we own our poor behavior and ask for forgiveness from each other.

Behind our closed door.  In the safety of upholstered seats and throw pillows we hash out our issues, and we have plenty, until we are ready to walk forward into the light of day.

Because once we are out that door?

The only thing I want my boys to think about is that their reputations, their struggles, their honor is safe. Upheld.  

More than encouragement and lofty praise, my soon to be grown men crave respect.

All the best intentions and carefully constructed relational safeguards are gone like a puff of smoke the moment I shred them in public, humiliating them by behavior better suited to an insolent toddler than the man-child towering over me.  I have become the enemy and they are blinded to me by the shame of their nakedness, their awkward becoming exposed to an unkind, mocking world.

Our children wear thin cloaks of dignity.  Easily shredded.   Difficult to repair.   Once gone?  Very expensive to replace.

So, when a situation raised its ugly head and we huddled to discuss quietly, my son, using his “right of a reasonable and respectful appeal”, offered to share his side of the story and clarity emerged so that the appropriate consequence could be found for the right individual.

I took a deep breath and listened.   I evaluated the people I knew in front of me.   I listened some more.   And then, together, we made a decision to act.

That conversation I’ve alluded to?  Well, in the car ride home, my boy said quietly from the back seat, “Mom,  thanks for talking to us privately and giving us a chance to talk.”   A long-fingered hand reached across from the passenger seat while an ever deepening voice said,  “Love ya, Mom.”

They get it.

I’m on their side.  They trust me. It’s not luck.  It’s hard work.  It’s all the things we do at home.

Because if we don’t do it at home?

There is no point in even attempting the facade in public.


35 thoughts on “The Private Parent

  1. The secret of luck spelled out rather simply.

    I won’t completely nullify luck, the real notion of it, if that too goes to the prepared. If I can see your anger at the insinuation. Then again, I think it is uttered by people who have a bit of a clue but find doing the work too hard to try so must suggest that their lack of a positive outcome is somehow not their fault. Pray for them and let it go.

  2. “That’s where my parenting happens. Not with loud voices, or accusations, name calling, or volatile emotional outbursts that slice and dice tender young hearts until compounded anger, bitterness, resentment, and emotional scars block the sound of my love. No… With clear instruction, waiting for the opportune moment even if it is days away, discussion. Bold parameters when conversation fails us. It is our privilege and our responsibility to be the safe place, the immovable refuge, the unwavering boundary while they struggle.”

    You said that so well. I have been seeing that as so important, too. Yes, our children may be young and for a while they are smaller than us, but if we don’t treat them with trust and respect then they don’t give us cause to do it. Our home is a safe place for them to fall and get up, to learn wisdom so when they are out of our home they have learned to make wise choices. I have known quite a few families over the years who “lord their authority” and have lost their children in the process and those children when faced with this world have made unwise choices because they did not get the chance to make them in a safe place.

    Because you have treated your boys with respect you will only see the golden years get more golden as you both get older.

  3. Serena, it is GOOD to see you here! 🙂 Thanks for coming by and your words are ringing true!!

    Jenni! More than a pat on the head. Serious HI FIVE here! Keep up the good work!

  4. I think your intentions here are good; to encourage good parenting, ei hard work. I agree with your parenting advice. I encourage you not be so quick to say that correct parenting + consistency = well behaved children every time. My parents had 4 children including myself. They were excellent parents – I would even go as far as to say the best. My mother, in particular, prayed, loved and disciplined with every fiber in her, consistently. She is the hardest worker I know. But then again, that is all we as parents can do isn’t it. Work, pray, and fight our best fight. We can’t make our children be good people. We are the sowers of the seeds. We can till the ground, water the seed and prune the bad, but we cannot bear good fruit for another.
    One of my brothers is a high school drop out. He uses illegal drugs and has been somewhat directionless for quite some time. He uses language we were never allowed to even think. Is that my mother’s fault? Absolutely not. I don’t think you would say it is her fault, but maybe you shouldn’t be so confident in your parenting to say that raising a child is as simple as a math equation. (A + B = C) Parenting is a complex job. Each child is a different person with a different identity. Yes, there is much to be said for how the child is raised including the family of origin and community he is a part of, but to say that luck, or chance as I would like to think of it, is a bit too far. My mother had an “end game” for all of her children. She knew the visions of adults that we could have become. She and my father worked hard. Every day.

    Too call it luck that you have well behaved boys is cheapening your efforts, I agree. I know the type of hard work that you are talking about, here and I appreciate the mothers like you who continue on through the trials. So maybe we should call it chance, or better yet, a blessing when our children turn out to be respectful, loving individuals. I would say “you are very blessed to have such wonderful boys”. Thank you for your good mothering. 🙂

    • Not to make fun of your comment, but good input does greatly impact good results. Just as planting a good seed, caring for it, nurturing it, protecting it, and removing weeds provides with a harvest. This isn’t just how I parent. It’s how I treat anyone. I don’t put on the “mom” hat and create some sort of high powered Parent of the Year Face. This is how I live.

      I acknowledge free will. They have theirs, I have mine. I am willing to let them “enjoy” the consequences of their behavior, if they persist. They learned that lesson early. When it was gumballs and returning a toy to the store. We work hard. All. The. Time. on the things that matter.

      And, just in case you think I’m all serious all the time? We laugh like hyenas.

      I will raise the children that God has given me with the most sincerity, integrity, and humility of which I am capable. He will make of us what He will, but I’d like to think we can teach ourselves to make the best choices given the options at hand.

      And to honor and love one another in the middle of all our messiness. I don’t care if my kids are perfect. They certainly didn’t get perfect parent.

      Thanks for coming by!

      • Heidi, your “don’t shame your kids in public using social media” blog led me to this one. You lost any respect you might have garnered for that point of view with this blog. It seems you’re totally OK bullying your children in private. A 6-year-old forced to drink vinegar for lying? Spankings for spilling milk, even four times? Looks like it’s totally OK to disrespect your sons in private (which all forms of physical abuse are), just not in public. You have no credibility, Heidi. I also highly doubt you’ve never shamed your children with your words and volatility in private–because your physical actions suggest otherwise. I don’t think you really understand what respect truly is. Humility would not be talking about physical abuse of your children on the internet. Sincere parenting that truly involved integrity would not include physical punishments that also shame and harm your children.

        • You are certainly free to believe that about me. I certainly haven’t asserted that I have achieved perfect parenting only that I recognize a goal of being the kind of parent who strives to honor and value my kids. Of course I have failed and I have been obnoxious toward my children. Heavens, I have asked for their forgiveness many times for behaving toward them in a manner that is hurtful. We are all just people under a single roof, after all.

          You can call me whatever you like, but if this causes you to take a moment and reflect on your own life, the interaction you have the privilege of sharing with others, and whether or not there is room for personal growth? Then I can be ok with being called a fraud.

          Still learning.


        • I agree with JC. Forcing a 6-yr-old to drink vinegar is abusive. And if you don’t think so, Heidi, would you allow someone else to give your child acetic acid to drink? Wearing the witnessing of your child’s gagging as a badge of honor is just as criminal and egotistical as the act itself. Your blog is about the parent your wish you could be and it serves only you.

          • Actually, a little apple cider vinegar is healthy. And the proof is in her results. Good on you, Heidi!

            Also, I have had this phrase, “right of a reasonable and respectful appeal” brought up a few times lately. I know I have read this somewhere but can’t remember the book or author who goes into this. Could you please refresh me? I have a daughter who we really need to work on this with.

            Thank you,

  5. It is not a formula and there is always that free will choice to take a wrong path possible. After all, the One who created man and woman and put them in a perfect environment and was perfect towards them had His children make a wrong choice with long-lasting consequences. But we are promised that if we train them in the way they should go as this article so well describes, when they are old they won’t depart. The father of the Prodigal Son knew the path his son was choosing and let him go to learn his lessons. When that son repented he was there to welcome him back and had been watching for him. When our children make wrong choices they need to know that we will continue to love them and will welcome any of them home when they come with humility and repentance. If we work hard to treat our children with respect, to set before them as good an example as we can (and when we mess up to humble ourselves before them, too), to teach them the importance of the choices they make, and to keep the lines of communication open, we can be reasonably assured that they will grow to adulthood without too much mishap and will live successful lives. There is always the exception but we cannot say that it is a failure when there is. After all, we are all human and have choices and sometimes even in the best of circumstances we make very wrong choices. BUT, even then there is G-d.

  6. We are private parents as well. And it works for us. It is hard work. But God gave us stewardship for this child and we take that pretty seriously – while having fun living life of course. He is learning to be a man. To be a friend. A future husband. A future father. He and we learn from one another through words and actions, prayers and fails. Through grace. So thankful for your blog.

  7. I read ¨Destroying Your Child’s Heart – One FB Picture At A Time¨ before reading this post. I thought the other post was great and decided to read this one. I was very disappointed to read you promote time out, spanking and vinegar drinking as punishment. I believe spanking and vinegar drinking is physical abuse. It is very different from the RIE philosophy which I respect and follow.

  8. I agree with “dazed” comments above. I also happened upon both articles via Facebook. I loved so SO much about each piece, but I also can’t get past the spanking part. Hitting a child is never ok- it doesn’t teach respect, it doesn’t come from a place of love, and it doesn’t create the parent child bond that you write about. I am reminded of the point in your piece about parents posting pictures of their child’s mistakes on Facebook- and how that would not fly if the situations were reversed. Same applies here- if it’s not ok for your child to hit you “for rude/bad behavior”, its not ok for you to hit them. If you wouldn’t “spank” your spouse, friends, co workers, etc, for bad behavior or mistakes, then you shouldn’t hit your child either.

    • I second that.
      Although You kids might grow up to be respectful adults, and you may credit the spanking and vinegar drinking discipline for it. It does not work so successfully with every child. Parenting in Private can be just as loving as holding your child on the couch as you tell them how much you love them, and explain the WHY of everything… Waiting until you child is “ready” to take them out, to me…sends out a message that they are not good enough as they are in the first place, and need to conform to the masses to be acceptable. My son has Aspergers, he will not quite ever be “ready” by your standards. I had to make peace with that, and I am okay with that. There is no argument that discipline, whatever form it may be, should be done in private. But is this approach (physical) also teaching your kids, that it’s okay to hurt someone else inside the privacy of four walls? I myself, was in an abusive marriage for many years…and I could only have hoped, that more “public” displays of discipline had happened to me. Meanwhile, we were the perfect, happy, christian family to the world, and when I spoke out about it the reality, no one wanted to believe me.

      • I credit my children’s amazing-sauce to them. I “herd” and sometimes that means I am a firm boundary. I don’t go out when I’m exhausted, I didn’t impose that on them. I don’t wear pajamas to restaurants, I waited until they were ready to experience finer dining, they knew how to hold a knife and fork, before inflicting rude adults on them while they learned. I am sorry for your abusive marriage. That is nothing like what I was encouraging here and I am thankful you are in a safer place now? I hope, for your sake? Blessings.

    • I was spanked as a child, and I have a terrific bond with both of my parents. If the punishment is administered in love instead of anger, and the child knows why they deserve the punishment, then it is not abuse, and actually is BENEFICIAL in teaching respect. Especially when the physical punishment is measured and known ahead of time. Just because you have had bad experience with physical punishment yourself, or have been taught by some authority that it is bad, does not mean that it cannot be done in a beneficial way.

      • Some people believe that a child never “deserves” to be hit.
        I was also spanked as a child (infrequently and “lightly”, although I do remember it) and I also have a great relationship and bond with my parents. However, that doesn’t mean that every child that is spanked is going to grow up without emotional or mental scars. Not all children respond to spanking in the same way, regardless of whether its “done out of love” or not.
        Some people believe that all of those same things can be accomplished, that wonderful respectful young men can be raised without violence- spanking is hitting, and hitting is violence no matter what you call it.

        • “Not all children respond to spanking in the same way, regardless of whether its “done out of love” or not.”

          That is such a great piece of wisdom!! We should take the time to study our kids and learn their language. Thanks for coming by.

  9. It sounds like your home life is very much like my home life, which is refreshing to hear. I have the same try-teach-pray-try again approach, although my family’s public showings are certainly not as successful as yours seem to be. I applaud you for putting your reality “out there” and taking the criticism gracefully. This has made me re-examine some of my parenting choices, particularly the way I represent my family on my blog. Thanks for the thought-provoking article.

    • HA! We are successful far less often than I care to admit. Although, it is hard for them to put Mommy in a time out at the store… All I can hope for is that anyone who has the blessing of caring for others will do so thoughtfully, carefully, and purposefully with the intent to “build one another up in love and good deeds.” That would be awesome sauce.

  10. Loved this blog and, like many have said, found it through the “Destroying Your Child’s Heart” article. I was spanked as a child and, as an adult, my parents were my best friends. (They have both passed away.) It was never done out of anger, but as a way to bring me back into a place of honoring their authority over me. I used the same methods with my girls, and now, as they are almost grown, am very close with them, as well. It has to be done in conjunction with much communication, lavish affection, training, as you said, and only for the most serious of offenses. We Christians who choose to use this form of correction employ it because the Bible advocates it in the book of Proverbs. It is not our idea; it is the mandate of our heavenly Father. We, too, were often told how lucky we were that our girls were so polite and well-behaved, and it was insulting to me, as well. Having said that, I do agree with those who said that our children have free will, and will make their own choices to embrace or reject our training and our faith as they become adults. However, I have seen that most children who choose to stay on the straight and narrow path have parents who lived what they believed at home, not just in public. In my family’s case, it worked for three out of four of us, and we pray for that fourth sibling to come back to God fervently. Thanks again for your encouraging post and for the great job you are doing as a mom.

  11. I didn’t read every comment, but I wanted to say something from my heart on this subject. I didn’t come to know the LORD until my late 20’s and my husband almost 3 years later. Our lives changed and so has our parenting. However, we are in a process. It hasn’t happend all overnight. We still have many things to pray about and surrender to the LORD. Our kids too have walked this road with us and are changing as well. Sometimes we all still make bad choices, or react without thinking, but then the LORD works on our hearts and we start again. One thing I would encourage everyone to remember is to not become discouraged with your child or yourself. None of us have arrived. Some of us started this process before others. We are not all going to choose to parent like everyone else. The wisdom that GOD has given me is that each child is different and that as we pray for wisdom, GOD will give it for each situation and each child. That is NOT luck that is divine guidance. I really don’t want to leave things to chance, but I do want to pray over every decision and every choice I make where my kids are concerned. I also want to pray that GOD will take foolishness out of their hearts and put in wisdom. Prayer and walking with my LORD has become a constant lifeline to help me with my kids. I know I don’t have the answers, but I know HE does. I don’t think any of us has all the answers, but the wisdom that we do have from GOD we should put in practice. And we should pray for others, not judge them. We all came from different walks, we started at different places, and we all are at different stages of maturity in our walk. We need to be graceful toward others and pray for them. Ultimately, we need to walk in humility with each other, truly acknowledging each other in love, even if we choose to agree to disagree on certain areas of life. Because love is what binds us together as a family. And at the end of the day that is what we are and we need to act and look like one.

  12. I enjoy a post where the comments are more thought provoking than the original posting and this is definitely one of those. I think the ‘private’ part of parenting can be a source of many things good and bad. I am a parent of a 10 year old and the best private moments with my daughter is our nightly snuggle time. She shares her concerns and questions….I share what answers I have and my love and tenderness for her. This is all stuff that could happen in public but is better and more potent in private. Where it gets tricky is: when private “teachable” moments could NOT see the light of day in public because in actuality the “teachable” moment was dealt with too abruptly, too harshly, out of anger, because I had a bad day and because I am tired and grumpy, because I learned an archaic parenting technique from my own parent who did these same things to me. I have made mistakes as a parent in “teachable” moments. The thing that should have been discussed when calm, at snuggle time, when I am happier or less tired….but was not and I cannot wish it away. Or change the story to: I forced my 6 year old to drink vinegar because he would learn so much more than if he truly understood why it is important not to lie….and what the actual consequences of lying are….you know…other than that someone will make you drink vinegar. Parenting changes through the decades. Humans are smart creatures and we use only half the brainpower God gave us. Let’s use as much as we can and evolve.

  13. Ok, can I clear the record here a little? I have been watching you all as the conversation unfolds without feeling a need to interject. Really, I know my kids. Anyone who knows my kids will be happy to testify they are not weeping in fear of me… However, it has become apparent that the consensus is to assume the worst. I kinda hoped y’all would just read more and see us a bit more clearly. But, hey, nobody’s got time for that.

    So, vinegar consumption clarified: It was a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar. Coupled with a lengthy discussion on the “taste” of a lie in the ear of the hearer. There was copious gagging, coughing, hystrionics, and then it was over. He gagged a little. And ten years later? He doesn’t even remember it happening. The method may have been caveman to you. Ok, we disagree. This young man is also known to friends and family as an honest person.

    So, can we let the vinegar thing die now?

    We take apple cider vinegar medicinally now, is that self-abuse?

    So, now that that’s behind us.

    Let’s talk about issues. Let’s talk about how there are ways to guide and instruct our kids in ways that don’t demean them and allow for appeals and dialogue. Let’s talk about how a positive impact on those around you through calm and gentle guidance instead of ranting, foul language, or manipulation has better potential to encourage each other and build one another up in love and good deeds.

  14. Wow! Such a beautiful and touchingly written piece. I so strive to be this kind of parent as Baby Boy continues to age. Oh how we try so hard and work on difficult things (like measuring my response vs reactivity, learning “new-to-me” parenting behaviors, and testing out what really feels right and comfortable and nurturing all at once). I see that yes, it truly is something that has to come from home. We take Baby Boy out in public and try to show and explain (yes, even this early on) how and what life and living is – not what’s on tv (which we don’t watch), in the movies, or often even on the internet. Life and living is about people and relationships, so we foster them the best we can – with each other, with family, with friends, with extended people, and more importantly, we do it together.

    • You are off to a great start!!! How I wish I would have had someone one share this wisdom with me when my children were little. 🙂 Keep up the good work!!

  15. I’m a mom of a 9 month old. I so appreciate this post…I guess I just struggle to know how to make it practical now. Is it important that I don’t discipline my daughter in front of others now? Would love any thoughts you have to share 🙂

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