I remember my father telling me not to poke a screwdriver into the electric socket. I later found out why.
You might have concluded, mistakenly, that the way to parent is to NOT tell your children what not to do. In fact, many parents, understanding this dilemma, engage in such a ploy.
Unfortunately for the children, they often end up mistakenly eating the wrong thing, jumping out of the wrong window or even marrying the wrong person.
But more than the physical damage from this tactic is the emotional toll, because they intuitively know that you should have told them.
So, what’s a parent to do? If you say nothing you run the risk of them accidentally falling or failing, or both, with all the attendant physical and emotional scars. If you tell them not to do something, you run the risk of them doing it, because.
Ethics of the Fathers (1:1), the ancient advice from our Sages, says: “Make yourself a fence…”
Let us suppose you have the most dangerous of all combinations, a 4-year-old boy and an invaluable, genuine Ming vase.
You know where I am going with this.
You could put the vase in a safe, locked in a room, 3 floors below ground level and your son will still manage to knock it off it’s pedestal with a baseball.
Common sense would tell you to sell it, but it was your grandfather’s dying wish that you have it. It’s been in the family, passed down through generations and, for emotional reasons, you can’t bear to part with it. However, you make sure to put it somewhere safe, with lots of fences on fences.
And that’s the secret.
The fence becomes the battle. When your son crosses the fence that’s where you engage. You don’t tell him to not play with the vase, you tell him not to cross the fence.
Don’t fight your children on what you would consider the worst case scenario, fight them on the fence to that scenario.
PICK YOUR BATTLES
“Pick your battles” is often taken to mean “don’t sweat the small stuff.” In life, this is generally a good idea.
Not in parenting.
In parenting, if you fight the small stuff, generally speaking, you won’t need to fight the big stuff.
Let me give you an example. Let’s assume you don’t want your son or daughter to become addicted to drugs.
What’s the fence to that? Trying drugs.
That’s still a little too close. What’s the fence to trying drugs?
Being friendly with people who try drugs. In other words, make your battle over their friends.
Still a little too close? I agree. So let me tell you the conversation I had recently with a father. He told me he had a battle with his daughter over a nose stud. This was his fence. In his mind, the kind of kids who do drugs have nose studs.
Not that every kid who has a nose stud does drugs, but invariably every kid who does drugs has a nose stud.
By making this his battle he made fairly sure his daughter would not hang out with the people who do drugs.
He lost the battle — the daughter got the stud — but he won the war. The kind of kids who do drugs don’t get permission from their fathers. This daughter was way too un-cool to be hanging with the wrong people.
In summary, when it comes to parenting, your worst case scenarios need two or three fences. Because, simply put, if you think your Ming vase is safe because you told your son not to play in the living room…… you are dreaming.