How to Parent Like an Adult

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We can’t all be happy all the time, but we can try to keep moving toward maturity.

One simple idea that has been coming to mind lately when resolving sibling conflict in my home is the phrase, “What would an adult do in this situation?”

So, for instance, a child came to me recently and said, “He won’t give me that thing I want. He’s had it for too long.” Usually the temptation is to say, “Hey kid – give the other kid a turn – you’ve had it too long!” (might yell a little too so they leave me alone). But when I applied the “What would an adult do?” rubric, the conversation went something like this:

To the offended child:

“When I enter a room and someone has something I want, the polite thing to do is to just wait till they are finished with it. Or, after a while, to simply say, “Do you mind if I look at that when you’re done?” and then wait as long as it takes…. Because that’s how one adult treats another adult.”

But don’t leave it there. Also turn to the other child and coach them:

To the un-offended or unaware child:

“Now, if you know your sibling is interested in the thing in your hands, you don’t have to rush to finish with it, but you also need to make sure you’re not holding on to it extra long just to keep it from them. In fact, you should now look to give them an opportunity with it at your earliest convenience, because that’s what an adult would do.”

Sometimes I’ll even role play the extreme version of this for them to see how ridiculous it would look for adults to behave as they are. It also gets them laughing and lightens the mood a bit:

“Have you guys ever seen me walk into a room and say to mom (apply whiny voice) ‘I want to read that book. Give it to me right now!’ And then stand over her till she gives it to me? Or yank it out of her hands? (Pause while I pray that they answer no in their own minds) No, because that’s not how adults treat one another. They show respect to others and show patience.”

There’s one word that can really sum up this entire idea: Love. How do I show love to another person? By treating them like I would want to be treated. And, hopefully, most adults do that. A childish attitude is one that is self-seeking, self-serving, and self-focused. ME-first. Of course, I’m an adult, yet still struggle with putting others first, but I want to always be moving toward love and moving my children toward love.

Where does this idea come from?

Philippians 2:4-6 “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”

Jesus, though he existed as God, became a man to serve others. Love always requires sacrifice. It requires putting aside my immediate desire (to play with that toy…. Or smart phone) and thinking of others as well (maybe they are enjoying it too?). Love is the act of dying to self a thousand times a day in a thousand little ways.

The biggest shift in my parenting over the last few years has been to move away from a tactics-first mindset and towards a love-first mindset. Previously I found myself getting excited about the discovery of a new tactic that helped me feel like I won, but maybe didn’t really love the child well. So I might have relished how clever I was to implement my tactic to teach them a lesson, but it was often done without love. Tactics are not bad, but devoid from love they become instruments that wound rather than heal. And children can feel the difference.

My goal in the opening situation of this article was to teach them how to love one another better, and to love them in the process of teaching them. The temptation was to find a quick fix to the argument and get them out of my hair. But love requires more engagement, more focus on their needs. No one does this perfectly and there’s plenty of times I bail out and mess it all up. But having the phrase, “What would an adult do?” in the back of my mind, which is really, “How do I show love?” has been a huge help in this season of parenting.

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