After crashing my motorbike three times in the space of 12 months, my wife made me sell it. “Too dangerous,” was her logic, and it was hard for me to argue based on my track record.
I purchased a bicycle, figuring that it would help me regain my lost fitness. My first day on the bike I rode 11kms. The slightest incline sent my heart rate skyrocketing, and I wondered if I would pass out before I made it to my destination. There was nothing easy about it.
But I persisted. Each day I rode. I built up my endurance and my strength. After about a year, I completed my first 100km ride. I nearly cried at the end of it, but I had done it! After about two years of cycling, I rode from Wollongong to Gosford (New South Wales, Australia)—a distance of around 200kms. Because of the compounding effect of my efforts over the previous two years, it was not as hard as I had thought it might be.
But what does this have to do with parenting?
Recently a parent asked me an interesting question. She said, “Can easy parenting be good parenting?”
My first response was this:
What’s easy about parenting?
If there was ever a life-course designed for character development, it would be a parenting course! Parenting stretches us, tests us, challenges us, and ultimately, if we let it, molds and refines us. Anyone who knows anything about refining processes knows that it often involves fire (in the case of metals), or thrashing (in the case of wheat) or being spun in a centrifuge (in the case of sugar). All refining is about purification—and none of it seems pleasant. Yet the outcome is remarkable.
Our characters can be refined by our parenting—but is it easy?
Good parenting requires immense selflessness. It requires time, effort, patience, guidance, teaching, being there, understanding, and constantly, never-endingly doing! The best parents—the ones who make themselves essentially obsolete because their kids no longer need them to answer every question and help with every task—are the ones who are often the most involved! It’s not easy.
But it doesn’t have to always be like that.
Nineteenth century philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, said: “That which we persist in doing becomes easier for us to do. Not that the nature of the thing itself has changed, but that our power to do has increased.”
In the same way that my bike riding got easier, and I was able to take on bigger and bigger challenges, our parenting becomes easier the more we practice it, so long as we practice good habits.
The best parents—the ones who make themselves essentially obsolete because their kids no longer need them to answer every question and help with every task—are the ones who are often the most involved.
The Easy Way is Actually the Hard Way
When we take the easy road with parenting, we often make things harder in the long run. For example, it is easy to:
- Let the kids eat what they want when they want.
- Give the kids unfettered access to screens and entertainment.
- Do all the cleaning up and chores ourselves rather than assign chores and follow up.
- Yell and threaten and punish when the children don’t do as they’re asked.
- Let the kids do what they want so we can do all those things that keep us so busy (and distracted).
Anyone who has taken this parenting road will realize that vacillating between lots of limits (authoritarian) and no limits (permissiveness) actually leads to children who easily become bratty, entitled, demanding, and selfish. In other words, when we go for “easy” what we get is “hard”— it’s just that the results take a little while to measure.
The Hard Way is Actually the Easy Way
Similarly, when we take the seemingly "hard" road in the short run, we actually make it easier in the long term. For example, it is often hard to:
- Spend time in our relationships with our children—particularly with so much going on.
- Establish clear limits and expectations with our children (for everything from food to tech to sleep)—especially when they resist.
- Work together with our children—because they often fight against us.
- Get involved in our children’s lives and take the time to understand their challenges.
- Establish trust and emotional intimacy.
Yet anyone who has followed this harder course will know that in spite of the regular bumps along the road, the relationship is easier to manage over time because kids feel understood, they trust us, and we can influence them in wise ways.
So, can easy parenting be good parenting?
Easy parenting can be good parenting, but it takes a lot of hard work for it to become easy. If we are willing to put in the hard work by practicing good parenting habits, we’ll find that we become better at it and that what once was hard, has become easy.
Dr. Justin Coulson is a bestselling author, husband, and father of six. His new book is 10 Things Every Parent Needs to Know.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on the Happy Families blog. It has been reprinted here with the author's permission.