Sparks of Hope – A Parenting Strategy


image courtesy of Trey Ratcliff-

The sermon at our church this Easter highlighted the hope at the heart of the Christian faith in an unusual way. The pastor showed a clip of the recent movie, “The Hunger Games,” in which President Snow is telling Seneca Crane, “Hope.  It is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective, a lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as it is contained.” I do not agree with containing hope. It is a tactic that is used to control and dominate, and the novel illustrates that quite well.

How can the concept of “containing hope” apply to parenting?

When we parent, we walk a fine line between setting limits and snuffing out hope. If you are parenting a middle school to teen-aged child, you will know what I mean. You may set limits and boundaries and enforce them consistently, but sometimes that process gets blurry, confusing and difficult.

What do you do when you suspect you may be confining too tightly, hanging on too long, or simply failing to give your developing human a chance to grow through decision-making?

You modify.

Think about the most contentious issue you are dealing with in parenting right now. It will be the one you argue with your child about most and it will be filled with emotion. Curfews, cell phone texts out of control, lying, avoiding responsibility for chores…the list can go on and on, but drill down to the most important. Identify it and now try to think about it backwards.

Think about ways you can give your child freedom to make good choices about this issue.  

I know it is difficult, messy and scary, and you may need to consider before you come up with a strategy that takes their view into consideration (whether you agree with it, or not), gives them an opportunity to show you how they can do what they want to do (or perhaps just some of what they want to do), but still shows you how mature they are through their choices.

Is there supposed to be a consequence for failure? Sure, this is real life, after all, and your job is to prepare them for that. Think about a logical consequence and attach it to the opportunity.

One example I can share with you is from our older daughter’s experiences in her freshman year of high school.  She was overwhelmed with distractions, activities and relationships and her grades started to slip just a bit. It scared us, quite frankly, and we feared we were seeing the beginning of a destructive rebellious phase. We clamped down, micro-managed and slipped into the relationship “death spiral” I have talked about before.

It is incredibly difficult to see your child struggling, and one of the smartest things we did was to take a step back and try to see things her way. We discussed it and came up with a strategy, beyond giving grace. We then told her that we had decided to do things differently from now on.

We gave her a minimum goal to reach on her grades and then let her decide what to do to meet it. 

Wow, that sounds really simple, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t. It meant giving up control and letting her take the lead even when the way she did things was not the way we would do them. It meant prayer and buttoning our lips when we wanted to guide or criticize and it meant taking a risk. We are not particularly risk loving people, and I had many restless nights wondering if we had done the right thing.

It was exactly the right thing. Without our nagging, reminding and micro–managing, she was on her own. She could no longer rely on us to remind her about tests, papers, or projects hanging on the horizon and once that sank in, she came up with her own system which serves her well to this day.

I loved it when she called us in her freshman year of college and said, “I know I tend to procrastinate, so I put fake, early deadlines in my calendar and that way I won’t wait until the last minute.”  🙂  Excellent strategy, and since she came up with it, she owns it.

So, back to hope. It is such an important thing to keep alive, but it is easy to snuff out when children feel they have no control over their own lives. Find choices and options that you can give them all along the way. I recommend starting early because the consequences of the wrong decisions are so much less onerous when they are young. Get them used to coming up with personal strategies for success and you create people who are self-motivated and hopeful about their future.

And “may the odds be ever in your favor.”

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