Author Dennis Mansfield discusses how he and his wife adjusted their parenting style to be more intentional and less child-centered.
BY: Dennis Mansfield
Rules Without Relationship
Josh McDowell, international youth speaker and member of Campus Crusade for Christ, said it best years ago: “Rules without relationship equal rebellion.” His words ring truer with each decade that passes.
Christians who implement fear-based parenting tend to believe a lie: they believe that because their child is obeying their commands, he or she is getting better and better. But such parents— and I was one of them—are merely fooling themselves. Could it be that you are fooling yourself? Your child may be sitting down on the outside but standing up on the inside, fist clenched and screaming with all he or she has: “Why won’t you listen to me?” Fearbased parents within the Christian evangelical community seldom really listen.
Even so, the importance of rules cannot be overstated. They are important; everywhere from the Department of Motor Vehicles to the U.S. military services to business and finance, rules allow us to live in order and in community.
Though relationships within the larger forms of culture, such as in the military, may not demand intimacy, there is a clear sense Fear-Based Parenting 57 of positional authority among and between the involved individuals, such as when a sergeant salutes a captain, or a captain salutes a brigadier general.
Time after time, culture after culture, rules have helped us achieve more as a civilization because we implement them in our most common denominator: the family. As the family is ordered, so goes society. In a family environment, intimacy is key. Positional authority may hold a certain amount of importance for children as they face their parents, but the deeper things of life involve the loving relationship between a child who knows he or she is loved and parents who love them. Mutual, loving, and caring relationships foster the administration and implementation of necessary rules.
The natural void that occurs as a result of rules without relationship is something akin to the emptiness of the Law alone. The Old Testament’s clear construction of the Law showed that man understood what was being asked of him. There was no misunderstanding
of what was being asked and what was being provided as potential solutions. God’s chosen people saw the need for the Ten Commandments and ultimately understood the need for the 613 additional laws that followed. But many of the people lacked relationship with God, and thus their obedience left much to be desired.
Because they understood the Law, that did not mean they obeyed it. The Law alone could not change hearts. A change of heart comes with a relationship with God and ultimately with Jesus Christ.
I tended to parent our first two children with a set of rules and regulations—some stated, some subtle. My children knew what the tone of my voice and the look in my eyes meant. And they learned to fear it, sometimes obeying on the outside but rebelling on the inside.
As a little boy, when Nate felt angry, he tended to cover up his emotions because he believed that I knew it all as a godly father. In a real way I encouraged this outward compliance. I did not always give him the freedom to express his feelings; I came to believe that quietness meant compliance. And I was wrong. Controlling my own passions when family rules were disobeyed was extremely difficult for me. I saw each infraction by my son as a personal assault against what Susan and I were structuring as our family’s plan. Nate seemed out of control and always challenging my authority, even from a very young age.
Making Important Changes
Rather than being self-obsessed and too concerned about how we looked as parents, Susan and I slowly learned to start becoming students of our children. We knew that what we were doing as parents was only having a limited positive effect, and we decided to be more intentional in our parenting and less child-centered. In one sense, we became more intent on reshaping our children’s will
without breaking their hearts.
The tightly interwoven strands of intentionality and child-centeredness began to unravel as we gained more accurate information, but it was very difficult.
Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages helped us understand why we were not succeeding at telling one another that we loved one another. We gained insight into why, at times, we were so upset and angry when our expectations were unmet. Gary writes that every person perceives love through one or more of five love languages. Problems arise when we try “speaking” love to another person in our love language instead of his or hers.
The five languages are:
2. Words of encouragement
3. Physical touch
4. Quality time
5. Acts of service
All of us “speak” some portion of these languages. The key is to be a student of your family members and center in on their greatest love languages—then speak those languages to them. Buy Gary’s book and become students of your kids and grandkids.
My principle love language involves words of encouragement. Nate’s involved spending quality time together.
There were so many times when I would encourage Nate, telling him that he could accomplish whatever he put his mind to. I attempted to speak words of encouragement into him, but his reaction was bitterly negative. I learned later that he believed I was not being honest with him about his limitations.
On the other hand, Nate would want to have quality time with me, and I would simply blow him off because I had business to do or other children to attend to. We were like two trains in the night going in opposite directions. We eventually learned that Nate’s love language was not words of encouragement, the language that I’d used for years on him. Rather, his language was quality time.
As we learned more, we both began to change how we talked to each other—which brought about much greater communication and deeper intimacy.
When Nate and Meg were out of high school, I had our entire family take the DISC Behavioral Assessment, and I was able to see clear patterns of positive and negative behavior and unveil other crucial answers. It was as if I had stumbled on what my kids’ behaviors really were. It wasn’t a matter of their attitude; rather, it was a matter of how they experienced life. I was both utterly thrilled by what I learned and deeply saddened that it had taken so long for me to find out. Please visit TTIFamilyFirst.com and have each of your family members take the assessment. It may be life changing.
It was as if I had been handed keys that easily slipped into the fear-based parenting locks and watched as the chains fell away; the
insights showed me how to embrace my children’s hearts. This was intentional parenting at its best.
My only echoing cry was: Why did it take me so long to find this out?
Dennis Mansfield was a leader in the evangelical public policy arena and pro‑family movement for almost two decades. He helped lead the fight for traditional family values while working in association with Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council. An early leader in the Promise Keepers movement, Dennis led the efforts to launch Promise Keepers across the nation, beginning with the first event in Boise, ID in 1993. Dennis was the first regional host for Promise Keepers Radio. As a candidate for US Congress in 2000, Dennis learned of his oldest son’s drug use when it was discovered by the media just four days before the soon‑unsuccessful election. Dennis and Susan then turned their attention to helping drug addicts and their families, only to see the death of their son occur in 2009. In 2009 Dennis helped form 8:4 Pictures with Larry Kelly and Eugene Kelly, where he writes and works as an executive producer. www.dennismansfield.com