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Parenting Guts

July 7, 2014

My wife and I were talking about some friends the other day. At issue was their inability to hold their kids accountable to respectable behavior. Whenever their kids acted rudely or didn’t listen, one of the parents would offer a lame excuse and essentially the child was let off the hook. With the kid’s face buried in a screen, the parents were effectively dismissed.

My wife surmised that one or both parents were afraid of their kids’ push-back. Technically I refer to this as protest behavior – the behavior of the child seeking to undo the directive or expectation of the parent. The push-back or protest behavior can come in the form of a tantrum, an escalation of out of control behavior, violence, withdrawal, talking back, incessant arguing or emotional manipulation (you don’t love me… you are hurting me… my friend’s dad let them do…).

As the parent acquiesces to the protest behavior, the child feels emboldened and learns that such behavior works to undo the parental expectation. The untoward behavior thus continues.

My wife, not a social worker, just cut to the chase and said, “That parent has no parenting guts”.

Parenting guts. What a concept.

In today’s multi-screen universe where kids whine for increased connectivity to the Internet and portability of devices, so many more kids are getting into trouble and accessing information far beyond their maturity to handle.

As we seem to be developing an increasingly spoiled generation of kids whose manners or help around the house appears to be a diminishing capacity, maybe it is time to think in terms of parenting guts.

Parenting guts.

As your child whines about the access to technology their friends have and seek to have you pick up the tab for their premium cell plan, maybe it’s time for parental push-back.

Really? You think a cell phone makes them safer? Think again. It just may offer them up as a target for theft, on-line bullying or worse, exploitation!

Since when is the rantings of the child, holding the parent hostage by comparisons to the trappings of other spoiled kids a rationale for giving in?

So what if your kid doesn’t like the parental expectation (assuming reasonable) and they whine? Would any of those strategies work for you at your place of employment for getting a raise or advancement?

I like my wife’s new term.

In today’s world, more parents need parenting guts. If the child’s behavior wouldn’t be acceptable at your place of employment, it shouldn’t be acceptable from your kids at home.

Now this is not permission for abusive parenting, but permission for parents to withstand the push-back of their children and teaching them the value of respect, listening, working for their own things and giving back to others.

As these parents develop their parenting guts, then their kids can grow to be the healthy, moral and reasonable adults they would want them to be.

Turn off the Internet at dinner time; have time for chores; make sure the homework gets done; limit the video games; address rude or disrespectful behavior; enjoy some family time.

As your kids are now is how they will likely be come adulthood. Would anyone in the outside world tolerate such attitudes and behavior? Would their behavior be acceptable in an intimate adult relationship? Just what kind of adult do you want your child to be?

The alternative? Spoiled brats who grow into narcissistic adults.

You choose.

I think my wife got this right. Have some parenting guts.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

(905) 628-4847

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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  1. Sara permalink

    Hello Gary, I saw your blog on a Facebook posting about parenting guts and could not agree more! I thought you made a good point about cell phones as well. However, I wonder if the same reaction that stops a parent from ‘pushing back’ was partly begun when parents were told not to spank their children … I’m not particularly in favour of spanking but to not have it as an option under any circumstances for fear of ‘outside intervention’ makes me pause. Most of today’s parents were raised with spankings as children and survived – the occasional mild spank strikes me (no pun intended!) as reasonable.

  2. Hi Sara,

    I think you make an excellent point. Since the 19080’s we (social workers and psychologists) kept telling parents not to spank, but to praise their kids.

    This was never meant to mean no consequences and no expectations. However, that part of the message fell to the wayside.

    In lieu of spanking, we still want children to have consequences for inappropriate behavior. Some consequences may be natural and others such as loss of privilege can be imposed.

    Praise in the absence of expectations, accountability and consequences leads the child to think everything they do is permissible and OK. It causes children to think the world revolves around them.

    It’s time to address the fallout of that permissive parenting. Have parenting guts. Teach your children right from wrong and by all means do hold them accountable, which doesn’t need to include corporal punishment.



    • In response to Sara’s comment about spanking, there’s no real benefit that can come out of spanking, in my humble opinion. It’s poor role modelling, and I’ve read studies that show an increase of behavioural issues with kids who are spanked. You aren’t teaching any life skill if spanking is used (as opposed to supporting the child with problem solving, etc), and you are basically modelling the use of physical power, which the child will then likely use in their own interactions with peers/sibs when things get heated. There are so many other respectful discipline strategies that can be used!

      • Sara Woods permalink

        Hi Gary you mentioned a connection with an increase of behavioral issues with children who have been spanked … Just out of curiosity has there been a ‘decrease’ of behavioral issues since the 1970s when spanking went had a fashion? It seems like more kids are counseling today than ever.

  3. Spanking has been linked to a number of behavioral issues for children, adolescence and even later into adulthood.

    I don’t know the numbers in terms of if spanking has actually decreased or not, however, even if it has, there are many more other social and parenting issues affecting children’s behavior today so it is difficult to draw a line between decreasing spanking and issues seen in children’s behavior generally.

  4. This is a comment posted to a “Linked IN” discussion of my blog:

    Gary, You and your wife are right. The absence of “parenting guts” can cost the family dearly. Spouses vie to win the affection of their children through concessions and compromises, little realizing that they are eroding the parenting edifice. With time the lesson gets to them, but the trend they set is difficult to reverse. They labor on, more in tears. If only they had stopped to reflect! Hopefully, your reminder will get them thinking. God bless.

  5. Penny permalink

    Hi Gary
    Although I believe that there is a true problem with society and the way that parents in society parent. I do not believe that it is because they are afraid of the child pushing back I believe it i because they are afraid of some bleeding heart social worker (although not necessarily you) or some person who does not not the whole situation seeing their kids pitching fit because they were told no going an reporting them to the authorities for something completely innocent and getting charged and having to go to court. This happens way to often in our society and it is extremely easy to do. It is a simple as accusing someone of something that never happened and all of a sudden they have a charge on their record. It doesn’t matter if the case is eventually thrown out because it was untrue or if charges were withdrawn because the crown couldn’t make the case the charges are forever on their record. This is why Parents don’t stand up to their children, this is why children have no respect and this is why society is the way it is.

    Yes we need to protect children from abuse because they cannot protect themselves but they is a big difference between abuse and teaching a child respect and discipline (which does not need to involve physical discipline). We just need to give the power back to Parents to be able to parent their children without fear of authorities getting involved for every little thing.


  6. And from another “Linked In” group where people posted comments about this blog:

    Ah, Gary … So right on, as usual!
    So.o.o much I could say 🙂
    Parents need to practice parenting/teaching at birth. Not the same as caretaking. You don’t begin parenting at the time the child first pushes boundaries.
    Very young children mimic their parents. They tend to like what the adults like and make interesting. My grandmother loved horses … Me too.
    Everyone in the family were avid readers …. I love/d books and was reading by age 4. Classical music was played regularly … I still love Chopin and Lizt. Manners were a way of life … Never occurred to me to argue or do differently. As soon as I began talking, I was taught good grammar. It was all I knew on how to speak. I thought it was the way if the world :-). At age 70, I continue to find poor grammar annoying.
    My mother was quite strict about rules and behavior … She gave no quarter! Yet she introduced me to as much of books, sports. Activities, exercise, religions, learning as possible. I was not given money for good grades… I lost privileges for bad grades that were result of my laxness … She always discussed with my teachers.
    I am the oldest of 9. None have ever been in serious trouble nor have their children. All their kids have graduated from college! All of their families remain intact!!
    I agree … My job as a parent is to maintain my child’s safety; to provide them with the tools to be happy productive adults; to prepare them for the trials and tribulations along with accountability and responsibility that comes with living as an adult. I am not their “buddy” not their playmate!
    Does not mean that I am not a friend or playful.
    I told my step- daughters when the boundaries were stretched: ” I love you enough to allow you to “hate” me.”
    “For every freedom that you are allowed, there comes a responsibility.”
    By failing in the responsibility, the freedom may be also lost and must be earned.
    I demanded and I gave respect!!
    They were great kids and are terrific, responsible adults.
    I did not intend to make this about me, however, I have certainly experienced responsible parenting and seen the results. Btw… Family was economically lower middle class. Each of us earned our own way through college or earned scholarships …

  7. Catherine Parr permalink

    Thank you for this article. I am a parent as well as a social worker in an adult correctional institution. I work with many inmates who were raised without consistent prosocial expectations for their behavior, in violent and abusive homes, and in homes with overly permissive, codependent, enabling, or physically or emotionally absent parent(s). The results…children calling the shots at home, manipulating and scaring parents into perpetuating their narcissistic, immature and selfish attitudes…children left without structure, guidance, nurturing, and/or positive examples of adulthood, left to fend for themselves and run wild…children who learn no one cares enough to guide them…that they cannot truly count on others…that they will get more attention with poor behavior than good…that they are above consequences, authority doesn’t matter, and they don’t have to be responsible for their poor choices in life. Mind you, not all inmates family homes were this way, but there are certainly enough od them. Seeing many, many negative, painful amd tragic outcomes for children raised in the way I described above, I work hard to not be the type of parent who routinely coddles my child and permits rude, entitled, manipulative, disrespectful or dishonest behavior. I refuse to allow any lack of effort and guidance on my part to aid him in developing behaviors that one day may lead to addiction, criminality, gang involvement, imprisonment or death. Umderstandably, I cannot gaurantee that my child will not one day find himself in one of these disparaging situations, but I can gaurantee I’m ready ti si anything I xsn within ny power to show him the skills, morals and values that will help protect him from such a fate. Thank you for offering up the inspiration and motivation to continue developing my parenting guts.

  8. Corinne Lidster permalink

    I grew up in small town newfoundland where communal parenting was the norm. That meant that it didn’t matter whose mom or dad caught you mis-behaving , you would be reprimanded and likely sent home to parents who already knew your transgression. That said, I’m surprized you chose to talk about this family rather than addressing the situation directly with both the child and parent as it happened. Yes they may have become defensive at the out-set, but you would have made an impression and let both the child and the parents know that thier behaviour is unacceptable .

  9. Mella permalink

    Common sense is at a premium nowadays. Thank you for putting it out there to remind parents to be parents, not friends. Children have enough friends. They need their parents to be there, really there and awake in the moment.

  10. Fazeema Bacchus permalink

    I have a 9yr old son n a two yr old daughter….it’s a challenge raising the 9yr old n mostly his school work seems to b the biggest problem of all we the parents n his teacher working very closely with him but the focus not there at all for him to get things done u hav to take time out with everything n pay attention to him….no punishment seems to work n it get to a point where the lies,rudeness n dishonesty is getting out of hand….please help yes I want the best for my son but at time his behavior is totally unacceptable.

  11. Barb permalink

    You lose some credibility when you invoke “spoiled brats”. Demeaning labels create an atmosphere of shame for both parents and children. Children need to be taught self regulation and the best teaching method is a good role model. So it is more then being held accountable. It requires an understanding and validation of the feelings behind the push back. It takes finesse to validate an other’s feelings without capitulation. Respect teaches respect. Name calling and vilifying are disrespectful and those who act from the belief that their behaviour is superior to others lack true respect.

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