Synergistic Parenting

Your goals for your children


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To explore our goals as parents requires brain work, but also pondering our deeper feelings and dreams and hopes and fears.

When parents talk about fears when their children become teens, I think of a couple who worked to raise their two sons with two-way communication in which they could talk about anything. They encouraged their sons to share any concerns or problems. They often made time to be with them. Soon after the oldest started driving, the father bought a luxury car of which he was very proud. A few weeks later the oldest son told his father that two friends wanted him to give them rides in the new car, and he needed help in putting them off. Father and son worked out a plan. The next day the son appeared to reluctantly give in to the pressure from his friends, and agreed to give them a ride if they came to his house at a certain late hour. Just as the son and two friends got into the car, the father "happened" to walk into the garage, catching them in the act just as the father and son had planned. I think this outcome is possible when parents develop trust and open communication.

Think about or with others discuss different things the son could have done on his own since it was his problem. What are the advantages and disadvantages of talking with his parent(s) about it? What are the advantages and disadvantages of what father and son actually did?

Consider two different sets of goals. First, what do you want to develop as the qualities of your children? Second, what goals for you as a parent will most likely develop the qualities you want in your children?

Qualities in your children
Two significant goals for your children are to develop openness and trust.

Eric Erickson, a careful student of how children develop, found in his studies of many children that children must develop trust to mature into a healthy adult. As you interact with the young child as a knowledgeable and trusting parent, you develop your child’s trust in you. Think about this need to develop each child’s trust, and how you as a parent can purposefully develop each child’s trust in you, and trust of appropriate others.

As children begin to go with friends to their houses or elsewhere, and wander further from our protection, we recognize that we trust our child but we may not trust their inexperience and the inexperience of friends or dates. Be clear with the child that we want to know who and where, because we know in their inexperience they may be hurt.

Do you want your child to become self-confident and self-assured? That requires learning these qualities playing with toys, interacting with friends, and what TV they watch. Your conversation can help your child appreciate these qualities without your being preachy.

Think about other qualities you want to see in your children, listing them, talking with friends about them, and in these pages find ways you can develop and enhance those qualities.

Goals for your parenting
Let’s think about some goals parents have talked about in parenting groups.

Controlling children is a goal. Do you want to control them or to let them grow whatever way they grow? How bossy are you? Some are control freaks, who think their children will blossom only as the parents directly control — only as they "pull the strings." Or do you want to be involved with your children, influencing them, but not controlling? There are three different ways to parent – three different views of children and of parenting that are explained on another page.

If you have seen the movie "Sound of Music," you may remember the scene where the new governess, Maria, meets the children for the first time. Their father is a widowed retired naval captain, who pulls out a bos'n pipe, and blows several different signals, as on a ship. The children thunder forward, standing stiffly at attention in order from the oldest. How many parents want that kind of control? And if you saw the film, you may remember the ways different children resisted his authority and did their own thing.

Maria, the new governess, soon had more authority by relating to the children, joining their games, and interacting with them in an area where she had knowledge and authority — music.

How much do you want children to depend on your direction and control as a dictator – or a ship’s captain with a bos'n pipe? Some parents believe children will go to pot if not controlled. They believe the maxim: spare the rod and spoil the child. Or spare tight control and spoil the child.

We may realize that tight control frequently fails. A low ranking soldier was reaching into his pocket for change at a base dispensing machine, when a lieutenant walked up and asked the soldier if he had change for a dollar. To the soldier's, "Let me check," the lieutenant responded, "Is that any way to address an officer?" The soldier after a moment, said, "I don’t have any change, sir." When we want to resist arbitrary authority, we can find ways. So can our children.

Synergistic parenting means control as you involve yourself in the lives of children without being intrusive. The teen pressured to give rides in his father's car found a way out because of this give-and-take. How does a boss control? If we have a say in decisions, we are more willing to follow. If the control is dictatorial, many of us resist, as does a child.

A major goal is relationships with each child that include give and take. Each parent creates situations in work around the house and in play where the parent depends on the child as much as the child depends on the parent.

For example, when our daughter was only a few years old, she had learned colors playing with her mother. I built a stereo receiver from a kit that had thorough directions. To build it I soldered hundreds of components into a circuit board. Our daughter wanted to be involved, so for many evenings, I read the directions, saying, for example, I need a resistor that is coded, red-yellow-blue. We had sorted components into groups, so she carefully searched through resistors until she found the right color-code, handed it to me, and together we bent the wires at right angles to fit into the circuit board. She watched as I soldered, keeping clear of the heat as we had discussed. Children of most ages can be involved in an infinite number of ways in work and play with parents.

The key is being engaged with your children, and your children engaged in some of what you do. In contrast dictatorial parenting is control by parent of children. Permissive parenting means less give-and-take engagement between a knowledgeable parent and child.

Scientific research has found that synergistic or knowledgeable parenting correlates with (or is closely related to) secondary school performance. Other experiences also support give-and-take parenting.

What do you want for each child? Reflect on each child’s age, gender, personality, and interests. One child may want more of your control than others. One may come to you for guidance more than others. One may resist more than others.

Control must depend upon the situation. Reserve authority for major emergencies where reactions must be quick and there is little time to discuss. Reserve authority for the fewest situations, and think of the many areas of their lives where you can talk with them and work with them about what you want them to do. Reflect on the soldier’s response to the lieutenant, and the "Sound of Music." How do people respond to high levels of control? Do you want life with your children to be a tug of war, or as cooperative a relationship as possible?

Each child has their own individual interests they want to develop. A father passionately loved sports. While one of his two sons shared his love of sports, the other lived for music. When they were young, he took them both to a night of wresting, hoping his less interested son would be captivated by the sounds and smells. Between wrestling matches an organ played, and his son who didn't love sports remarked on how beautifully the organist played. That father said that for the first time he realized he had to deeply respect each son’s uniqueness.

How do you expect to teach your children? Perhaps to love nature, to cook, to play ball, to fish, or play music? W. B. Yeats said, "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." Parenting like education is interactive. You talk with a child about your love for nature, or how to cook or play ball in order to "light a fire" of interest. You answer your child’s questions, then as the child responds, explain and suggest more.

Do you see a child as a puppet to be shaped and formed to your design? Do you see a child as a sponge? Or do you see a child as a developing person that you want to work with to develop as a responsible, self-assured, self-confident person?

Several months after the movie "The Wizard of Oz" appeared, a family that saw the film drove across the country. This film was about a young Kansas girl, Dorothy, who was caught outside as a tornado approached, and could not get to the storm shelter, so fled into her home. Suddenly the house was ripped from its foundation into the air, and landed in a strange land called Oz, where the story of the film unfolded. As this family approached the Kansas state line, their nine-year-old daughter became agitated, and finally said she was scared of Kansas, and did not want any of them to go into Kansas. The parents took their daughter's fears seriously enough, that they drove around Kansas.

As I've retold this true event, a few parents in my groups think the daughter was childish, and should be ignored. More parents feel they should have talked carefully with their daughter about her fears, but gone on through Kansas. The fact that the family drove the extra distance gave what message to their daughter about their respecting her as a person and her anxieties? How far should you go?

Are your goals for each child based on that child’s uniqueness, and yet broad enough so your child may develop in many different directions, yet have those goals? A daughter who is taught to be assertive when young will use that throughout her life, whatever she does and whoever she is with.

How do you see yourself as a parent? Do you as a parent direct your child? Do you tell your child what to do and what not to do? Or do you work with your child to explore what life is like? To explore why certain behaviors are healthier than others? To explore why some behaviors are more satisfying? Do you want to share in each child’s adventurous exploring and learning?

When a parent controls children as a dictator, as a ship’s captain with a bos'n pipe, those children often are slower to develop and grow in deep trust of parents. Perhaps the most important decisions you make as a parent are how much you will control your children and how you will exercise that control. How with open give-and-take you develop children’s trust, openness, honesty, and love. You want each to mature as a trusting and open person, yet careful of who and what he or she trusts. Do you develop a relationship where each feels acceptance and freedom to interact and play?

Erma Bombeck while dying of cancer reflected on her parenting. Here are a few of her thoughts:

I would have sat on the lawn with my children and not worried about grass stains.
I would have cried and laughed less while watching television and more while watching life….
When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, "Later. Now go get washed up for dinner."
There would have been more "I love you's." More "I'm sorry's"...

To help you think about different ways you could react, here is a normal request by a young teen, who wants to join friends but also wants your approval:


If you are working alone, jot down your feelings and thoughts, and a variety of ways to respond. If you are working with others, talk about your feelings, doubts, and ways to respond. List alternate ways to respond; list ways you could be part of this teen's festivity. Evaluate different responses from your view and from the child's view.

Our feelings and dreams
Another critical part of being parents is our feelings and our dreams. Now try to tune into some deeper feelings. We may find this exploring is very helpful.

Try imaging a scene in your imagination.

Read what I suggest, try to visualize it, and to feel it. If you work alone, perhaps you can tape it to listen to it with eyes closed. If two or more of you are doing this together, perhaps one read this aloud slowly and softly. Each of you do your imaging separately, then afterwards compare your feelings and experiences. Here is the imaging: make yourself comfortable, take a few deep breaths, and stretch. Relax and breathe deeply and slowly. Think about each of your children, then select one child to focus on. Name that child and think about that child’s individuality. Spend time thinking about this child. Now think about that child in his or her mid-twenties. Imagine that child as an adult, finished with formal schooling, supporting himself or herself. Visualize the child receives an offer of a job that is a big promotion, in a distant state and city. Your grown child realizes the need to start over making friends and settling in. Now visualize that child of yours as an adult wresting with these decisions alone. What resources does this grown child of your have to work on this decision?

Let your feelings wander over the images of what is happening. Relax and take your time.

Now end the imaging to think about those images and feelings. What can you do now as each child is young to give them resources and strength, independence and assertiveness, and feeling able to responsibly make those decisions?

Try another imaging.

Imagine one of your children as an adolescent with all the rush of new independence, of yearning to be liked by peers, to explore, and the rush of sexual urges.

Now visualize your child on a date and almost overwhelmed by offers of drugs or sex. How tantalizing these can appear. Image the things a date or friend may say to entice your child to the wonders of drug highs or of sex.

Again, what can you do now to give them resources and strength, independence and assertiveness to make their own responsible decisions? To explore and find their individual, deepest self? To find inner sources of strength and direction?

Our goals as parents are the result of careful, logical thinking, but also of exploring our feelings and urges. You may find it useful to re-read and re-imagine these scenes to reflect on your goals and dreams and wishes for each of your children.

Perhaps the most important parenting you can do is to spend time with each child, at least once a month, doing what that child wants to do. The activity is less important than your talking together, listening, sharing in what your child wants to do at that time — whether active or quiet. You learn as you listen and interact. This can be a time of discovery as you focus attention on one child. An insightful book suggests, "When we are being fully present as parents, when we are mindful, it enables our children to fully experience themselves in the moment." Think of ways to interact with each child.

My Dad suggested the three A's of accepting each child, appreciating each child, and affection for each child. I like to add a fourth A: affirming each child. Think about what attitude and behavior each "A" means.

Copyright © 2002 John F. Yeaman