How Your Parenting Impacts Your Child

Relationships are hard work, and parenting is certainly no exception. Child psychologists say that ages zero to six are extremely formative in a child's self-identity, making it critical to establish a healthy parenting philosophy early on. In today's podcast, Dr. Chris Grace and Dr. Tim Muehlhoff break down results from a classic Harvard case study that explores the relationship between parenting and a child's development.   


Transcript 

Chris Grace:

Well welcome to another edition of the Art of the Relationships podcast, I'm Chris Grace.

Tim Muehlhoff:

And I'm Tim Muehlhoff.

Chris Grace:

And we're just excited to be her and be able to visit with you today, we're going to talk about a number of different issues that impact us in all areas relationships, and one of those, Tim, is in the area of parenting.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's right.

Chris Grace:

Relationships are hard enough, but you add another person into the mix, or two, or three, or however many, and all of the sudden now what was manageable is now almost to a point where it becomes chaotic, difficult for some. And others navigate it pretty well, but in general, parenting, it can be really hard, so it's a big topic. Let's take a couple of specific things and dive into this, and there might be a number of podcasts on this topic, but you have some thoughts for us today on parenting.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yeah, I think it's the angst that is produced when you're having young kids, and the question we get at the center is, "Am I doing this right?" And the fear is that I'm not doing it right, and it's going to have lasting implications. Chris, have you ever seen the movie Parenthood, with Steve Martin?

Chris Grace: 

Oh yeah, a long time ago

Tim Muehlhoff:

Do you remember that movie? There's a great scene that my wife and I, Noreen, always think about. Steve Martin is a baseball coach, his son does not want to play right field, he makes him play right field. So the kid is out there, and sure enough, bases loaded, two outs, the pop fly is hit to this kid, if he catches it the game is over, they win. If he drops it, they lose, runs score. So as the ball is up in the air, Steve Martin, you see him imagining two different outcomes. One, the kid catches the ball, and now he envisions he's graduating valedictorian from his college, and he says, "I want to thank my Dad in the audience. He made me play right field, and it made me the man I am today." But then he also envisions the son dropping the ball, and now he envisions his son on a college campus up in a bell tower with a high powered rifle shooting people, yelling, "I never wanted to play right field!" 

 

And Noreen and I laugh about that, because isn't that true about parenting? You think, "Oh man, was that too much?" Or, "Was that not enough?" And we know that parents really do make a big difference in the lives of kids, and set them on certain trajectories. So we get the angst, both of us do. But the cool thing about this Center for Marriage and Relationships, is that we're an academic center, so we like to take a look at studies. So we thought it's be fun to take a look at a classic study that was done in the 1950s by two Harvard trained researchers named Sheldon and Elanor Glueck, and they developed a test that proved to be 90% accurate to determine whether or not five or six year olds would become delinquents. Okay?

 

Now, this was over a 10 year period, over 1000 cases of delinquents, and so they thought that there were four factors that you could take a look at, but unfortunately we're out of time, so we don't have ... We don't have time to tell you these four.

Chris Grace:

Well hey, welcome to the Art of the Relationship podcast, and we'll talk to you next week.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Sorry, we had budget cuts, we're really short this ... No, so obviously we've got your attention, so we thought we'd go through these. Again, this was 1950s, this has been revisited, challenged in some ways, but we thought it's be a great conversation starter. So here's number one. The father's firm, fair, and consistent discipline. Boy, isn't that interesting. Those three are powerful. Firm, fair, and consistent discipline. That's hard to pull off.

Chris Grace:

Yeah, it is. I think what happens, Tim, in this early study is they're really not necessarily uncovering anything massively new that we hadn't learned and known about, but what they did is they began to explore a number of children, and that was the cool thing that they did. Back in the '50s, they took and watched about 500 kids, and they found out how kids differed. Those that became juvenile delinquents and those that didn't, and one of the things that separated them out was this notion of firmness, but also of fairness. That's though to do, because some of us kind of lean toward one side or the other more naturally, and we've had parents like that. Maybe slightly more firm, slightly more forgiving or more easy, so it's really hard to sometimes know the balance. What do you do with parenting when you do this, and how do you navigate these things? What does it mean to you to be fair, and yet also to be firm?

Tim Muehlhoff:

See, this is, Chris, what I think. It took us by surprise, and maybe it took you guys by surprise, but Noreen and I had not been parents before. So when that child comes, that first child comes, there are just certain things you've not necessarily thought about. Now you're thinking about, "Hey, what is our parenting philosophy?" And what if you and your spouse aren't on the same page? Again, I want to point out that the Gluecks were not Christians, but the bible has a lot to say about this. Consider what Paul says in Ephesians six verse four. He says, "Fathers do not provoke your children to anger." And if you read some commentaries, one theologian said this, "By provoking a child," he wrote, "It's a repeated, ongoing pattern of treatment that gradually builds up a deep seeded anger and a resentment that boils over into outward hostility." 

 

I think whatever your strategy is, is it needs to be consistent, and fair, and predictable. A lot of child psychologists say the kids need to know what are the parameters, what are the rules, and these rules cannot be sometimes enforced and sometimes just bypassed. So a lot of parents unfortunately, we figure it out as we go. Right? Is like hey, we're making this up literally as we're doing it. That's why at family life marriage conferences, when they had the parenting conferences, we would encourage parents to actually take time to go out and develop those rules. And a good time to do that probably would be when you're pregnant with your first child. It'll all be theory, at that point, but to say, "Okay, what would be our primary way of disciplining?" And again, we can talk about these in future podcasts, "Would it be a timeout version? Will it be spanking? What role will spanking play?" But again, to say, "Okay, what do we do in this situation, and what will be our general rule so that we're on the same page." 

Chris Grace:

You know, I think Tim, that one of the things that we also learned was actually practicing this by volunteering in like in a church nursery, or being around together when you have kids there, and then watching and figuring out, "You know what, you're really good at this." Or, "You know what, I get really stressed out." And I think sometimes, there might be even children you can borrow and practice with. Find them somewhere, but just figure out ... And you know that, right? I mean, most of us know, "I'm just not comfortable around young children." Or, "I am at a certain age." My wife and I realized right away, each of us had certain tendencies and likes and dislikes when it came to discipline, but also when it came to what we were comfortable with, so we just adapted that way.

 

You were talking also about punishment and being fair and consistent, and the study showing it as a very important thing. You know, for us in the field in the field of psychology, when we look at things like discipline and punishment, those are the topics and the words that come to the top. If you want to be most effective as a parent in this, it's always these words come into play. Do it immediately. Immediate means, it's not like you react in anger right away, it just simply means you don't wait when a child misbehaves or does something. You don't wait for six hours and say, "Wait until Mom gets home." Or, "Wait until Dad finds out." You do it and you deal with it right then. But you also do it consistently. Every time they kick, every time they are aggressive toward somebody else, you are consistent in disciplining. I think that's what the fair and consistent side mean.

 

Then it's also this notion of explaining and talking and we'll get into that one a little bit. Helping the kid to understand what it means, and also we'll talk about how to be strong in punishment, but not severe, and to make it ... You know, so ...

Tim Muehlhoff:

I remember when Noreen was pregnant, she bought a book called What to Expect When You're Expecting. Remember that book?

Chris Grace:

Oh yeah, it's a great book. 

Tim Muehlhoff:

So, I think it'd be good to grab a book on parenting, a book on discipline, just to sit and read it together. Now, that may not be the version that you adopt. You might modify what you read, but it's good to have something to work off of. Remember the show Super Nanny?

Chris Grace:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Muehlhoff:

Do you remember that show? Man, we wanted to hire this woman in a heartbeat, in the Muehlhoff household, but Super Nanny would come into your house, and again, it was often a chaotic, crazy house. She would come in, and the first thing she would do is establish two things in every house. One, she would have a chart that she would actually put up on the refrigerator, that the kids actually could look at the chart and know what to expect if you didn't clean your room. What to expect if you talked back to mom and dad. If you kicked your sister. Then she had the naughty room. Remember the naughty room? Where you would go into the naughty room.

 

Now, that's one form of discipline, is you separate the child from the activity, so you're having dinner and that child can't partake, they eat dinner a little bit later, or there's a fun activity and now they're removed from the activity. So whether you adopt the naughty room, or even the chart, I think her principal was a good one. You ought to be able to articulate to those kids that they fully understand this is the cause and effect. Now, there can be grace. Grace can be given. But here's the cause and effect. I think that's really good to do. So the kids, there aren't any surprises. 

Chris Grace:

Right. Yeah, I think that's the idea, and then they know and they understand it, and you explain the punishment, right? And it helps them kind of navigate this. And you do it in a way not while you're angry, so this is a big topic, a lot of ideas about discipline out there.

Tim Muehlhoff:

So notice that they made an assumption, because they're going to make another one with point number two. The first assumption was when they said, "The father's fair, firm, and consistent discipline." That the father's present, right? He's there in the house. And we know, Chris, from a lot of sad situations where that's just not the case. Kids are growing up in single parent homes, the dad has gone, the mother is overburdened and now she has to discipline. Those of you who come from blended families, you know how hard this is, when you only get the kids every other week, and you're the disciplinarian, and your ex just isn't. Those are hard decisions, and we need a support system. Here's the major assumption of the second one. The mother's supervision and companionship during the day. Now, that's presupposing that the mom is going to stay home, that she's going to maybe take maternity leave for, what? Four or five months, and then she's going back to work. This is assuming that she's in fact not going back to work. 

 

Now, again, this is the 1950s, it would have been much more rare to have dual career families back in the '50s, but again, interesting that the mother's supervision and companionship, both, are happening on a daily basis. A lot of couples, just for financial reasons, they both have to work. So we're not saying, "Hey, beat yourself up over this one." But I do think the formative years, Chris, particular from ages zero to six, are hugely formative in a child's self identity. So, if possible, is it possible that one spouse could stay home during those formative years?

Chris Grace:

Yeah, and oftentimes parents are unable to do this, as you know, just because of financial reasons and everything else. Maybe the key variable isn't so much that one is home, maybe the key variable is when you are there, when you are present, that you are actually present. You're attentive, not distracted. I think their point is that you are emotionally engaged, and you pay attention, and you're present. Sometimes, Tim, I think one of the concerns is not so much whether or not you have two parents outside working, and therefore ... It's really when the parents are back home, they're just simply not engaged, and screens today, right? The screens of the phone, the screen that we have on our computer, the TV, wherever it is, that becomes the major problem in connecting in this emotional warmth and empathy with your child, because we're just too distracted. That becomes the issue and the problems. 

 

In James 19 ... 1:19 talks about being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, but it's important that what we do is the way we become more human is by paying attention to each other, right? That shows that you care, and that's what this research was getting at.

Tim Muehlhoff:

I get... we don't want to beat up any parents, listen, if both of you have to work to pay the bills and put food on the table, then don't beat yourself up, you're doing exactly what you need to do, you're providing for your family. But this is where I think certain philosophers make a distinction between needs and wants, and that's where I think every family needs to sit down, our included, and say, "Okay, we're living a certain lifestyle, and are these needs or wants?" We have some good friends of ours back in Raleigh North Carolina, that, Chris, their house was killing them. They lived in a great neighborhood, one of the premier neighborhoods in Raleigh, but what it took for them to keep that house was killing them, so he made the big decision that they were going to downsize, and she was going to go to half-time, and he said it was embarrassing. It was hard to move from Lochmere Highlands to another neighborhood, because people would say to them, "Hey, you guys new?" They said, "No, we're just moving over a couple neighborhoods down." And they immediately assumed that he lost his job.

 

He said, "No, this is killing us." So I think every family can sit down and say, "Hey, during these formative years, what changes can we make?" And maybe it's still both of you are working full time, but I like what you said, Chris. Maybe these activities we're doing are pulling us away, and we're not in the home even when we should be in the home.

Chris Grace: 

Yeah, Tim, you often times talk about a book called Alone Together with Dr. Sherry Turkle, who said over and over again, kids raise the same three examples of feeling hurt, and not wanting to show it when their mom and dad would be on their devices instead of paying attention to them. Here's what they said, "At meals, during pickup, after either school or an extracurricular activity, and then during sports events." Basically what happens is a lot of parents are struggling in this area, and this is where kids say they don't feel connected. They worry about, or they are distracted by this, or even distressed by it. Even the research finding that about how technology diminishes just our empathy by limiting how much time and engagement we have with one another. 

 

Even people in the same room, right? Kids feel this, and this is one of those areas that really we need to think about, how do we maintain good attention? How do we give them what they need during that time? How do we stay present when we're present?

Tim Muehlhoff:

Right, right. There's a new show out, I don't know if you've seen it, it's called This is Us. Have you heard of that show? Very interesting show, it's gotten a lot of great reviews, and it's about a family who unexpectedly has triplets. They financially ... They don't have the means, so it's about a family that's really trying to make it week to week, paycheck to paycheck, but they're very intentional about having all these goofy traditions, that cost virtually nothing. That's kind of the point of it. That's the thing, I think, what the Gluecks are trying to get at, is let's make sure that companionship is there, regardless of who's giving it, let's make sure it's there.

Chris Grace: 

Yeah, we could call it engaged parenting, Tim. Just engaged parenting is you talk, and explain things to children, you respond to their questions, and you know what? That is the bedrock of what we call in our area, this early childhood learning. Right? Sometimes learning how to detoxify, to unplug, and do that could be one of the best things you can do. Set aside time, boundaries, spaces, sacred spaces. 

Tim Muehlhoff:

Number one father's firm, fair, and consistent discipline. Number two, the mother's supervision and companionship during the day. Number three, the parents demonstrated affection for each other, and for the children. I love what James Baldwin said, "Children had never been good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them." When those kids are young, we call these attachment styles. They are watching how mom and dad are attaching to each other. They're watching the affection that is shown between parents, so the parents, the best thing you can do for your kids is to have a good relationship. You guys have done ... We've pointed this out in past podcasts, but you in Alisa have just done a great job of modeling to your kids what date night looks like. You guys do that every week, right?

Chris Grace:

Yeah, we try to on a regular basis have that, and it communicates both love for each other, but also our children kind of got used to it, and they realized, "Wow, we like it when mom and dad do that." Because they enjoyed seeing that we love each other and care for each other and invest in each other.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's huge. And I try to show affection to Noreen by saying, "Honey, the whole house doesn't need to be clean tonight, pace yourself." 

Chris Grace:

"You've got to pace-"

Tim Muehlhoff:

"When you lift that box, use your legs. You don't want to get back problems."

Chris Grace:

No, I love the way you care for her and think about her.

Tim Muehlhoff:

It's just my way of saying ... I once gave her a Valentines Day card that said, "On this Valentines Day I wanted to give you an undying symbol of my love for you." And you open the card, and then the remote control pops up. And it says, "I'm giving this to you for 24 hours." And at the very bottom it says, "This started yesterday." 

 

No, but I think that's huge. And also things like working out conflict. You know, my parents had this bizarre idea that when they argued, they go to a different room. Like, we knew they were arguing, then they went into a different room, so we couldn't see it, so you never learned how they resolved it. I think it's good for parents to show their kids, "Hey, this is what happens when mom and dad have disagreements. This is what forgiveness looks like, this is ... " So they need to see mom and dad being affectionate with each other, I think, is amazingly important, because the kids are sponges. They're saying, "Okay, this is what it means to be affectionate. This is what unconditional love looks like." And again, we all blow it. We all have those bad moments where you got to go back to the kids, and you got to say, "Hey, Dad ... I shouldn't have raised my voice, I shouldn't have done those things." But then notice, also, what they said, "Demonstrated affection for children."

 

Again, this is the great work that's out there today with love languages, Dr. Gary Chapman has a book called Love Languages for Adults, and Dr. Gregory Boyd had a book that we used called Love Languages for Kids. To think that each one of your kids has this love language. So we actually did this and came to find out that Michael's love language is physical touch, Jason is words of affirmation, and Jeremy's is just quality time. To know what the sweet spot is is really important, so there's a lot of great resources to kindle your love between spouses, and then also find out what is it that really speaks to your kids and fills up their love tank, I think is important. 

 

Okay, number four, and the last one. "The family spending time together in activities where all participate with each other." And this, Chris, gets back to the point that you made before that we had to make a really really hard decision about travel sports. Our kids, I think they were good basketball players. I know you look at me and you think immediately basketball, I know you think that, and I love you for that. We got approached constantly with, "Hey we want your kids to be on teams, travel teams." And so Chris, we did it. We did it once. We allowed our two older boys to go on travel teams, and here's what's happened. We were never in the same city anymore. We were gone, we were like ... The schedule on our refrigerator looked like an air traffic controller, I mean we were never with each other anymore. 

 

Church was kind of pushed to the side, the kids were always in different tournaments, and it was insanity, and we just didn't get time together with each other. So, I love what they're saying is, listen, get time together and everybody participates. Now, obviously that gets harder when you've got teenagers and college students, but man, make hay when those kids are young, and do family activities together.

Chris Grace:

Yeah, I think, Tim, this notion of intentional time, setting things up, it requires creativity. It requires flexibility, but it really means that you have these conversations, you talk about it and you decide together, "Look, we're so interested and so invested and so ..." It's done in a thoughtful way, but it does take planning. I think that's what it means, and then finding those points of connection. Right? And enjoying it, and celebrating the differences, someone's in one sport, someone's doing a musical outreach, and someone's dancing. It's learning to connect together and make those kind of family times special and unique, instead of having them drive you apart. But it takes intentionality and planning.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Even small things, like on Sundays, after church, we just have a tradition, we've been doing it forever, and that is we just simply go to [Brewvers 00:22:38], you pick your egg sandwich, cup of coffee, and we just ... So now it's a tradition. So those kind of small things, I think can work. Another thing that we tried to do is when one kid, team lets say they made it to the finals, and somebody else didn't make it the finals, as a family we went and supported the one child who made it to the finals. We just said, "Hey, you're going to cheer on your brother, and we'll have fun and sit in the stands, and let's watch a basketball game." A certain kind of intentionality, I think is important, because it only gets so much more difficult the older the kids get. When they're in high school, they're all gone, they're driving, college is much more difficult, so to find those times when the kids are particularly young ...

 

Again, it's that modeling time of setting those kind of foundations for the kids, I think. We just want to make one disclaimer. Nothing is easier than raising somebody else's kids, and nothing's easier than doing it during a podcast. So we understand that everything we just said, that we don't do perfectly, and when you're tired and exhausted ... These are real life issues that have to be addressed, we do it in community, we don't do it by ourselves. We need to give ourselves a little bit of grace, I love what James Dobson said, "If your kids turn out good, don't take all the credit. If they turn out bad, don't take all the blame."

Chris Grace:

That's right. No, that's good and there's so much more on this idea, Tim, of parenting. I think we're just, obviously, just barely scratching the surface. Here's what I think maybe ought to do, is let's continue just this conversation again. We'll take some feed back from our listeners as well. There are a couple of questions we've had outstanding, and there are just so much out there. How do you stay connected in a relationship that is important, while in the midst of this chaotic time? We talk about people who need to stay in steady contact with each other. They stay on the same page, because this is the best way for anybody, when it comes to parenting, just that ability to be together in this. One of the things let's do, let's continue the conversation on parenting.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yeah, sounds good.

Chris Grace:

And we'll just go with that. Let's do this. Any final concluding thoughts as we deal with parenting? I think one of the things is I think that quote from Dobson and others, "Don't take so much credit when your children turn out well," As you said, "And so much blame." It also means that when our kids do have a joyful or exciting thing, we celebrate that, and we recognize that, and we do it in a way that brings them understanding, brings them just that excitement and encouragement of being part of a family. That's what models, when parents love each other and they show that to their children, man these kids thrive.

Tim Muehlhoff:

I would just add as a concluding thought, do this in community. There's nothing that helped our parenting more than being with couples that you share the season of life with. Toddlers, right? Everybody's like toddles turning on a blender without a top. Toddlers. Well it's great to sit down with another couple that says, "Okay, we're exhausted." And their teenage years, everybody just looks at each other and shakes their head and says, "Teenage daughter? Got it." Don't need to say another word. That's really helpful.

Chris Grace:

It is, and you can learn from each other, there's different ways you can even share babysitting time and date night time, and you can just learn different techniques of what works for them, and each kid is different. Let's continue this topic [crosstalk 00:26:18] for sharing that. So for any information on relationship skills, on tools, on events, on things going on, come to the cmr.biola.edu and check out our website. We've got blogs, not only other podcasts, but we have videos, events coming up that would help you as you navigate just the art of relationship. I'm Chris Grace.

Tim Muehlhoff:

I'm Tim Muehlhoff.

Chris Grace:

And we're just glad to have you guys with us, and we'll talk next time.


The Art of Relationships Podcast

The Art of Relationships podcast, hosted by Dr. Chris Grace and Dr. Tim Muehlhoff, is centered on helping you build healthy relationships and marriages. In this podcast, Chris (director of Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and professor of psychology at Biola University) and Tim (professor of communication at Biola University and author of I Beg to Differ), weigh in on how to navigate the complexities of relationships in our culture with biblical wisdom and scholarly research. Listen to get practical insights on relationships, dating and marriage that can be applied to all relationships  — family, friends, co-workers and others.

 

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