I know of parents that are deep in debt. Not financial debt, but parental debt. What is parental debt? Parental debt, like credit card debt or any other debt, is when you want the reward or benefit of having something right now but (rather than paying for it right now) you put off paying until sometime in the future.
How do parents get into parental debt?
Basically parents get into parental debt when parents choose the easy way out of a parenting situation rather than being lovingly firm with the limits the parent has set for their child.
What are the results of parental debt?
Parents that are heavy into parental debt notice that when they speak, their children don’t listen. They notice that their kids don’t believe anything will happen to them if they continue to misbehave. These children drain their parent’s energy and don’t feel bad about it.
These parents also find themselves looking forward to going to work, not necessarily because they love their job, but because they have more control and less stress at work than they do at home. They often feel hopeless, check out, and blame their kids for the conflicts in the home.
Kids that grow up in homes that are heavy in parental debt tend to display worse behaviors over time. Their tantrums increase, empathy decreases, and the focus on themselves becomes overwhelming.
How can parents get out of parental debt?
Parents get out of parental debt the same way they get out of financial debt. They start to pay for things as they go, pay off past debts, and prepare for future challenges, even when it is painful or exhausting. In other words, rather than ignoring troublesome behavior or giving in because a child throws a fit, parents can become parentally debt free by addressing the behaviors that should be addressed and by maintaining limits in a loving, but firm way.
Parents can show love and firmness at the same time by being understanding, and maintaining the limit at the same time. This might look like a parent responding to their 8-year-old who is throwing a tantrum in the store by saying “I know that you want that new Lego set,” or “I can understand that you really, really want the new Fashion Barbie. You can get it just as soon as you have saved up for it.”
Realistically, this child will probably act worse in that precise moment in the store. However, as you stay firm with your limit in an understanding and loving way, your child will learn that you don’t give in when your child begins to fight and that you are strong enough to do what is right even during difficult moments.
Over time, parents can work themselves out of parental debt and back into the positive territory of parenting. They do this by not taking the easy way out and by setting and enforcing limits in a loving way, even when it is hard.
What is the reward parents get when they stay out of parental debt?
Parents who don’t take the easy way out of difficult parenting situations find that their children respect them more. Their children typically nag and beg them less often and the parents have more credibility. And even though the kids don’t get what they want as often, they tend to be happier kids and they learn how to develop healthy boundaries within relationships.
Even though it is often easier not to follow through, or give in, or give up, parents will raise happier and healthier kids by staying out of parental debt, addressing the behaviors that should be addressed, and maintaining the limits they have set in loving ways.
Shiloh Lundahl, LCSW, is a child and family therapist in Gilbert and Mesa, Arizona. He is the founder of Parent Arizona and Counseling Services and is part of the Arizona Family Institute.
He provides parenting classes using the Love and Logic curriculum, classes for parents of children with ADHD, step-parenting classes, and advanced trainings for foster and adoptive parents. He also provides in-home therapy in Gilbert, Mesa, Queen Creek, San Tan Valley, Chandler, and Tempe, Arizona.