Currently, we are studying the work of Sun Tzu in my dojo. All advanced classes are discussing the many wonderful lessons that can be learned from his Masterpiece, “The Art of War”. Personally, I have read it many times and the perspective that I read it with will seemingly change, dependent on where I am in my own life.
Today, as I studied Chapter Three, one section caught my eye. ( 3:14 ) “By attempting to govern an army in the same way as he administers a kingdom, being ignorant of the conditions which obtain in an army. This causes restlessness in the soldier’s minds.”
As both a parent and coach, this really struck me. When my children were younger I would always tell them, “I am not your friend. That is not my job.” There were many moments I was criticized for that unpopular approach as we seem to be raising children in a time where being their “friend” is an acceptable concept. Especially as a single mom, being both the disciplinarian and the loving caretaker, I knew that the two concepts, friendship and parenting, were distinctly different. While I always looked forward to the moment in time when I would be friends with my own children, I also knew that their youth would not be it. It was imperative that I had rules in place to keep them safe and productive while simultaneously teaching them about the value of respect, boundaries, and responsibility.
As Sun Tzu points out many times, war has an objective. Whether or not one agrees with the concept of it, once engaged, the objective is to win. Period. I am not equating parenting with war, however, a parallel can be drawn when considering objectives. Once you are a parent, the objective is to raise an adult. Period. As such, it is critical that we understand what that actually entails. Parenting will often require we do that which we do not want to do. << Now before any of you jump on me and begin screaming that war and parenting cannot be equated – remember, again, these are just leadership concepts that I am discussing. >>>
For example, I do not “want” to be upset at my kids. I don’t “want” to punish them for wrongdoing. I do not “want” to watch them fail, struggle, or fall. All of those moments, however, are essential components of parenting. As the parents, we must have immobile rules and boundaries AND the kids must learn to function within those. If they step outside of the boundaries, they need to experience a negative consequence. It’s not rocket science. It’s the simple act of action and reaction. When a parent guides from a point of friendship, the kids can become confused about where those lines actually are.
Sun Tzu makes a strong argument that one cannot guide soldiers from both a military and a civilian perspective because it causes “Restlessness in the soldiers minds”. In much the same way, we as parents, cannot parent both as friend and guardian. It, too, can cause confusion for the child. They must know what is OK, what is not OK, and where that line is at all times. When parents allow the line to be fluid, it is harder on the kids. Example: In my house, my 17 year old son has a midnight curfew. Not 12:05, not 12:01. It is Midnight or before, no exceptions. If he is even one minute late, there is a consequence. He doesn’t call to ask for me to extend his curfew because he already knows the answer. How? The line is never fluid. While it can irritate him, he knows what is expected of him. He is pleased with himself when he is on time and he knows what will happen if he isn’t. Should he be late, I would never say to him, “Oh, that’s ok. I remember being your age and coming in late a few times. Just try harder next time.” I WOULD say to him, “Because you were late, I am certain you understand I have no choice but to take your car away for a month?”
An argument that I have heard opposing this type of parenting is, “I don’t want to set my kids up for failure because I know that sometimes things will come up and they may be late.” My response to THAT? Someday, your child will have a job and it will be expected that they be on time. Now is the time to teach them to leave earlier, anticipate things that will slow them down and STILL arrive before expected. Far better to be grounded for a month at 17 than to lose your job at 30.
Currently, I have the blessing of being a friend to two of my four children. Both grown and leading incredibly productive lives completely independent of me physically and financially, we are very close emotionally. I love the many conversations we have about family, goals, and life in general. We are now friends. I have two teens who aren’t quite out the door and, as such, we haven’t crossed that bridge yet. I look forward to the day when all of my children are grown and we sit across the Holiday table from each other, laughing about the moments when they were still under my roof. By then, at least of few will probably be venturing into their own journey as parents and I would imagine that they, too, will adopt Sun Tzu’s concept of objective based parenting and leadership.
While you may or may not agree with my philosophy, or that of Sun Tzu’s concepts being integrated into real life moments, I encourage all parents to take a look at the amazing viewpoints that can be found in the book. It is a manifesto on Leadership and, in this humble mom’s opinion, there is no higher form of leadership than parenting.