Oh, the Games Parents Play

By Cyndy Shoemaker

Oh, the games people play now. Every night and every day now. Never meaning what they say now. Never saying what they mean.

1968 is probably ancient history to most of you, but I was nine when Joe South wrote this song about adult relationships, but this section of the lyrics holds true in the parent-child relationship, as well. Do we as parents really say what we mean and mean what we say when we engage in conversation with our children? What games are we playing to get our wishes met in parenting?

We all wish our children would obey like in the old days when they would say “yes, ma’am” and “yes, sir,” and then actually (most of the time) obey. When told by their parents to do something today, the typical American child does not display a willing, cooperative attitude. Instead, he ignores, whines argues, gets mad, or talks back. How did we get into this sorry state of affairs? Is it the child’s fault? No, it’s ours. We play the game of “here we go round the mulberry bush” by playing “beat around the obedience bush.” In this rendition of the game, we parents are afraid to disturb any of its supposedly delicate leaves lest we damage (according to psychology) the child’s supposedly delicate psyche. We truly don’t expect our children to obey, we just wish they would, so we bribe, bargain, threaten, give second chances, and try to reason with them. There are more physically active signs in this game, such as when we get red in the face, pound the table, and threaten a spanking. Ultimately, there are no winners in this game. The child has a momentary victory which leads to winning major battles that lead to a narcissistic child and a neurotic guilt-ridden parent. Let’s not play “beat around the obedience bush.”
Another game we play with our children is “Battleship.” What? I used to love that game. This Battleship game is played when we argue with our children. Here are the rules: We make a decision (player one). Player two, the child, hates that decision and verbally vomits. We pick up the verbal vomit, thinking we can clean it up with reasoning, and the battle begins. The usual outcome in this game is that everyone’s verbal battleship is sunk. There are no real winners. The best way to play this game is not to open the box. We only have arguments when we open the box by giving a reason for our decision, which by the way doesn’t comfort player two because he wants to change our mind not to hear our reasons. If we choose to open the box, our only safe move is to say, “Because I said so” or it will be a long-drawn-out Battleship game. Warning: Don’t open the box.

Let’s now play “Please?” or “Okay?”. This game is an epidemic today in parenting lingo. It involves the parent asking a child to do something not realizing by saying “Please?” and “Okay?” we have opened the door for the child to say “no.” Parents are hoping to avoid conflict when in fact this game swings the door wide open. Don’t ask your child to do something you expect them to do, tell them. Children need to be told what to do by parents who aren’t afraid or embarrassed by an occasional showdown, even in public. Children feel more secure and comfortable with parents who know where they stand.

The aforementioned games need to be avoided at all costs. The happiest children are those who have parents that don’t play these games. Why, because that type of disciplinary style (game playing) creates and perpetuates an atmosphere of uncertainty and tension in the parent-child relationship. Instead, mean what you say and say what you mean by being commanding, concise, and concrete.

Cyndy Shoemaker, Certified Leadership Parenting Coach

Married for forty years with three home-educated grown sons and eight grandchildren, Cyndy has had the privilege of ministering to families across the US and in a variety of venues for most of those forty years as a classical and Christian private school educator and marriage and family counselor. Adding John’s methods and philosophy has enhanced her capabilities with his practical no-nonsense approach to helping today’s families find parenting a joyful, though difficult at times, journey. The truths that she has had the privilege to share with others has truly transformed many families and helped them experience “joy in the journey.” She looks forward to ministering to your family and families in your community.

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