4 Problems With Inconsistent Parenting.

We’ve all been in that place at one time or another. We hand down a consequence to our children for crossing our boundaries, but we don’t actually follow through on the punishment. The problem with this is that we may be doing more damage than we’re aware of.


Last week, as Kristin and I flew to Seattle to speak at Refresh Conference, we were walking through the Minneapolis airport, talking about our family, when she said something that gave me quite a gut check. “We’re doing a crappy job of following through on punishments. Our girls don’t believe us when we tell them they’re grounded.”

She was right. Lately we’ve been pretty darn bad at parenting our children with consistency. We’ve said a whole lot of serious stuff like, “If you don’t clean your room, you’re grounded!” Or, “Finish your homework or there’s no TV!” We’ve even passed down judgement on sleepovers- “There will be NO sleepover if you don’t finish your list of chores!” But our kids are looking at us with a look that says, “Yeah right!” They’re not buying it. And why should they? We’re about as steady as a leaf in the wind.

If you’re dealing with this or you feel this way, you’re not alone. We’ve written posts on this, counseled other parents on this, but suddenly we find more fingers pointing back at us. Ouch! As we’ve stepped back and taken note of our own inconsistency, we’ve recognized some big problems unfolding before us…

  1. Our kids are on to our game. Like I just said…we’re not fooling them. Especially our two teenagers. I’ve actually grounded my 12-year old from books and the library (not kidding…the library…and books! It’s the only currency we have with an introvert and book worm 🙂 ), 2 times in the last 2 months. The consequence I gave her amounted to 2 weeks without books and the library. But then I got busy, and my busyness was followed by weariness. Weariness turned into total abandon, and by the 3rd day she was back to reading books and eventually going to the library. I hadn’t come close to following through. She’s not buying it anymore when I tell her she’s grounded. She doesn’t believe me when I hand down the penalty of no books or no library. All a result of my inconsistent parenting.
  2. We erode their self-confidence. This may catch you by surprise. It sure did for me, when I realized it. Truth is, our kids crave boundaries, even if they don’t show it on the outside. This is actually a fact that I taught to parents all through my years as a family pastor, and now, suddenly, I’m learning it myself. It’s not like my kid, or yours, will rise to call us “blessed” when we discipline them, or stick to our guns on a punishment. But they will know we care, even if it’s deep in their heart of hearts. It builds their self-confidence to know they have a parent who is willing to guide them down right paths.
  3. We set our children up for failure down the road. There will be a day when a boss, an instructor, a coach, or some other authority figure, outside of us, hands down a punishment or an instruction and actually follows through. If your child is told that the next time he or she shows up late for work, they’ll be fired, they will be. If a coach or instructor demands excellence, or hard work, and the result of doing anything less is sitting the bench, or running laps, they’ll follow through. They’ll follow through because that’s their job. This is why it’s critical that we parent consistently, now, even if it hurts. We fail our children, now and in the future, by not following through on punishments or consequences while they’re under our care and supervision.
  4. We de-authorize ourselves. Our kids slowly lose respect for us as their authority figures when we’re inconsistent. I can’t tell you how many times over my 17-year family ministry career I watched this play out. Mom and dad couldn’t figure out why their son had zero respect for their rules or boundaries. A small search into their parental history revealed massive holes in their consistency as the culprit. As we parent 2 teenagers we’re seeing the same results with our rules and boundaries. We’re degrading our authority little by little, day by day. If we really are the leaders of our household, and our family, this needs to change.

Believe it or not, we can fix these problems quite easily. It’s not an overnight fix, but it is fixable. Just today, as I was finishing up this post, in fact, one of my daughters tried to skimp on her homeschool work and watch TV. I caught her and stopped it. A battle ensued. I started to feel myself growing weak and soft, but I stood my ground. “There is zero TV until your homework is finished and your room is clean!” I declared. They weren’t happy but I didn’t budge. It was hard.

It will be hard for you too. However, if this is left unchecked, you’ll face big problems, now and later on. I have creative, imaginative, and spirited kids who take every opportunity I give them to waltz into Planet Take-Advantage! I have to be on my game. So do you! It’s not easy, but it’s the only way our children will grow up to be healthy, productive adults in the future.

Question: Have you faced similar problems with your kids? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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