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Updating Our Parenting Styles

Parenting StyleMy fashion style hasn’t changed in over thirty years.  I have twenty pairs of identical jeans in my closet.  I have a drawer full of plain t-shirts.  I have suits dating back to the Ford Administration.  For the most part, I’m comfortable with what I wear.

Or at least I was, until a twenty-something staff worker at Heartlight dug up an old photo of me with my first batch of staff workers.  Lo and behold, I was wearing the very same shirt I had on in that picture from twenty-four years ago!  At that moment I realized, maybe it’s time to update my wardrobe.

We’re creatures of habit, aren’t we?  As parents we get going into a parenting groove, raising our kids like our parents raised us or just plodding along in our comfort zone of parenting styles and habits.  But all of a sudden, we realize it isn’t working anymore.  While we were stuck in our parenting rut, our kids grew and changed.  It’s as if we’ve been wearing the same shirt for 10, 12, 15 years, and haven’t bothered to update our wardrobe.

This rude awakening happens to a lot of parents.  But if we’re still breathing, that means we still have the opportunity to change and parent differently.  And we need to.  I cannot engage with my kids the same way I did when they were three years old.  I have to adapt as a parent so I can connect with my kids whether they’re 5 or 55!  So how do we update our parenting styles?

Take Inventory

Like going into your closet and pulling out the velour suit from 1974, we need to go into our parenting closet and take an inventory of everything outdated.  This requires an honest examination of the actions, beliefs, styles and habits in our home and a willingness to toss out everything that doesn’t belong.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that you change your values, principles or morals.  There are clear boundaries between what is wrong and what is right, and those should never change.  But aside from the non-negotiable, what are some areas that you can change and adapt as a parent?  How can you accommodate the new needs of your teenager?  How can you grow alongside them as they learn to navigate the world?  Like reaching back into the closet and taking out those jeans you haven’t fit into since high school, take regular time to evaluate your parenting styles.  See what is out of style, what needs to change or what keeps you stuck in the past.

Be Humble

Once you take inventory and identify those areas where adjustment is needed, the next step is to be humble enough change.  It can be uncomfortable, maybe even a bit painful, to realize that your parenting habits need work.  But remember that parenting is not about you!  It’s about what is best for your child.  As a mom or dad, our job is to coach our kids and allow them to flourish.  As difficult as it can be, making an effort to change can re-energize your relationship with your child and spur them on to more growth and responsibility.

Create the Proper Environment

Ever step into someone’s house and feel like you are stepping back into time?  You see orange shag carpeting, green velvet couches, pictures of Elvis on the wall and it smells like a combination of High Karate aftershave and powdered lemonade.  It’s an environment that screams, “We’re stuck in a different decade!

Don’t let your home be emotionally stuck in the past.  Create an environment that welcomes and invites change.  If you feel like it’s time to make some positive shifts in your family, sit everyone down and tell them, “We need to make some changes around here, me included.  It’s not going to be the same-old, same-old.  Let’s work together as a family to move forward.

I’ve spoken on this topic at seminars a few times.  And afterwards, I have had parents and teens come up to me later and say, “Thank You!  We decided as a family that we needed to change, and it was one of the best decisions we made.  Our kids are happier, and we feel happier as parents!

Act On It

Once you decide to make some changes for you and your family, it’s time to act on it!  If you feel like your teen needs to correct the way they handle finances, get them a checkbook, put some money in their account for gas, clothes and lunches, and let them learn how to balance a budget.  They need to learn, so don’t wait.  Maybe you have always said that your pre-teen daughter won’t get a cell-phone until she is fifteen.  But consider whether it may be time to take a second look at that rule.  Buy her a pre-paid cell-phone and set up the ground rules and expectations for its use.  Or perhaps you realize that as a mom and dad you have been too over-protective in certain areas.  Apologize to your kids and show them that you are working on changing and releasing some control.

Even the best intentions aren’t worth anything if we don’t act on them.  So once you see where your family can move forward, start working towards that goal.

Stay With the Plan

I’ll be the first to admit, change is not easy.  We don’t wake up one day with the perfect marriage, perfect kids, perfect home.  Those relationships take time and effort.  So if you are working towards making positive changes in your family, don’t give up!  Stay with the plan.  In difficult transitions, your teen may push back.  They may dig in their heels as you try to change your home and family.  But keep the mindset and attitude that says, “We’re not going backward, only forward.”

Finally, enlist some help and encouragement.  Call in some allies and let them know about the changes you are trying to make and ask them to hold you accountable.  If they see you sliding backwards, give them permission to call you on it.  Seek those who would encourage you, as well.  Celebrate the victories, as you make steps forward.

Staying in our parental comfort zone and sticking to the status quo is like hanging onto that polyester pantsuit in the back of the closet.  It’s outdated and only taking up space for more valuable items.  We need to take inventory of our habits and conventions as moms and dads and make the necessary changes to ensure that we are growing alongside our kids.  And that’s a style that looks good in every generation.



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.