6 Parenting Principles We Can Learn from the Syria Dilemma
By all accounts, President Obama is an excellent dad to Malia and Sasha. That makes it puzzling that he has violated so many principles of good parenting in his recent efforts to deal with the Syrian civil war.
In all fairness, being a parent isn’t an easy job. Although you can learn the basic principles from countless books written on the subject, the hard part is execution. Most of us who are parents have violated our own parenting principles from time to time, partly because effective parenting is usually more about our character than our competence or education.
Nevertheless, it’s important to review the principles of effective parenting from time to time, and they are displayed vividly in our President’s unfortunate miscues on Syria:
1. You can’t be a parent to everyone. The authority of parents is limited to dealing with their own children. It seldom works out well when you try to make someone else’s child behave. After years of frustration in Afghanistan and Iraq, the American people are wary about trying to now be the disciplinarian in Syria. We’re wondering whether the Syrians are truly our responsibility, either constitutionally or morally. Just as we can’t be the world’s Policeman, neither should we try to be the world’s Parent.
2. Beware of ultimatums and “red lines” unless you’re committed to follow through. President Obama painted himself into a corner on Syria when he warned of a “red line” that would be crossed if the regime used chemical weapons. If you’re a parent, you’ve probably given similar ultimatums to your children. “If you do _________, there will be consequences!” you warned. But as you’ve probably already discovered, your credibility is shot if you don’t follow through on your edict. Kids quickly learn to detect when their parents are merely bluffing. So be careful about drawing lines in the sand if you don’t intend to enforce them.
3. Be sure of the facts. When kids get into a fight, it’s often difficult to be sure who started it. Perhaps you entered the room at the exact moment when one child threw a punch in self-defense, not realizing that the other child actually started the fight and deserved greater punishment. Intervening in another country’s civil war is a lot like this. The facts get murky when each side blames the other for atrocities.
4. Consequences must be swift. If your kids disobey on Monday, they should face consequences that begin on Monday. If they cleverly get you to delay for days or weeks, it’s a sure bet that nothing will ever be done. The Syrians, with the help of their ally Russia, have masterfully found a way to delay any consequences. This greatly increases the likelihood that they’ll never face accountability for their actions.
5. Beware of the “divide and conquer” ploy. Children throughout the centuries have realized they can get away with just about anything if they can get their parents to disagree. So they play one parent against the other. As a result of this trick, the parents end up fighting each other instead of disciplining the child. In the same way, American foreign policy seldom goes well when we “go it alone.” There is strength in unity, and Syria could be dealt with much more effectively if the international community was united in the desired outcome. Likewise, a deeply divided Congress cannot hope to bring effective discipline into a complicated situation like Syria.
6. Recognize that today’s rebellion is usually the harvest of seeds sown much earlier. Momentary disobedience by a child, if swiftly and firmly handled, is relatively easy to deal with. But discipline is much more difficult, if not impossible, when parents have allowed the rebellious attitudes and behavior to go unaddressed for many years. Syria, Iran, and other troubling international dilemmas did not become so messy overnight. By waiting until things reached the boiling point, we may have waited too long.
Let’s pray for President Obama to have wisdom in handling the difficult situations in Syria and around the world. And if you are still bringing up young children, I pray you will have wisdom too.