My “Twelve Commandments” of Happy Parenting

If I could have one wish, it would be to get a parent do-over knowing what I know now as a happy grandparent. My kids survived me and wound up as my friends but nevertheless I cringe when I remember just how stupid and cruel I was as a young father. But my children were resilient and survived my stupidity and are now my closest friends. Saying you’re deeply sorry is the best thing to do when you know you were wrong.

I can save parents and would-be parents’ grief and a good bit of self flagellation. So here’s my Twelve Commandments of Happy Parenting. I’ll post one “Commandment” a day for the next 12 days.

Thus saith Thy Blogger, thow shalt–

I: Never correct a child in front of anyone unless it’s an emergency. Even then do it as privately as possible. I’m not talking about needed instant public “keep-your-fingers-out-of-that-plug!” or “Keep both hands on that ladder!” type corrections. I’m talking about telling a child that they aren’t telling the truth or have failed in some way, hurt your feelings, disappointed you or been rude.

Correcting your child for moral failings or character flaws, in front of someone else, even in front of another family member, is not discipline but bullying and public shaming. You are criticizing them, not their actions. Yes, it’s personal. It’s even worse when the person they’re corrected in front of is someone they admire and want to be thought of well by and that includes their other parent or a grandparent.

Discipline should be private not snapped out as an off the cuff aside. Otherwise it’s just parental lashing out; sort of a parental Tourette syndrome some fault-finding parents like me just can’t seem to stop indulging in. And then later they say that their child “never listens to me.”

I wish I’d known what any good leader learns: You praise people in public, and keep reprimands private. I kick myself that I knew enough to do that when I was directing movies and working with crewmembers and actors but was dumb enough to not do that with my own children.

If you wait as you should to correct a child that child learns that they may be wrong but that you’re still on their side. You took the trouble to not shame them. That counts! You embody a safe trustworthy place rather than being a source of constant little nagging humiliations, not to mention coming off like a dripping faucet.

And correction can be divided into two parts even when reacting to small emergencies. Your public, “Stop hitting your brother in the head with that block!” can be followed later by private moral instructions, “That wasn’t kind. How would you like it if she did that?”

Even a short pause can help a parent reflect and ask, “Is this really important or am I just tired and annoyed again, feeling housebound and frustrated and taking it out on my child?” And never, ever label a child with a pejorative like “You’re a liar!” or “You are stupid!”

Instead say something like, “It’s better to tell the truth and here’s why,” or “That was a dumb thing to do and here’s why.” You’re not trying to win fights with a child, but be their truthful friend and their trusted guide…

(to be continued in this space tomorrow…)

To book Frank Schaeffer to speak at your college, church or group contact him at 

Frank Schaeffer is a writer and author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back .

About Frank Schaeffer

Frank Schaeffer is an American author, film director, screenwriter and public speaker. He is the son of the late theologian and author Francis Schaeffer. He became a Hollywood film director and author, writing several internationally acclaimed novels including And God Said, "Billy!" as well as the Calvin Becker Trilogy depicting life in a fundamentalist mission home-- Portofino, Zermatt, and Saving Grandma.

  • Frank Schaeffer

    Hi thanks for reading my latest here and please hang in there with me and comment and also check out the other 11 “Commands” as I post them. I’d value feedback. Best, Frank

  • Molly Hollis

    I love this piece by Frank Schaeffer, and look forward to the next 11 “commandments”. We are never too old to learn these words of wisdom. Like Mr. Schaeffer, my children are grown and getting married. We are expecting grandchildren in the next few years, so I will print these “commandments” of happy parenting and share them with my grown children. I too, “look in the rearview mirror”, and wish I could have a do-over. At times, my temper was short and not the fault of my beautiful children. However, the teenage years were a challenge and I became CIA Mom, always two steps ahead and busting them in the act. My husband had started a new business, was working long hours to put bread on the table, and I was an exhausted parent holding down the fort. At the end of the day, we’ve had heavy discussions, laughter and tears. I believe we’re a closer family today because of these times, good or bad, they know we love them and will always stand with them. My faith has carried me thru some very tough times. I admire Frank Schaeffer and his writing, these “commandments” would be helpful to new parents and make a great book! A wonderful gift to give…

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Hi Molly and thanks!

  • adesanya ayodele

    Am a proud father of 2 (a girl 6yrs and boy 3yrs) ur insight is quiet inspiring and am blessed already! Can’t wait to read d remaining 11 commandments. Thanks for sharing, I will definitely put it into practice!

  • William

    Thanks Frank for these words of wisdom. As a recovering(former) fundamentalist preacher I can relate to the message you are presenting here. My wife and I were far too strict on our children and it was a miserable failure. Our two have turned out fine, thank God, but there were some trying times. Everything we tried to keep from them only became more attractive in their eyes. A parent should never seek to control children, but rather guide them and nurture them. You know, a shepherd didn’t beat his sheep with his staff(rod) he directed them away from harm. Love is the answer, not dominance.

    • Nick Gotts

      You know, a shepherd didn’t beat his sheep with his staff(rod) he directed them away from harm.

      …then slaughtered and ate them.

  • Sven

    Off to a great start! There is a fine middle ground between being a harsh, overbearing disciplinarian and being neglectful or irresponsible. I think you have communicated an excellent position here.

  • Adam Ericksen

    This is so helpful. Shaming is such an important issue when it comes to parenting. Is it about power and control? Maybe public shaming of our children stems from a sense of shame within parents. Shame that we aren’t living up to the cultural standards of a “good” parent because we have “bad” children. But, in fact, we have children. Thanks for this guidance. I look forward to more!

  • Eva

    After one or two un- fabulous parenting moments this week, I think I need to go back to first principles. This was excellent. I’d like the other right now though- I’m all about instant gratification!