GUEST POST by Jonathan McKee. Jonathan has become a regular guest blogger on this site! He is the author of numerous books including the brand new Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent, as well as youth ministry books like Connect: Real Relationships in a World of Isolation. You can find his excellent blog here.

“You are seriously going to eat 32 Pizza Pockets?”


How do you respond to “shyeah”?

That’s how my son responded. Is that even a word? It’s more of a combination of ‘yes’ and a sound that your kid makes when he’s snickering at you. (Maybe that’s because he was snickering at me, like, “Dad, chill!”)

My 18-year-old son Alec has been home from college for almost a month over the Christmas break. It’s been awesome having him home, but it’s also been an adjustment. He’s been living on his own since August, eating whatever he likes, staying up as late as he wants…

And then he came home. The next day he opened up one of those Costco-sized boxes of Pizza Pockets and cooked enough of those greasy little morsels to feed a family (or one teenage boy, apparently). Alec has always eaten a lot, but 32 Pizza Pockets? Come on!

So I was faced with a decision. Do I ride his case about mere Pizza Pockets?

The next night he stayed up past midnight playing video games, far longer and later than we ever used to let him play. Do I ride his case about video game time?

If you asked me either of those questions individually, I would probably be quick to tell you, “No, don’t ride his case about something so small. Pick your battles.”

But what about when a bunch of small battles feel like war? (Alec and I actually had a fun talk about this and I got his permission to write about it.)

These are the judgment calls that make parenting difficult, and often parents find it hard to find the balance between rules and relationship. Rules and relationship are often at odds with each other. It works like this: If we are all about the rules, then we aren’t always as popular with our kids. We’re seen as a disciplinarian. But if we forgo rules to try to be “the friend parent” and have a super relationship, we sometimes come off like Billy Ray Cyrus, letting our teenagers get away with everything. Often these teenagers end up making bad choices with serious consequences.

Where’s the balance?

Let me first ask you a question. “How old is your kid?”

The reason I ask is, age matters. The younger the kid, the more you should adhere to rules. I’m not saying to neglect the relationship with your kid in the early years; I’m just saying that it’s good to teach kids discipline when they’re young. They need more guidance.

On the other side of the coin, when your kid is 18-years-old, err on the side of the relationship. After all, your 18-year-old could move out and do whatever they want anyway. Wouldn’t you rather have the relationship?

There are times when you’ll have to draw the line with your older teenagers. Sorry, you can’t do drugs in the home. I’m not paying for school if you flunk out. You can’t have your girlfriend spend the night.

But Pizza Pockets?

Perhaps we need to learn to pick our battles.

What about you? I’m curious what you think!

Question: Which do you gravitate toward, rules or a relationship? How do you determine which battles are worth fighting? Share your thoughts here.

If you liked this post, you’ll love Jonathan’s book, Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parents, especially chapter 10, “Am I Too Late,” a chapter all about the importance of building relationships with our kids in their late teens.


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