Being a great parent is seriously easy if you follow a few counter-intuitive and somewhat controversial rules! And yes, I am a DAD, but not a typical one. For 18 years, I’ve been the primary caregiver for all three of my kids. My wife, our rock, is a Lt. Colonel in the United States Army. She has been on several tours to Afghanistan, which has meant years as a “single Dad,” not to mention day to day family operations fall to me.

In short, I’ve been in the parent trenches, so I know this game and have boiled our parenting success down to 5 unconventional parenting rules.

Be warned, these rules aren’t politically correct and will offend many. But if you can stomach the hardcore truth and want to excel as a parent on both ends, meaning keeping your sanity and developing strong leaders, then listen up.

Rule #1: Your Kids Feelings Don’t Really Matter

Let’s start with a tough one that on the surface, seems like blasphemy. What do you mean “my kids’ feelings don’t matter?” It’s not a misprint. It means exactly what it says. Your kids’ feelings don’t fricken matter. Here’s why.

In the grand scheme of things, I don’t make decisions based on how my kids feel, but rather on principles and values (see rule #5). If they feel good about my decision, that’s awesome. If they don’t, that’s fine too. In this way, I’m consistent, and most importantly, I am not in the unenviable and unwinnable position of being responsible for someone else’s emotions. How my kids feel is their responsibility, and I make that clear to them.

As such, I don’t hear a lot of

  • I don’t feel like….
  • I don’t want to…. or
  • I don’t like……

These statements are summarily dismissed and ignored. What we tend to hear in our house is

  • Hey Dad, I was thinking…
  • Mom, how about… or
  • Dad, what if….

This may seem like a small distinction, but it’s huge because our kids are not relying on us to navigate their feelings. Instead, they present to us well thought out ideas, declarations, and opportunities to help them solve REAL problems.

And please understand this. Not feeling good about something isn’t a REAL problem. It’s an opportunity to lead and grow. So if you continue to bend, capitulate, and pander to how your kids feel, know that you may be handicapping them by making them believe that you, others, and the world is responsible for how they feel.

Rule #2: Ignore Your Kids Complaints

This one is simple. I ignore complaints, whining, and all manners of bitching until it actually matters. Here’s what I mean. The first 3-5 times your kids complain, it’s not about something actually being wrong. It’s just that they have an emotional itch and it’s easier to complain about it than to fix it.

So I’ve learned to just ignore their complaints. My six year old just yesterday came to me crying, saying,

“Daddy I’m bored.”

I looked her in her eyes and said “OK”, and just stared at her.

She then turned it up a notch and said: “Daddy, really, really, I’m bored.” I said, “OK Sarai.” She tries once more, and again I just said “OK.” She turns around, still crying, and runs upstairs to her room.

After maybe 5 minutes, I go to check on her. I find Sarai, playing with her dolls having a great time. I asked could I play with her. She said yes, and we had a good time.

While I don’t field most complaints, I am vigilant to intervene once my kid’s fight to be heard. At that point, it’s a real issue, and I’m all in on helping. Our oldest kids know this, so seldom, if ever do they come to us with complaints. They buckle in, solve it, forget it, or present us with a solvable problem, not a complaint.

How did we get them to this place? Ignoring complaints, but also helping our kids understand what it means to present a solvable problem. For example, when I played with Sarai, I asked her what did you really want. She said for Daddy to play with her. I said, “OK next time, ask me that instead of crying and complaining.”

Here’s your mission. Try to ignore all complaining in your home for a week. Don’t get emotional, reply, or entertain. Just ignore or agree in a casual manner. Say something like, “OK, that’s great, and…” Your kids will buck and wild-out for a few days, but after a week, they will get it and start to shift from complaining to asking you to help them solve the REAL problem.

Rule #3: Don’t Make Kids Your Highest Priority

I love my kids and would die for them, but the truth is they have never been my priority. I put God/Principles, myself, my wife, and then my kids.

They are low on my totem pole. And guess what, I tell them all the time the hierarchy of priority in our house. It isn’t a secret. My wife, their mother, comes well before them. It’s not even close because I know that If our marriage breaks, then they too will suffer from that drama.

You may be thinking, how does that make them feel. Well first, I don’t care, but the truth is they “silently” adore it. Here’s why. It’s human nature to want to be important, but the biggest driving force isn’t from someone telling you or making you FEEL important. It comes from yourself first, and second by way of the relationships you have. Meaning, that the love my wife and I share helps our kids know that they are part of something special, which by extension, confirms and supports their sentiment of being special.

It may be easier to grasp this, considering the opposite. Imagine we tell our kids they are special and our biggest priority, but in our marriage, they see broken people who hate each other. Would they believe us? No, because they came from us. So if “we suck,” then shit, it’s an easy jump to “I suck.”

But check this, when I show my queen love and give her my undivided attention, it becomes a homing beacon. Our kids can be upstairs, and they will find their way downstairs. They will see our embrace and loving energy, and literally, fight to get in the middle of it. Like, “we want some of that.”

It never fails, WHY? Because it’s human nature to want to be a part of something special. This “emotional” connection is deep, while the surface and fleeting emotion of feeling special, comes and goes. It also needs constant reinforcement from the outside, while the latter functions a staple within the environment. Think, culture vs. having to be individually pampered and propped up.

As a side note, I am not saying, put any old relationship above your kids. But I am saying put the loving ones that build you and support you before your kids. Cherish you and your relationship. Make sure you are happy and loved, so your kids see through your example, where they come from and the possibility of what awaits them in the future.

Rule #4: Don’t Pass On Beliefs – Pass On Principles

This one should rattle a few folks, but it needs to be said. In short, beliefs are for kids and followers. Principles are for adults and leaders. We needn’t look further than the divisiveness and partisan behavior in D.C., which is 100% driven by beliefs, not objective principles.

And this isn’t a political argument. It’s a human one as the disconnect between our beliefs is the single biggest cause of both modern and historical troubles, from extremist religious zealots, racism, and other plagues on society. In short, the root cause is that we simply refuse to challenge, alter, and move past beliefs.

This is fact, but let’s bring it back to your kids and why this point matters more now than any other time in history. Modern kids are way too smart to fall for our old ass non-fact based beliefs. They can fact check and access information in a heartbeat. And once they bump up against the truth, they will have two choices.

They will roll with your belief, which lobotomizes their capacity for free thought, rationalization, and creativity. The other option is to move away from your beliefs, which distances them from you as a parent or, worse, makes them not trust you.

Principles don’t carry this dead weight. They, by nature, encourage, support, and build leaders, not blind obedient followers. For example, in our home, we live by the 3G’s. Every day we say to our kids and even them back to us.. “Be Good, Be Great” and the other person responds, “Be God.”

I’ll break this down as this may seem like beliefs and not principles. A principle is true yesterday, today, and tomorrow. It’s observable, measurable, and for the most part, inarguable. So let’s proceed from this definition. Please permit me some runway as the distinction of beliefs and principles is paramount.

The baseline standard in our home is to be GOOD. We must be good to ourselves and others. This is the bare minimum in our home. The second principle is to be GREAT. Meaning, work hard to fulfill your potential. Then lastly, there’s be GOD, which for us simply means using your gifts to help others and to be of benefit and support to the greater good.

All three of these principles are inarguable as they lead to the plus side of the column for the individual, their family, and society.

It’s win:win:win! So we have no argument there.

However, what is always open to debate is how we fulfill these principles. Which in our home is always being discussed. We can discuss, debate, argue on how to uphold these principles. And that’s what we do. So our kids are always part of the discussion on leading not just themselves but also the family.

They are also out in the world, measuring their results against these principles and making adjustments to lead themselves and others better.

Beliefs, on the other hand, often evade this level of discovery. They become sacred cows and as such, can’t be touched or infringed upon. Its this way of thinking that continues to separate us and keep us away from acceptance, Love, and prosperity.

This isn’t a Kumbaya statement; it’s a fact. And if we can learn to bless our kids with a discerning mind and keen desire for truth, then they can break the chains of belief and usher us into a new age. The irony is, this is already coming to pass. The only question is will your kids lead what’s coming or cling to outdated beliefs that no longer serve anyone but the ego of the person who instilled it.

Rule #5. Always Uphold Principles – But Create Accommodating Standards.

Principles don’t mean anything if they are not upheld. So this rule isn’t about your kids; it’s about you. So…

  • Do you, as a parent, uphold your principles?
  • Are you sure?
  • Would your kids agree?

In our home, our principles are clear. And when we don’t live up to them, we all know it. There is no mistake or ambiguity. While at the same time, because they are not sacred beliefs, they are always up for discussion. We just had a heated conversation about coming to the table for dinner.

My oldest argued it’s not fair she or her brother should have to come to dinner when they don’t feel good. We debated the topic, and that’s fine. But in the end, our principles WILL be lived and upheld. (in this case, being GREAT means showing up even when you don’t feel like it — see, isn’t that brilliant, logical, and accessible?)

Because our principles are clear, it places pressure to live them. Which is a lot easier with other 4-rules, because I’m not concerned about feelings, complaints, or beliefs. This makes upholding principles simpler and more efficient.

Now, while our principles are firm, we try to create accommodating growth standards — Heres what I mean. My oldest is a senior with 4.86 GPA and ambitions of going to Harvard or Standford to become an environmental engineer. Her standard for school is getting straight A’s. It meets our principles and her growth standard. Meaning, it’s GREATNESS approved, and she’s capable and driven around this standard.

My son, on the other hand, isn’t a straight-A student. In fact, he hates school and is more entrepreneurially minded. When he was in the 7th grade, I ignored this fact and became highly frustrated with him and his grades. So, I dug into his ass for a marking period. I went in hard. It almost felt like I was going through the 7th grade with him.

In the end, he received all A’s and one B. Mission accomplished, right? Not even close, because we both were miserable. For eight weeks, our relationship suffered, and it was clear this was a standard that neither of us could maintain.

So I had to adjust his growth standard to meet our principles and his drive/talents. We now operate on an all A & B’s standard with sports and entrepreneurial activities baked in. This new standard still pushed him to grow and upholds our principles for “HIM” to be Great.

Having flexing standards between kids on the surface may seem like a bad idea. And I would agree if the standards weren’t made on purpose, agreed upon and discussed. In our house, we have worked hard to help our kids to understand their standards have nothing to do with their siblings.

And I know it’s working. Just the other day, I watched my son clean the entire kitchen after dinner, while his older sister went upstairs to study. I asked him how he felt about cleaning the kitchen by himself. He said, it’s fine, at least he didn’t have to study. That’s true, but he is still working and pushing. The running story around here is that he will be a mega-rich entrepreneur while his older sister runs the X’s and O’s of the business. I can dig that.

Last Take Away

If you can accept and apply these rules, then your next challenge is to get over the idea that these rules will militarize your home, wreck your kid’s emotions and ruin your relationship with them. This couldn’t be further from the truth. My kids know Daddy loves them, and we are crazy close. They tell me everything. Here’s why, and it’s rather counter-intuitive.

So while I don’t care about my kid’s feelings in my decision making, nor indulge their complaints, and prioritize myself and their mom, all my kids know I care. And they know because I upload MY/OUR Principles. Meaning, regardless of what’s going on, I always show them Love.

For example, my standard is to always express Love before leaving the house, and as soon as I come home. It’s my law. So even when my teenager is being an emotional roller coaster and treating me like shit (which she did for about five weeks), I upheld my standard.

Daddy ignored her shit and loved her as if nothing happened. I was more convicted in treating her like someone I loved than she was at being angry with me. I also knew that her treatment of me and MY FEELINGS should not be factors in how I treated her. Remember “be GOOD Always!”

In the end, because we upheld, these standards my wife and I have become powerful balancing forces in our home. In short, our values win from how my wife and I lead. So while most parents dread having a 16-year-old daughter. All I had was five weeks of my kisses and love not being returned.

Like I said, it’s easy.