The Strictest Mom in the World

Have you ever been told that you are the strictest mom or dad in the world?  Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Are you protecting your child or stifling their growth and independence? Do you struggle with finding the right balance?

Though they may not be able to name them, both kids and parents are aware that there are NEGOTIABLE and NON-NEGOTIABLE issues and rules.

Negotiable issues and rules are those things that you as a parent are, within reasonable limits, willing to compromise on.

Issues that often fall under this category include:

  • Household Responsibilities
  • Personal behaviors like music or clothes
  • How teens spend their free time

Specific examples of the types of things that might be negotiable include: neatness of bedrooms, clothing choices, hairstyle, curfew, when and where homework is done, limitations on media usage. A negotiable rule or issue doesn’t mean that your child has free rein to do what he or she pleases. It simply means that the decision is a joint one to be negotiated between you and your child.

Non-negotiable issues and rules are those things that have the potential to cause harm to your child or others or are at odds with strongly held family values.  Although such rules may be firm, it is still important that parents explain the reasoning behind them and be open to hearing the teen’s perspective. This can provide a great opportunity to not only convey rules but to help your child understand the values and concerns that are behind them.

Issues that often fall under the non-negotiable category include:

  • Issues of physical or emotional safety – This includes everything from behavior that leads to risk of injury or poor health to exposure to things before they are developmentally appropriate.
  • Behavior that disrespects themselves or others – This includes things such as deliberate rudeness and inconsiderate behavior, damaging or taking others’ possessions without permission, portraying themselves or allowing others to portray them in a negative manner. (Digital devices can be a great source of risk in this arena. Consider Facebook or sexting.)
  • Strongly held family values — While this category is the most likely to vary from family to family, some examples include attending family and religious gatherings, not using obscene language, and rules about sexual conduct.

The types of things that might be non-negotiable could include: school performance, no tattoos, no hitting, no alcohol use before age 21.

The interesting thing to keep in mind is that, as your child gets older, non-negotiable issues will (or should)  increasingly become negotiable ones. Your goal should be that by the time your child exits adolescence and enters young adulthood, all issues will gradually become negotiable ones and will ultimately be your young adult child’s decisions.

Early adolescence is the time to clearly identify for yourself and your teen what is negotiable and what is non-negotiable and make those issues explicit. This does not mean that there won’t be conflict around those issues. Such conflict is very healthy as it can clarify which type of rule you are invoking, teach teens negotiating skills and signal to you that it may be time to begin to loosen up. Though all that will probably not help you to feel better when you are in the thick of it. Still, as my own strict mother used to say, “Parenting is not a popularity contest.

We’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

What are some of your non-negotiable issues? Your negotiable issues?

Are there any that you have changed from one category to another due to time or circumstance?

What are some of the techniques that you use to protect your child and yet encourage independence?  Do you have any stories about how they have worked or not worked?


Article by Becky Mather

Becky is an Outreach Specialist for the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Much of her work centers on parenting education and adolescent development. She and her husband are the parents of two young adults and a pre-adolescent. Becky is a Certified Family Life Educator.