So you might have noticed there’s this tension in parenting.

Okay . . . you may have noticed, there are 1,000 tensions in parenting, but today I’m going to focus on just one.

What tension you ask?

The tension between the parent who wants to enforce the rules and the parent who wants to focus on the relationship.

You know what I mean . . . One parent says, “It’s lights-out at the sleep over at 10 p.m.,” and the other parent, faced with pressure from her despondent ten-year-old daughter and not wanting to disappoint, lets the kids stay up until midnight because nobody likes a mean parent.

One parent asks whether the room has been cleaned, while the other parent, in the same moment, sits down with their son at the kitchen counter for a cup of hot chocolate and a long conversation.

You know what’s really strange about rule parents and relationship parents? They fall in love and marry each other. (This explains far too much about your marriage, doesn’t it?)

The debate, of course, between every parent is this: Who’s right? The rules people or the relationship people?

The answer is: You both are.

Effective parenting will never happen without rules and relationship.

Rules are needed because boundaries are needed.

You should never let the inmates run the prison. Kids naturally and instinctively would throw out most of the rules until they are left in a crying mess, confused and craving order with no idea how to bring it back to their lives.

That’s why you need parents. Letting the inmates run the prison results in even the inmates wanting to eventually escape. It’s the job of every parent to bring order, limits, and meaning to young lives.

But relationships are also vital for multiple reasons. Rules without relationship are cruel. They actually incite rebellion. Having a deep relationship with your kids reminds them that the rules are born out of love, not tyranny. That you love them even when they think you don’t. That the rules, when followed, lead to life.

The challenge is that rules parents think relationship parents are soft, while relationship parents think rules parents are mean.

The truth is we need each other.

One thing I’ve learned as a dad whose kids are now in their twenties is that eventually, all you have left is relationship. It’s pretty hard to enforce the rules when your kids leave home, get married, and even pay their own bills.

If you were relying on rules as the only parenting card you ever play, you end up being a pretty angry person yelling random bits of advice out the window at passing traffic.

You know what makes your kids want to come home? Sure, the cooking does. But I digress. What makes them ultimately want to come home when they don’t have to is this: relationship.

Because nothing runs deeper than love.

Ironically of course, when you have relationship you still have influence.

And when you have influence, you can still speak into their lives. In fact, they might even turn to you for this strange thing called ‘advice’. Imagine your kids actually asking you what you think. . . I know, it probably sounds like only alien children do that. But I promise you from experience, it can actually happen if you work on relationship.

The irony is if you focus only on the rules you end up with no relationship, and if you focus only on relationship your kids eventually lose respect for you because they realize you bend with the wind and there isn’t much substance underneath the soft veneer.

So guess what parents-who-always-disagree-about-the-approach-to-take? We need each other.

The rules parent can learn from the relationship parent, and the relationship parent can learn from the rules parent.

Maybe tonight after you read this post, sit down together over a cup of coffee and learn from each other.

You need each other.

Actually, so do your kids.