4 Words that Can Transform Your Parenting

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4 Words that Can Transform Your Parenting

There are plenty of lofty parenting theories, well-meaning books, and platitudes from empty-nesters. But sometimes what parents need are practical tools for the nitty-gritty of raising kids. Ideas for the tantrums, fights, and messes. And who better to give us advice than JPL author Ellen Martin, mother of 5?


Her book, A Life Shared, discusses four words that have transformed her parenting and today she is expounding on that idea for our benefit. Enjoy!


Years ago, I heard a mom say, “Time to empty out.” Her son went to the bathroom without event.

Those four-words ended the battle of “Go to the bathroom.” “But I don’t have to.”

I explained the phrase one time, “Your bladder can hold A LOT of pee, it’s time to empty out.” Soon the older kids were teaching the younger ones.

“Different families, different rules,” are four words that have changed our family life. With five kids, I say “no” a lot. Our kindergartener will still fall-out on the floor in full-body tantrum some days. And have you ever seen a middle-school tantrum? It’s not pretty.

“No” can make me the bad-guy. I can handle that, when necessary, but it’s not always necessary. The answer “no” can often be replaced with a simple explanation: “Different families, different rules.”

Parents and kids know families live differently. The movies we watch, the places we go, the way we parent, the things we buy. “Different families, different rules” ends the whole discussion of “Why do they get to, but we don’t?”

Some families drink soda daily. We drink it with pizza, when we go out-to-eat once a month, and at parties. We have friends who don’t drink soda at all.

Why? That’s their family practice.

“Different families, different rules.”

No one is the bad guy. Not you. Not the other family. The practice is just the practice.

“Different families, different rules,” does two powerful things.

One, kids and parents often unknowingly elevate their family’s practices over another family. “Different families, different rules” encourages us to honor our own family’s practices and other families at the same time.

Two, it makes us, the parents and the kids, a team. Rather than pitting us against our kids, “different families, different rules” encourages our kids to embrace our family practices for themselves.

Just yesterday, the boys wanted a kid to play with them. He wasn’t allowed to leave the bleachers, 

“Different families, different rules. Go play,” I said.

“What did you say?” an older child asked.

I repeated myself.

She smiled a big smile, “I’ve never heard that.”

“You like it?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said and looked at her mom.

It made so much sense to her without any explanation. That’s what makes those four-words powerful. Kids understand them and will embrace them. 

“Different families, different rules.” Try it. I’d love to hear how it works for you.

So simple, yet so brilliant, right? We encourage you go pick up a copy of Ellen's book, A Life Shared, which is an excellent resource for parents in search of practical wisdom.


Ellen Martin, mother of five, lives in Wilmore, Kentucky with her husband Andrew. With a Masters of Arts in Christian Education and Master of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary, her days are filled with her workshop “THE TALK: Embrace the Sacred Gift,” writing, and life with family and friends.



Parents want to share life with their kids, but it is not easy with hectic schedules and life’s demands. 
A Life Shared offers vision and insight on how to have meaningful conversations through the busyness of life, questions for transformation, suggestions for action, and grace for every parent. 

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  • Brad Rusticus
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