Family•Parenting • 5 minutes to read
This morning, a Facebook memory popped up from nine years ago. I had forgotten all about this exchange from my then 15-year-old daughter:
“Mom, thanks for being involved in my life. Some girls at school were talking about how their moms don’t care what they do and I want you to know I’m glad you care what I do.”
(However, when she turned 17 she was no longer quite as thankful about her parents being ‘involved’ with her life—but that’s a story for another blog.)
When our kids were young, Dr. Ted presented a series on parenting at East Hill Church. I remember asking him about a concern I was having and he smiled, shrugged his shoulders, and said something to the effect of, “Sometimes you just have to jump in, try something, and pray it works!” I know he was being facetious, but I also think there’s a bit of truth in this.
All facetiousness aside, the importance of “knee time” cannot be minimized. Parenting is not easy and it’s not something to handle without a lot of prayer and guidance!
My parents were somewhat authoritarian in their parenting style; whereas, Tyler’s parents were, well, uninvolved. We knew we wanted to parent differently than we were parented, so we had to examine our own tendencies and work together to establish a more healthy parenting style. Together, we developed what we call “Intentional Parenting.”
Recognizing each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and working together to support each other, creates a team approach and allows you to intentionally parent your children. For example, I tend to be a worrier, whereas Tyler is much more able to go with the flow. Tyler tends to be more practical, whereas I tend to encourage a sense of playfulness. By working together we were able to give our kids well-rounded experiences.
We demonstrated respect and appreciation for each other in front of our children, which helped them learn to express appreciation as well. We presented a consistent message and a united front as parents, which provided our kids with a sense of security—they knew Mom and Dad were in agreement and they couldn’t play one of us against the other, even though I’m sure this frustrated them at times!
Enter Their World
Part of the joy of parenting is watching your children develop their own interests. However, this can also be part of the challenge: what happens when your child’s interests are very different from yours?
My husband enjoys cars, sports, and a bit of rough and tumble play. I, on the other hand, am more emotional and artistic. When our kids were little, I tended to foster their academic sides and their need for imaginative play. Tyler was the active parent—taking them on motorcycle rides, to ball games, and playing outside. However, I made a point to be there to watch and encourage Hazel’s karate matches, and Tyler was always there at Emma’s performances.
Even today, as young adults, it is interesting how one of our daughters shares more of Tyler’s interests while the other shares more of mine. Yet, we all can still enter each other’s world, sharing interests and experiences. Hazel loves a Blazer basketball game or a car show with her dad, and followed in his footsteps to become a therapist, yet she and I enjoy going to a play or a winery together, too. Emma and I share a love of performing and all things Disney (I live vicariously through her experiences as a Disney World cast member), yet she calls her dad, not me, when she is in need of sound, objective advice.
Stepping out of your own comfort zone in order to identify and intentionally join your child in their interests allows them to feel known, to feel accepted for who they are, and to feel important. Intentionally entering their world will enrich yours as well.
Evolve Your Parenting Style
Parenting is a continual series of letting go. When your baby is first placed in your arms, you are overwhelmed with the enormity of the responsibility for this tiny human. For the first several years of a child’s life, parents are the ones who make nearly every major decision: what they eat, when they sleep, who their friends are, where they go to church, what media they are exposed to—the list goes on and on.
But soon, this control starts to fade. The child starts to decide what they like (cookies!), or don’t like (broccoli!). They start making friends that we don’t appreciate. They decide they don’t like the church we have always attended.
As they grow, explore, and develop their own sense of self, it is important for us to intentionally evolve our parenting style so that connection is more important than trying to maintain any false sense of control. This doesn’t mean we turn the reins over to the kids, however. Instead, it means we develop a family creed, or mission statement, that delineates who we are as a family: what do we believe, what do we stand for, what is important to us, and how do we each fit into this family mission?
We created our family mission statement when the girls were in elementary school. We started by each making a collage of what we wanted our family to look like, then together came up with words for those values depicted in the collages. We all had input, everyone’s thoughts and opinions mattered, and everyone felt heard. This became our family creed. Out of this creed, we were able to create guidelines that all of us, parents as well as children, were accountable to uphold. We all followed the same rules.
Developing a family creed or completing a Family Values Exercise can be a significant step for changing and improving family dynamics.
My husband has always said, the greatest gift a dad can give his children, besides the knowledge of the saving grace of Jesus Christ, is to love and respect their mother; and the greatest gift a mom can give her children is to love and respect their dad. If this is in place, children will feel secure. They will have a role model of love and respect that they will carry forward into their adult lives and into their own marriage and family.
Intentionally parenting your kids certainly isn’t easy, but it can reap amazing benefits. When parents humble themselves and work as a team, when they wholeheartedly enter their children’s worlds, when they evolve to meet their kids’ developmental needs, when they demonstrate respect and love for their spouse, and when they commit to pray daily for their kids, family bonds can become strong and can remain so even after those kids fly the nest.