Always, when talking to parents of Littles, my best words of wisdom are: Begin with the end in mind. This was instinctive to me, as a parent. In our church this is articulated very clearly, and I was so excited to hear my instincts put into words! When Miss Sunshine hit her Terrible Three's she became stubborn and independent and she was reluctant to be parented. You can imagine what that looked like on a 3yo. In fact, I remember her telling me things like "You can't tell me what to do" and "You're not the boss of me". Oh that poor child...she was so incredibly wrong, and I was more than up to that challenge! At that time I sat down and started to really think about the kinds of people I wanted my children to grow up to be. What character traits did I want them to possess? What values did I want them to embody? What kind of people did I want them to be in community? I felt like I was always on the back foot, reacting to her behaviour, instead of knowing where we were headed.
So I made a list of the character and value and faith goals I had for my kids and I thought about how I was going to get them there. I read books about parenting and kids. To be honest, there wasn't a lot around, back then, about disciplining very young children. But I had this three year old that needed my guidance, and despite all the books seeming to say this was too young I knew that if I didn't figure it out very quickly it would be too late. So "Boundaries with Kids" and "The Five Love Languages of Children" were my two go-to books in those early days. I learnt about setting and keeping positive boundaries and I learnt how to fill up their love-tank to help reduce the negative toddler behaviours.
Then I found some more books that helped me navigate being the kind of family I knew I wanted and that would support my kids growing up to be the very best people they could be:
Raising them Right (published by Focus on the Family)
Family Fragrance by J Otis and Gail Ledbetter
The Family Compass by Kurt and Olivia Bruner
Extending Your Heritage by J Otis Ledbetter and Randy Scott
For Parents Only by Shaunti Feldham and Lisa Rice
I've learnt to look at our family backgrounds and really think about the things our parents did well and the things we felt they hadn't done so well, and to decide intentionally what we would take into our parenting style. We have set our not-negotiable family rules and we have strong justification for each of them. We are clear about the purposes they have and the outcomes we intend for them to achieve.
In short we (or maybe I!) decided with deliberate intention how we were going to do this parenting-of-little-people with the end in mind. This is not to say we haven't had some major kerfuffles to deal with. We have these really good kids and at least two of them have done some pretty majorly, seriously dumb stuff. It won't all be smooth sailing, because people are messy and sinful and get it wrong with reasonable consistency. But we can build into our children a belief that they are amazing human beings, that they are loved unconditionally even when they stuff up. And when they stuff up we have some important moments where we get to say to them "This is not who I believe you are. I believe you are funny, witty, intelligent, kind, generous, helpful and amazing and you need to decide if those things are true. And then you need to behave you way into being those things. You do not need to be defined by your mistakes, but by how you come out of them". Yes, actual conversation that happened in our house.
I feel like we have gotten plenty of stuff wrong with our kids. They will certainly tell you all about those things! I wish we'd done some things differently or handled certain situations better and more carefully. But here we are. We've managed to get some stuff right. Because we have these awesome teens and teenaged young adults who are magnificent to hang out with. We constantly hear heartwarming feedback about how they serve in community and their cheerful attitudes and their beautiful personalities.
Got some words of wisdom to share, or questions to ask? Post a comment!
I'm going to post some more on this topic in the coming days, but let's share our wisdom and experience and help one another bring up our children to be beautiful teens who grow into incredible adults.