My wife and I were hanging out with some friends earlier this week and reflecting on the story of how we met along with all of the adventures that come along with dating, engagement, and the first few years of marriage. As we reminisced, I realized that we had unknowingly sectioned our life into before children (BC) and after children (AC). I would guess that we are not the only parents who think this way. While it’s true that we enjoyed the joys of more spontaneity, longer stretches of sleep, uninterrupted movies, ease of travel, and personal space- there is SO MUCH that we have learned since our 2 ½ year old and 6 month old have entered our lives.
Here are the FIRST FIVE* important changes that I have observed since my children have been born:
1. “If you’re not making mistakes, you probably aren’t intentionally parenting” – Seth Dahl
This quote is simultaneously liberating and maddening. Raise your hand if you are a parent who has made some serious mistakes? You are not alone my friend. You are not only in good company, but you are doing a good job. So much of parenting is trial and error because (repeat after me) NO TWO CHILDREN ARE THE SAME. People’s advice to you about how you should handle your child in the Target checkout line around nap-time, or their suggestions to you when your child cannot sit still at a restaurant usually aren’t big, helpful revelations… they usually make us roll our eyes and offer some kind of forced smile holding back words of rebuke. So, I offer this quote to you as a place of refuge and permission and grace. There are no perfect children, or parents. When Proverbs 22:6 says to “Train up your child in the way THEY should go,” it is speaking to the unique and different personalities, challenges, and tendencies of our wonderful children. For the most part, there is no “one size fits all” method.
2. Small tasks increase confidence
I once read/heard someone say something like this: “when a child is given the opportunity to contribute, it fills a need inside of them.” Helping out fills our kiddo’s little love tanks and addresses their desire to be useful (which reinforces their sense of value). My wife is EXCELLENT at this. She is constantly bringing my daughter into the kitchen to measure flour and count out beans and help cut vegetables. We try to give our kids lots of small tasks that we know they are capable to excel in to build confidence and shower them with praise when they succeed. Ask for help to put laundry into the basket, put toys away in the playroom, put on/take shoes off independently, pick up sticks for the campfire, etc. Even though most things can be done much faster without them, involving our kids in the completion of menial tasks gives them a sense of purpose and assurance.
3. Our kids must learn to/be allowed to take risks, struggle, and experience failure
I recently heard about “adventure playgrounds” in England. It’s one of my favorite new concepts.
“At a place called The Land, in Wrexham, Wales, the ground is littered with pieces of wood, old tires, packing crates, and shopping carts. It looks like a junkyard, but it isn’t. It’s a playground. There’s also a fire pit, hammers and saws, and a rope swing across a creek. Some of the equipment can be dangerous, but the people who run the playground believe that letting children take some risks is good for them” (read the rest of the article here: http://teachingkidsnews.com/2018/04/02/adventure-playgrounds-can-build-confidence/).
The point is that we try to overprotect and sanitize WAY too much. We are called as parents to help our children with preparing and equipping for life as an adult. We all need to get better and implementing this mentality in our families: failing at something means that you are trying, not that you’re a failure. We can help them to learn from the risks that they take and the failures they experience, so that we can teach them what they’re capable of and what their limitations are before they are sent out into adulthood without any practice. Children unprepared to handle the failures and struggles that come later in life have increased fear and poor coping skills that lead to addiction and other unhealthy behaviors.
4. Children need to hear the “why” behind the “what”
Obedience in our kids increases when they are given an opportunity to understand why we are asking them to do something/complete a task/follow a direction. When we take the extra 30 seconds/minute to get on their eye-level and communicate the value that is attached to the request, they feel invited to partner with us willingly rather than forced to comply with us reluctantly. It also gives us a chance as their parents to call out their identity. For example: “We take our shoes off when we come into the house because it is considerate and keeps the floor clean, and you are a considerate person” verses “Take your shoes off right now.” Does it work every time? No. But, every time you choose this method, your child learns what you value and the reason attached to the direction given, which increases the likelihood that they’ll obey you. As an adult, it would be tough for me to obey direction given to me without explanation or reasoning.
5. Discovering the “legacy mindset”
Investment now, creates pay off later. Especially since we had our son, the subject of “legacy” has been on my mind. The choices I make and the behaviors I model right now as an adult will either positively or negatively impact the rest of my children’s lives, and the generation after them and so on. We must consciously choose or abstain from certain thinking patterns/mindsets/behaviors so that our kids will become the responsible, wise, productive humans that we desire them to be. This all sounds very basic, but if we lived with the awareness of “legacy,” I think many of us would be making very different choices. As adults, we face complex, complicated hardships and issues that children don’t. We must be sure that we don’t become so cynical and disimpassioned that we negatively affect our children and create a toxic legacy. Generational sin and addiction issues are very challenging to break. Leaving a legacy that honors God, values love, connectedness, kindness, purity, respect, honor, etc… is, I am learning, one of the very best gifts you could ever give your children.
*The NEXT FIVE changes will be in part 2 of our blog! Keep an eye out for this next week!
Important note: My wife and I have many close friends/family members/clients who have experienced horrific, painful losses (sudden infant death, miscarriage, inability to have children) and feel a deep grief and sadness for individuals and couples going through this. I can’t imagine the searing pain that accompanies this type of loss, although I have cried, hurt, and journeyed with many people facing this kind of suffering. I have learned that bereaved parents need love and compassion, not advice. I do not wish to be insensitive to anyone facing these traumas, I simply desire to share some interesting observations I’ve made since I have become a parent and hope to normalize some of the experiences that other parents may have.