Recently, during a rare moment when the five kids, Tom, and myself were under the same roof, we took part in a photo shoot that will go along with an article I wrote about important qualities to motherhood for a brand new woman's publication called The Heart Magazine.
For me, it's always a treat to have family pictures taken, especially so when someone comes to your home to do it, it costs you nothing, you can share their beautiful work, and you've gotten so laid back in the past few years that you just tell your sons to show up in a pair of jeans and a (solid) t-shirt and POOF! we all magically coordinate.
During the shoot, I thought about the article I had written, and about areas of my parenting I have concentrated on improving over the past few years.
I bet you think I'm going to say something about faith, calm, courage, patience, and grace here, right??
Though I think those are all great personal qualities to work on, and they help me considerably in the grand scheme of life, faith/calm/courage/patience/grace are not the traits I believe moms and dads need to recognize and practice in order to be meaningful guides in their son or daughter's lives.
It's the following areas parents can work on in order to become the kind of partner their child needs while growing up...
Emotionally supporting and encouraging your child during life's changes and challenges, while refraining from jumping in to rescue them, gives them the opportunity to understand the natural consequences of life. Through this learning they will begin to (a) trust and count on themselves, and (b) come to realize they are deserving of the things that go hand-in-hand with working hard and building accountability. Emotional presence and availability to our kids is key to their successful development through the inevitable obstacles life throws at them. When we support them, without bailing them out, it means learning to thrive.
GET COMFORTABLE WITH BEING UNCOMFORTABLE
So much of parenthood is less than the cute, cozy picture we conjure up before being immersed in this life-long role. Sleepless nights, due to a child's cries of hunger or a nightmare, or the many you might find yourself tossing and turning through as they get older, more independent, and start making decisions they can't necessarily see the potential outcomes for are plentiful. Watching your child make choices, loving them no matter what they've done or said, and at times allowing them to fail, doesn't ever get easy.
But, somewhere in the discomfort I have found initiating and engaging in honest, difficult conversations has helped build my authenticity and the desire to truly understand who my kids really are, as opposed to who I imagined they could, or should, become.
For some strange reason I was under the delusion they'd all become mini-versions of myself or Tom, but I've definitely learned our kids are comprised of so many life experiences and perceptions I haven't been party to, and it's those, coupled with their experience of our family life that create who they are right now.
The ability to accept each child, at all of their different stages, "as is" may cause me some anxiety at times, but eventually, when I remember I'm not in control of their destiny, this becomes a beautiful lesson in tolerance and in keeping an open-mind.
KNOW WHAT YOU STAND FOR AND BE FEARLESS IN HOLDING YOUR BOUNDARIES
It's fine to ask the opinions of other moms and dads regarding everyday things like sleepovers, screen time, and college applications, but make the time to formulate and discuss with your partner the values you want to work toward instilling in your kids.
Part of doing this will be creating boundaries which may, or may not, look like what everyone else is choosing to do in their homes. Don't be afraid of sticking to what you believe is right, even in the face of others who take the path of least resistance. There will be parents who do differently, and who will question you, possibly make negative comments, your kids might even be part of that group of questioners from time to time, but hold strong and be consistent in what you say and do.
DEVELOP AN ABILITY TO LISTEN WITHOUT JUDGEMENT
I am a believer children come into the world with a sense of their purpose here, not that they know exactly the path they are supposed to take, and surely their free will plays a part in how things progress, but recognizing everyone has a higher calling and stepping back, at times, to give children the space they need to choose for themselves (be it a sport, a school, a group, or a party invitation), so they can develop their inner voice and instinct.
And to do this, without criticism or judgement, never uttering the words "I told you so" if things don't go as well as they'd planned or hoped, is the icing on the cake!
PRACTICING FORGIVENESS...OF YOURSELF AND OTHERS
Working towards becoming a mom or dad who holds space, wears uncomfortable well, knows what they stand for and doesn't cave to outside pressure, and who operates from a space without criticism or judgement, this is tough mental work.
Mistakes happen, be willing to forgive yourself or your child when the occasion arises. And if you need to apologize to them for something you've done, remember some of the most powerful parenting happens during an apology.
There is no higher calling than raising children, and today's culture makes it ever more confusing because of the amount of contradictory information we (and our kids) receive from so many different sources everyday.
If, as their guide in life, you don't want to be swept along blindly, you should begin focusing on what your family priorities are, and what you are modeling everyday for your children. Often that means looking back at the way you were raised, and doing things differently. Or, not doing...just being and allowing them to be.
They watch, they listen, they learn much more than we give them credit for.
I'm curious, what areas of parenting have you worked on lately? I'd love to hear your story...