I’m a perfect mother. I have all the answers. I have it all worked out.
I never make mistakes. I always get it right. I know exactly what I’m doing.
I have a lot of ideals. I also have some ideas. But more than that I have parenting values. And it’s these values that guide my actual behaviors as a mother—my parenting.
When I read about Sarah’s Practices of Parenting Carnival recently I knew I wanted to participate. The thought of trying to articulate the things most important to me in my parenting is a little overwhelming, but even as a (relatively) new mom, I think it’s important to work through these things with my spouse and nail them on our hearts while our littles are still well and truly… little.
By no means do I have this stuff perfected. I’m still learning, and by learning I mean I sometimes get to the end of the day and say, “Oh God have I screwed everything up for good this time??”
But these are values and it’s our values that guide our behavior as parents so they are worth considering and cultivating.
Please know as I share these practices of parenting that I don’t write them to stir up others to compare or debate or whatever.
I write them so that they are more deeply engrained in my own heart. (And I write them because—let’s be honest—I write everything I don’t want to forget. Ha!)
Fair warning: These won’t be in any special order, just the order they came to me as I sat down to brainstorm and write. Because this will be a long post, feel free to skim the bullet points and/or pause wherever your interest is sparked.
My practices of parenthood:
The practice of emphasizing learning over grades.
I sailed through school with flying colors; Ryan scraped by with just enough to “pass”. We both know that this doesn’t make me smarter than him, it just makes us different. We recognize that grades don’t reflect intelligence and that each person is “smart” in his or her own ways. We are more concerned with our children’s learning than we are with their report cards, so our emphasis will always on the question, “are they growing and learning?” We encourage learning by actively reading to and with our kids and by being deliberate with real-life learning scenarios.
The practice of speaking truth and life.
Words have the power to bring life or destroy. We try to be very careful not to label our kids or speak to them in ways that would damage their little minds or spirits. This also factors into the way we speak about them, whether they are listening or not. It means that we even try to watch subtleties, for instance phrases like “good boy”. We don’t want our kids to grow up thinking they are only “good” when they’ve accomplished something or pleased someone, so we never say “good boy!” in response to something we’re pleased with. (We say things instead like “good job” or “well done” or “that’s amazing” or “good listening”.)
The practice of creativity, imagination, and play.
Kids learn best through play and we love the idea of fostering their sense of creativity and imagination through deliberate play. As parents we want our kids to “act their age” and enjoy their childhood. And we want to enjoy their childhood too! (What better way than to build forts and play legos??) This means being silly, having adventures, and keeping a sense of humor as best we can. And let’s be honest here friends, I enjoy my kids a whole lot more when I take the time to actually play with them. Go figure.
The practice of rhythm.
We have found that kids need structure and boundaries in order to thrive. (Adults too, in fact!) But adhering to strict “schedules” can feel stifling or make me feel like I’ve failed when they are interrupted. We prefer instead to have a rhythm to our days – a routine rather than a schedule. It’s helpful for the kiddos to know expectations and bring security, but it’s not obsessive clock-watching.
The practice of discipline as teaching, not punishment.
The root of discipline actually means “to teach, to instruct, or to cause to learn” and that’s my mission as a parent as I approach discipline issues. To me discipline is much more about teaching and training than it is about punishment. This is a great, big hot, sticky mess of a topic, but for now I’ll leave it with just saying the main question I ask myself when determining what is and is not appropriate behavior on my part when disciplining my kids is this: “Is this type of discipline (fill-in-the-blank) going to help my child learn to make their own good choices in the long run? Or will it just help them make mine?”
The practice of trust.
Trusting my husband and his wisdom and intentions as a dad, trusting my littles (that they really aren’t out to get me, even on “those” days!), and trusting myself and my own intuition… These are all difficult, but freeing acts of trust that make my parenting so much better (and more enjoyable!). Not only do I trust us, I also trust that God is bigger than our mistakes and short comings and can make something amazing out of our worst mess if need be.
The practice of family unity.
We spend time together. We enjoy each other. We play together. We read together. We work together. We want our kids to understand that we’re all on the same team. It’s not a kid’s team and a parent’s team. We’re in the game together.
The practice of independence.
It’s so important that each family member gets the time and space to do things that they enjoy best. This helps fill our emotional tanks and gives us fuel to be our best. It might mean building something in the workshop for daddy, writing for mama, music for Levi, or who knows what for Judah. (He’s still too little to know!) As much as we value unity, we also want to foster a healthy sense of independence.
The practice of inclusiveness.
We want to include our kids on family decisions as is age-appropriate. We believe their input is valuable and that their questions may help us to see circumstances or possibilities with more clarity. As a member of our family, each child has a voice that’s valuable and necessary and worthy of being heard.
The practice of hospitality.
Although we are not a “rich” family by some people’s standards, we are incredibly rich. We believe that it’s our responsibility and privilege to be generous with others by inviting them into our home, taking care of them, and helping to meet their needs in whatever way possible. This goes with our time and hearts as well as our possessions and resources.
The practice of listening.
We want our kids to listen when we speak, just as they want us to listen when they speak. Listening is critical to us genuinely valuing our kids and having a healthy family dynamic of openness and trust. When we are committed to listening, it helps us to not jump to conclusions or assume they are out to get us when they disagree or disobey!
The practice of humility.
None of us are exempt from mistakes or faulty opinions. We try to teach our kids that saying “I was wrong” or “I’m sorry” shows personal courage and is a way to demonstrate kindness and respect to someone else. This includes us parents! If either of us wrongs the kids in any way we are quick to admit, “mama was wrong” and ask for forgiveness. Kids need to see that it’s ok to make mistakes, and they also need to see how to deal with them in humility when they happen.
The practice of affection.
I make it a practice to tell my kids “I love you” and “I think you’re amazing” and “I like you so much” throughout the day – not just when saying goodbye or goodnight. I also like to give hugs and high fives and thumbs up and lots of grins and winks throughout the day. It’s important to me that my kids grow up feeling incredibly loved and liked by us.
The practice of prayer.
We pray when we “need” things and when we don’t. We pray with thanks and we pray with hope. Our intention is to teach our children that no matter is too great or too small for God’s attention.
The practice of serving.
As a family we are called to serve one another. This means in both the big and the small. Sometimes serving can be as “little” as bringing someone a tall glass of water when they’re working in the yard without being asked. (Or responding to a baby’s cry in the middle of the night.) It’s learning to anticipate the needs and wants of the other and making them happen just because we can. It also means learning to serve with joy even when—especially when—it costs us something. We hope that as we teach our children to serve one another, they will naturally begin to serve others beyond our family as well.
The practice of volunteerism.
Building on “the practice of serving,” we look for opportunities to serve in our community and overseas with our children. We want them to see that volunteerism isn’t just for adults and that they have a valuable contribution to make no matter their age, talent, or experience. They are a blessing “as is” – not just when they’re grown-ups!
The practice of faith.
We are a family that has faith in the goodness of God and faith in the goodness of others. Living with faith helps us to see the world as a better place and helps us to pursue our dreams. (A cliché, but true!!) It also means having faith in one another—believing the best in each other (and in each other’s intentions!).
The practice of gratitude.
Grateful people are happy and contented people. Teaching my kids gratitude starts with simple things like appreciating whoever cooked dinner, always writing thank you cards, thanking God for blessings and provision, and finding things to be grateful for in difficult circumstances.
The practice of celebration.
We celebrate holidays, celebrate achievements, celebrate milestones, and celebrate life in general! In some ways it’s really just a more over-the-top form of thanksgiving, but I believe it’s an important part of making the most out of life.
The practice of tradition.
Tradition helps build memories and helps create a sense of family unity. We have traditions for holidays and milestones and most anything worth commemorating. Traditions help to mark the passing of time and also help build excited anticipation for the future.
The practice of valuing diversity.
The world is a big, big place with people from many nations, religions, interests, and beliefs. At the risk of (again) sounding cliché, we really do want to teach our children about the beauty and strength in diversity and help them understand why it’s so important. This means that as parents we have to value diversity, both in others and also in our own children. (For us it also means honoring each other’s cultures since we have a cross-cultural marriage.)
The practice of extending kindness.
Kindness is what paves the way for peace, charity, and good relationships on all levels. As a mother, I always want to treat my littles with kindness, as well as model to them what it looks like to treat others with kindness. When I treat my littles kindly, I get to the end of my day and can rest my head in peace knowing that I treated them as they deserve.
The practice of respect.
We feel it’s important to respect that our children are their own little people. We never force hugs, kisses, or affection. This goes for ourselves as well as with others. If someone gets offended because my child does not want to be held by them, or will not give them a “cuddle”, I’m sorry, but they will have to be the adult and get over it! Love is never forced, it always respects, and even littles need their space sometimes too.
The practice of responsibility.
The best way for children to learn responsibility is to be entrusted with it. We try not to do “for” our children things that they can do themselves. (Although we do things “with” them a lot!!) We want them to learn that responsibility is a privilege, not a burden or a right. And trust me, this one is hard right now because Levi has entered that I-can-do-everything-myself phase. (That’s one way to slow down a grown woman!) But even when my patience begins to wear thin, I understand that allowing him to “have a go” is an important part of his development process (not to mention my letting-go process as a mom!).
The practice of community and family.
We have a handful of good friends that are more than just friends, they are family, they are lifeline. We need them in our lives for so many reasons and our children need them too. They help keep us grounded and they help keep us afloat. They help keep us moving forward and they help keep us sane. They make our life better and we hope we make theirs better too.
The practice of extending grace.
I need grace. The kids need grace. My husband needs grace. If I am not extending grace to my littles and husband, then I’m setting them up to fail every single time. No mother wants to see her family fail, so why would I want to limit these precious loves to “perfection”? And if I’m not extending myself grace, then I will never be able to enjoy motherhood because I’ll constantly feel less than. below par. unable to measure up to my own expectations. Grace is the breath that gives life to the soul. Our family cannot thrive without it.
Dear friends, dang, this turned into a long, long list. And no doubt it will grow and morph and change and be edited as I grow and evolve as a parent. And I know I said it in the intro, but I’ll say it again… These things work for us (and are important to us), but I also don’t presume our way is the best way. It’s just *our* way. What are your practices of parenting? Do we have any similar ones? Or vastly different? What would you like to add?