One of the things that make parenting even tougher is it's kind of like politics or religion. Everyone has an opinion and everyone's opinion is right. Sometimes I refuse to discuss parenting styles and philosophies because sooner or later there will be something that's disagreed on like the proper lesson to teach or the proper way to handle the situation. Inevitably, someone will get offended, egos flare up, defenses are at the ready, and there's a breakdown in communication and sometimes even respect. When moments like that happen, the biggest thing that we tend to forget is that there is no big book of parenting out there. There is no one right answer as to how we mere mortals are supposed to raise the future generations of the world. When you have a baby or adopt a child, there is no magic fairy that comes one night to bless you with the ancient wisdom of all parents past. So what do you do?
I have four children. I wasn't ready for any of them. I didn't know the first thing about being a mother, The thought that I am responsible for these little lives terrified me. When my first was born, I remember looking at my husband saying, "I don't know what God was thinking! What I teach him right now, could affect who he decides to become 20 years from now. How can I live with that? How can I know what decisions to make?" He looked at me and said, "You'll know what you do. You always do." I asked him, "Do you have anything to add to help me out?" He laughed and said, "Are you kidding? I have the same questions and you're a hell of a lot wiser than I am!"
So instead, I called my mom.
"Mama, you've raised four kids. And, for the most part, we're all good, well-adjusted adults. So obviously you did something right. (My mom said, "gee thanks") What do I do?
She said, "Love."
By the end of that conversation, I learned the greatest philosophy that has become the foundation of every strategy, lesson, and discipline i use in parenting. That day, my mom taught me you can never go wrong if you love your kids and everything you do for them comes from a place of love.
Sounded easy enough to do, right? I mean, of course I love my kids. It's a given. And as long as I do that I'll know what to do, right? WRONG!
Just simply loving my kids in the way that I understood love wasn't enough. It wasn't that I didn't love my kids enough. It was the way I had to understand the real meaning of love.
Most people know this bible verse about love:
1 Corinthians 13: 4-8
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."
As a Catholic I've heard this verse so many times throughout my life. It was even read at my wedding. I thought I lived the concept pretty well. But only when I started experiencing some of the challenges of parenting did I really being to understand what that bible verse meant. Only then did I actually start living it.
Let's break it down.
Love is patient and kind. Parenting in any capacity (even with pets) IS the epitome of patience. Not simply the patience of having to deal with aggravating issues. But also having the patience to step back and let your child learn. Having the patience to allow them time to make mistakes or figure out a problem by themselves. Having patience also means sometimes giving up control or protection to allow your child to experience pain or consequences. Patience is having to repeat "Clean up your toys" or "wash your hands" 50 millions times until the one day it just clicks for you child. Patience is also realizing that your child is not a mini you. A child is not a chance for a parent to redo their life in a better way. They are their own person that needs to be grown and nurtured. So patience is also realizing and accepting that your child sees the world in a different way from you.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. I have applied this to my parenting styles by understanding that each parent, each family, each child has different opportunities in their life. We are each given our own unique challenges and opportunities to grow and learn. Parenting is not about creating a child you can showcase to show how good a parent you are to everyone who will listen. Parenting is not about raising your kids to be better than Susie down the street. On the other hand, parenting is also not giving up because Soccer Mom around the corner seems to always have everything put together just right. To parent from Love is not to compare children, strategies, or even socioeconomic status. To parent from Love, in this sense, is to love and accept all that life has given you, be it your life circumstance or your child's personality. Love doesn't look at and want what we don't have but rather celebrate what we do have.
On the topic of pride, it's not wrong to be proud of your child's accomplishments. Be a proud parent! Especially when you've nurtured your child to be someone they can be proud of. To parent without pride is to know you can't always do it alone. The famous quote "It take a village to raise a child" is as true now as when it was first said. Know when you need help. Reach out to your support system. Reach out to fellow parents who will understand what you're going through. Don't just find someone to agree with you. The best support system you can have is one that will both encourage you as well as provide constructive feedback. To parent from love is to be open to learning. People are always growing and changing. No one will have all the answers.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking... One of the most important and probably the most difficult part I have learned with this philosophy is love is not self-seeking. Meaning love is not selfish. It doesn't mean that as a parent it's wrong to take care of yourself and do right by yourself. Let's look at it this way: the parent (single or married) is the center of the family. If a parent gets sick or disabled, the whole family is affected. So, as a parent, if you don't take care of your basic needs, physically and emotionally, you also cannot take care of your children's needs. This need to take care of yourself is not selfish... yet. I had difficulty finding the line between taking care of myself and becoming selfish. Personally, this is what I've found. To function I need a basic level of care (food, water, sleep, etc.). Emotionally, I need to feel secure, safe, and loved. So I need to do what is necessary to ensure these needs are met so that I can then take care of my kids. But when I reach a point where I start being lax or compromising with my kids because "it'll just make it easier for everyone," that's when it is now reaching a selfish level. For example, I work from home. I have a lot of things I need to take care of. So the whole family is going out, I want my kids to be ready at the drop of a hat. So, I have a choice now. It would be easier for me to just get them ready myself. That way when I say it's time to go, I don't have to wait for them to get their things together, it's already done. I save time. I don't have to deal with tantrums. We get in the car and we're gone. Easy peasy. Or is it? Don't get me wrong. I have done this plenty of times for my kids. The first couple times it worked like a charm. But then I started dreading leaving the house because of all the things I have to do to get ready. Then one day, it hit me. Why was I running myself ragged? These kids should be able to help out a little by getting themselves ready. Then I realized my kids didn't know HOW to get ready on their own. It wasn't that they didn't understand or were stupid in any way. It was simply because they were never required to learn. I did everything FOR them. I wasn't doing this to help THEM. I was doing all of this to make it easier on ME. That's when it occurred to me that I was approaching this in a selfish way. I had to change my method. I started showing my kids how to get ready (shoes on, jacket on, etc.) I scheduled in an extra 15 mins to give the kids more time to LEARN how to get ready quickly on their own. I taught them a routine of things to do before leaving the house. This way wasn't easier for me. It was tough. It took several weeks, several battles, several tantrums, several reprimands, but I kept at it. And now, I can say, OK I'm leaving! and they're ready to go in a flash. Painless. The end result was the same. But now they're ready because they learned and grew. Not because they were waited on. In the end, my kids learned what was best for them, not what was best for me.
...it is not easily angered... This concept goes hand in hand with not being selfish as one of the most difficult parts of this philosophy to apply. Discipline is a fact of parenting. All children at some point in their lives need to be disciplined in some way. Children need boundaries. Children need to push boundaries. So WHEN this happens, and it will... being slow to anger is extremely challenging. It doesn't mean it's wrong to get angry or frustrated. Those are natural feelings to have when we are challenged. It doesn't mean you shouldn't yell or raise your voice. What it boils down to is this question: What are you going to do with that feeling? When your child is playing dumb, acting like a fool, should you jump out of the gate yelling and screaming at them? Should you ignore them and hope they self-regulate? Should you spank them? Whatever discipline strategy you are using, the questions you should always, always, ALWAYS ask yourself are:
- What am I feeling right now?
- Am I in control of my feelings?
- Is my reaction for my child's best interest or mine?
"My child always pushes me to that point."
"How do you handle it?"
"I get frustrated and just let them do whatever just
to make the tantrum stop. It would have gone on
"Manipulation 101. Now your child knows all they
have to do is get to that point and they'll get what
If you feel like you have reached a point of frustration that you don't know what to do, this is where slow to anger comes in. STOP. Send your kids to the corner or your time out space to give yourself some space to think. Reflect on those questions. Ask for help from your support system. When you are ready, re-address the situation. Remaining in control of the situation is key to keeping the reactions and consequences about what's BEST for the child rather than what's best to keep you from slaughtering your child. Trust me, I've been there more than enough times. It takes time to make this routine, and that's okay. It's taken years to develop my discipline strategy tool belt. I'll share that in another blog later.
...it keeps no record of wrongs. Kids are going to mess up. Adults mess up. Making mistakes is part of life and growing. My good friend tells her students "Mistakes are our friends. They help us grow." As parents we have a responsibility to help our kids grow up into the best adults they can be. We provide them the tools they need to succeed in life. A plant cannot grow in a nurturing way if it is kept in the dark. So is the same with kids. When a child makes a mistake they need to feel and live through the consequences. But they also need to experience forgiveness. Forgiveness for what they do wrong is the little Hope at the bottom of Pandora's box that will encourage them to grow and learn. Think about it from an adult's perspective. No one wants their boss or significant other always talking about their mistakes, holding it over their heads like an ax waiting to drop. Kids are the same way. They need to know that even when they royally mess up, they will still be loved and cared for. If more kids experienced this loving approach to their mistakes, it may help decrease the amount of childhood anxieties that are out there. I'm telling you, love can do wonders...
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. This is a big one. In romantic relationships, this can be interpreted as staying true and honest to each other. When I apply this to parenting, I see this as a challenge to myself. In order for me to truly do what's right for my kids and live from love, I have to be honest about what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. The example I used before about getting my kids ready to go. In order for me to change what I was doing, I first and foremost had to be 100% honest with myself that I was depriving my kids the opportunity to learn and that in reality I made my life harder instead of easier. If I couldn't admit that to myself in the first place, how could I do anything to change it? The phrase I always use is, "Can an alcoholic stop being an alcoholic if they don't think they're an alcoholic to begin with?" A lot of people have trouble with this in their every day lives without adding children to the mix. But when you have kids, it becomes even more important to remain honest with yourself because, like it or not, you are a living example of everything you teach your children. So if you're going to lie to yourself, what do you think you're also teaching your kids to do? If the way you handle problems is to avoid them, guess what? That is the same way your children will handle problems as well. That's what makes parenting so tough. It's not just telling kid how to be. It's showing them. To be a parent is to be a living example of how to live. You could talk for ages and the things your kids will learn most are the actions you take. Being honest with yourself about your actions and choices will not only help you be a more well-rounded adult, but will teach your kids how to do the same.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. There are times when parenting seems hopeless. When it seems like no matter what you do, you can't seem to get it through to your child. There are going to be times when your child hates you. There are going to be times when you feel like giving up. But the great thing about this philosophy of parenting, is that with love there's always hope. It doesn't mean that everything is going to be sunshine and roses. It doesn't mean you won't have bad days. Sometimes the loving things to do for your kids are the hardest things to apply, like letting your kids fall and get hurt. But of all the strategies I have used that have seemed to fall by the wayside, basing my actions in love (even with harsh discipline) has always persevered. It's not always the easiest path. But it's the path where not only my kids grow, I do too.
Love never fails. This one speaks for itself.
I have a ton of strategies I've picked up over the years, but all of them are based on this foundation of Love. Learning to apply this to parenting has also helped me apply it in all areas of my life, including my preschool and daycare. So I guess in essence this is my Life Philosophy. So when people ask me how I learned so much I can tell them, I guess I just love everything in my life.