I sat behind a young mommy the other day on a flight from Houston to Newark. She had a sweet little baby boy less than a year old in tow. He was adorable and occasionally noisy but not so much the latter. Some part of me wanted to say “been there many times and it can be done!” The other part of me wanted to say “put your seatbelt on lady. It’s going to be a bumpy ride!” But she had it well under control, and I just enjoyed his toothy smile peering back at me through the opening in the seat. Parenting. Is there any tougher assignment? I think probably not! There’s only one way to tackle this job: head on! With perseverance, unquenchable hope, humility, resolve, and a boat load of love. Still there is this tension I see constantly for moms: to work outside the home or to not work outside the home? What’s best for my kids? With regard to the ever irritating phrase “working mother,” has there ever been a title more misleading, misused, and often misplaced-driving a wedge between us? Two camps. Two polarized views of how parenting (mothering) is defined. Well let’s work on setting this record straight. Regardless of which camp you’re in, know that each has something to learn about the other. And know that each often, commonly maintains a lie of its own! But first things first! I believe yes that there is ONE thing that we ALL agree on right? That ONE thing is this: the kids are the most important thing! Not our jobs, college degrees, or our household income. Not our volunteer activities, projects OR the kids’ extra curricular activities! Once we make the decision to raise that child as our own, it’s like we’ve signed an automatic disclaimer and acknowledgment of responsibility: “I know and accept as truth that it’s our (or my) job to raise this child to be a productive, compassionate, and generous human being!” Surely, that’s our #1 goal. Surely that’s the ONE thing. Otherwise and if not, we’re signing on to “raise this child to be a non-productive, self-centered, and selfish human being!” Ok so you see it really doesn’t MATTER if you work OUTSIDE the home or if you work full-time AT HOME. We all have (should have) the same goal. We are raising productive, compassionate, and generous adults! If that’s NOT your goal as parents, then for you this blog ends here. For the rest of us: whether we work outside the home or not, here’s food for thought. What do you have to do to attain the #1 thing? Do it. Don’t lie to yourself and say “I have to work. I have two car payments and a X square hundred foot house.” (when in fact you could drive a lot cheaper and paid for car and/or live in a smaller house!) Instead say I want to work because I think working outside the home contributes to my children’s welfare this way ________!” Then sell that to yourself! If you’re a stay at home mom who feels like this is the best decision for your family, then don’t lie to yourself and say “this decision will produce perfect children.” Remember we want to produce productive, compassionate and generous adults. There’s no such thing as perfect people much less perfect children. What’s involved in the former is far more reaching! Maybe you’re glued to “projects” or the computer, and your daycare arrangement is the television. Reexamine your family values and your decision to not work outside the home. “I think my decision contributes to the #1 thing for this reason,_______!” Then sell that to yourself. So here’s my final and humble suggestion: 1st please cease with the phrase “working mothers!” I really hate that phrase. In the majority of cases, it’s absolutely redundant. I rarely EVER meet a mother who is not working. And 2nd, why is there not a blog about the working dads dilemma? That’s for another day. And another blog entry.
DISCIPLINE ISN’T OPTIONAL
Even though we live in a culture that has evolved from being a parent to being a “buddy.” It’s not so much about outcomes as it is your example of action and follow through. Your decision to discipline is not contingent upon their past or present responses to your disciplinarian action. We do it because it’s the right thing to do. It sets up expectations for the rest of their lives. Sometimes the responses we desire are seen much later. It’s like continuing to offer them veggies whether they eat them or not. We know what healthy eating looks like and what it does not look like. Just as we know what healthy behavior looks like and what it’s not. So just as we value physical health in our family, so we value healthy behavior. Therefore we value discipline. It should not be easily discarded or carelessly disregarded by the parent. It’s paramount.
CONNECT THE DOTS
Don’t disconnect these years with the rest of their life. Too often as parents of little kids, (and big) we compartmentalize their stages of growth and maturity as if one is wholly separate from the other. As a very good general rule, if you have a child with 0 responsibilities, chores, or expectations, he will become an adult who is unemployed or else an employee whose mediocrity is reflected in his appraisals and work performance. If you raise a child whose world is self serving and self entitled, she will become a self entitled spouse and employee, perhaps unwilling to bring 100% of her own effort to anything. If you raise children who never volunteer their efforts or resources by serving or giving to someone in need, you will produce adults who are superficial and have little compassion for others whether it’s the indigent of our society or your child’s very own next door neighbor. Bottom line, if your child has a certain pattern of behavior (Good or Bad. Constructive or Destructive) then discourage it or embrace it respectively. Those behavior patterns (left unchecked or checked) will absolutely characterize the rest of their lives.
APATHY IS a LETHAL Weapon to Effective PARENTING
Don’t ever say “well I did it so they’re going to do it anyway.” This one really requires no explanation. It reeks of ignorance. Did you have sex when you were 15? Did you drink and become drunk in your teens or twenties? Ever drive drunk? Were you (are you) addicted to pornography, narcotics or prescription drugs? Did you disrespect your parents and teachers? Did you steal something? What regretful behavior from your past have you laid upon the back of your child? To what inevitable black pit in life have you assigned them because -after all “I did that too and a tiger can’t change his stripes?” Use your experiences as a teaching tool. Use them as reminders to love and cherish your children enough to gently lead them along a different path. It can happen. We can make a different decision about the future we want for our children minus the personal baggage of shame, guilt, or apathy rendered by our own past.
DON’T LIE TO YOUR KIDS
Sure this seems like a no brainer. But you would be surprised. Lying to your kids when they ask you a direct question is setting them up for the land of poor choices, self-destruction, and estrangement. Little lies or big lies. Don’t fall into the trap. You may be forfeiting your relationship with your child in the long run in exchange for self-satisfaction in the short run. But that satisfaction will be short lived. Eventually they will know the truth, and when they do, all bets are off. Your “good intentions” will be trumped by the lies and the omissions of truth that accompanied the original discussion. When I discussed abstinence and other choices about sex with my girls, you can bet they asked if I was a virgin when I got married. “No!” was the quick, truthful answer. It set the stage for an open and honest dialogue about the consequences that choice had for me as well as the implications of their own choices. If you come from a family of liars (or a “non confrontational, passive aggressive, always avoid the issues” kind of family) stop that cycle of dysfunction right now! This does NOT mean sharing truths with your kids that are either 1 unnecessary or 2 age inappropriate! Not. At. All. But being honest with your spouse and your children (taking into consideration your child’s age at the time of the discussion,) will largely determine their ability to be fully successful in committed relationships as teens and adults.
LET THEM BE KIDS FOR GOD’S SAKE
Girls and boys are entering adolescence three times as early as they were 50 years ago or even 20 years ago. The problem with that is their emotional growth is not nearly in step with the information bombarding them-cultural messages that distort and dictate their ideas and thoughts about sex, their bodies, marriage, relationships, etc. Our culture is pushing our children into adolescence and “adulthood” prematurely with a perpetual exposure to inappropriate media! TV, movies, video games, electronic devices and social media are a battering ram for young in-formidable minds. Sadly, they are badgered by sexual messages and adult choices at an age they are neither physiologically or emotionally meant to process such adult information. Furthermore, our small children are being taught at a very young age to use their left brain at the expense of their right brain. The full onslaught of social media has debilitated our abilities as parents to teach our children the importance of play, imagination, and the sheer innocence and joy of being a little kid. The implications of this are far-reaching and potentially dangerous. Their ability to interact socially, problem solve, seek conflict resolution, or just speak intelligently is seriously hampered. Let me spell this out simply. For example, if you have young children, they probably don’t need to watch an R rated movie or own a smart phone.
THERE IS NEVER AN EXCUSE FOR RUDE
Never play the personality card as a free pass for fundamental expectations and behaviors. If your child is shy or outgoing, introvert or extrovert, quiet or noisy, they should be expected and required to use manners. They should be capable of looking someone in the eye and have a conversation with them, order their own food, and treat others with respect. When I sub teach, just the simple task of taking morning role can become a circus. Kids are no longer taught simple manners. If someone says your name, a simple “here” or “present” is fine. On the other hand, “Yeah,” grunting, or totally ignoring the teacher-none of these are respectful responses. Yet it happens every single day. I can’t tell you how often I see a small child get a free pass for rude behavior from his parent who chimes in immediately “he’s shy.” I have friends with autistic children who require these basic manners and courtesy from their mentally challenged child. We live in a world where adults are ruder than ever. It’s a tall order to expect our kids to use respect and common courtesy in their every day life when it’s not modeled by the adults in their lives. And while we are on this subject, be wary of the labels you attach to your kids. ADHD, LD, ODD, the list is endless. Are many of these labels valid? Yes, of course. But the louder we yell this to our kid, the more he becomes the label, and the less we expect of them. The less they expect of themselves. Each child is unique and special-intrinsically-independently of their diagnosis, their labels, their personality quirks. Often, their label becomes their personality. They become defined by their label. Sadly, separate from their label, they feel unimportant. Their personality becomes their free pass, their excuse from simple expectations of courtesy and respect. Be on guard parents.
DON’T BAIL THEM OUT
When my kids were really little, we spent many hours at the park. I would cringe whenever I saw another kid take a minor fall or scrape, and the mom come swooping over and pick her up and coddle her-over what? A scratch. The stakes are low right now parents. Our kids definitely need to be able to live inside a safe boundary. That’s the privilege we have as parents, offering our kids a safe refuge where they are uncondItionally loved. However, this does not include bailing them out, coddling them, never letting them be disappointed, never making them wait for a special gift or event, manufacturing a fake world in which they are the center of attention. The stakes are low NOW. One day the stakes will be higher. They’ll be away from us. Someone will hurt them emotionally. Do you want them to crumble or do you want them to know how to recover from disappointment, pain, and hurt? Do you want to groom them for success in work and relationships? Quit bailing them out. Because, once you start, it’s an endless vicious cycle.
READ WITH YOUR CHILD
Reading is a gift we give to our kids. It loves them. They love it. It’s about sharing ideas and having incredibly profound conversations that the book initiates for you. It is the portal to a big world, giving them a worldview, showing them that beyond the comfort of their small world, lays a big beautiful expanse of people, nature, and ideas just waiting for them to explore. It opens up possibilities for them. They can see themselves in successful relationships, jobs, and promising futures. You can get all that from just reading? Yes, you can. But more importantly, it is time well spent between a parent and a child. A wonderful time of love, appropriate touch, acceptance, and individual time with your child. READ. And when they are older, don’t let theme see the movie unless they have read the book, particularly if it is a movie based on a classic book!
HAVE FUN WITH YOUR KIDS
Establish family traditions. Go to the state fair together, have family dinners around the table. Take time for family vacations, special holiday traditions, board games, bikes, walks, and cuddles on the couch. Let them pile up in your bed for a few minutes at bedtime to talk about everything under the sun. (Our teenage girls still do this.) Or pile up in their bed. Laugh out loud together. Share inside jokes, music, books, friends, family. Share your heart. Let them in your world. Walk through the open door and thank God when they let you in theirs. Look straight into their eyes and remind yourself they are a gift from God that you have been given for only a short amount of time. Like a vapor, this time comes and it goes so quickly. Love them deeply. Treasure them always.