Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What kind of parent do I want to be?

A long reflection at the 6 months point... :) I can't imagine that anyone cares enough to read all this, but I've been wanting to get my thoughts on "paper" about this, so it's time. (I just posted a baby update below also.)

This is a question that I have thought about a lot. I think about, "what kind of parent am I?" and "what kind of parent do I want to be?" Once I answer those questions, I can look at the gap between the answers and know what I need to do do change.

It's always easier, I think, to answer the question of the ideal first - what kind of parent I WANT to be. Here is my manifesto, in no particular order.

1. I want to be a proactive parent. It seems to me that too many people just have kids in their house without thinking about how to actually raise them. They just sort of "wing it" and deal with things as they come along. It takes a lot more effort to be a proactive parent - someone who parents with an already thought about philosophy, who educates themselves about what their kids need at each step before they get there, who is basically always 5 steps ahead. I can't stand the saying "all kids need is love". That is a nice sounding platitude, but at the end of the day, I believe it is my job as a parent to give them much more. Of course they need love! But I don't believe you can boil down everything they need to that. If we want to talk about "all they need", I could say all they need is food and water. Of course there are basic needs, and fortunately most families meet those for their children. But there is so much more we can give our kids if we are really proactive. As one small example, I want to raise Nathan and Kenna to be bilingual in French (I'm half French). I just finished reading an awesome book called "The Bilingual Edge" about how/when to introduce another language. The book is very specific about how to do it based on research. I've got a whole spreadsheet laid out with the times dedicated to interacting with them in French and what activities we will do, etc. Basically, they will be at a 40% French/60% English split during the week. If I weren't being proactive, I would just plan to send them to French lessons later in their childhood. But, I wanted to know how to BEST do this, and learned from the book how important it is to start now, that videos are a waste of time, that you have to do at least 20% in the other language to make a difference, what kids of books to read them, etc...all kinds of things I would not have just guessed. On this factor of how I want to be, I'm going to give myself an A so far...if there is anything in life I'm good at, it's being proactive. I'm super motivated and read, read, read to make sure I'm doing what I feel are all the best things at every stage.

2. I want to be a parent who models the way I would like my kids to be as adults. It's one thing to tell your kids to be a certain way, another thing to have them see you do it. I'm constantly mindful of this now and I recognize there are certain weaknesses I have that I don't want to model for my kids. Most top of mind for me is my temper/impatience. It's always been a struggle for me. If something makes me mad, I go from 0 to 100 in a seconds. It was so hard for me when I struggled with the solids because I was becoming so frustrated and mad visibly and I had to realize that I don't want to exhibit that in front of them. OF COURSE I am not a perfect person and there will be times I get mad in front of them. I don't have unrealistic expectations. But, my kids motivate me to be a better person so that they can be better people for having been raised with a better model. I work on it every day. On this one, I'm going to give myself a C+ right now. I think I started at an F when they were really little because I was SO frustrated all the time. But I'm improving. :)

3. I want to be a parent who models a good marriage. It's unfortunate that so many people of my generation were raised in troubled families. I've seen how it's impacted my friends' lives - several of whom even refuse to marry because they don't believe it can work. B and I were both SOOOOO fortunate to have been raised in happy, loving homes. I want so much for Nathan and Kenna to grow up to see what a loving, happy, God-centered marriage looks like. B and I have a great relationship and I never want having kids to somehow make that relationship less important. It does our kids no favors to focus only on them and not on each other as spouses. We agree that we will always take time to go on "dates", we will always eat dinner together as a family, we will not argue in front of our kids (of course I'm sure that will happen sometimes, but we are mindful of it), and we will continue to do the things we love even if it doesn't always include the kids. As an example, thanks to B's parents having the kids for the weekend, we will be setting out on a backpacking trip in August! So far, I'm gonna give us an A on this one. We have been going out on weekends thanks to B's parents babysitting, we've done two family trips and are going on another next week, and we've been spending a great amount of time together!

4. I want to be a parent who raises kids to love God. We are Christians and I want to raise my kids in a Christian home. That said, this is a tough one for me. Both of us grew up going to church but neither of us grew up in homes where faith was a matter of active discussion/practice. For example, my mom would read HER Bible every night, but she never engaged me in reading it or discussing it, or discussing faith at all...yet she is an incredibly strong Christian woman herself. Now, I guarantee what she would say is that I would never have been interested. True, as a teenager. But I wasn't RAISED that way and by the teen years it is too late. I don't believe in leaving faith to be something that you only learn about in church. I also don't believe in mixing faith and academics (I would not send my kids to a Christian school). I remember one time I came home from church camp after a week. I was probably 12 or so. For a whole week I was immersed in thinking about God, talking about God, praying, etc. By the time I got home I was talking to my mom about God like that's what we always did. Soon after I realized how strange that was...because we weren't like that normally. But after getting used to it at camp, it was comfortable. I liken that to how I want to raise Nathan and Kenna. I want faith to be part of their lives from the beginning so it is always comfortably a part of our home lives. I will share with them the Bible, pray with them, explain to them why faith matters in life. B and I recently started praying before meals together. We don't normally do that but we want to get used to it so we can do it with Nathan and Kenna when they are a bit older. Since they are too young at this point, I can't grade myself yet on this one.

5. I want to be a parent who is present in mind, not just in body. With all this proactivity, reading, thinking, planning, etc. going on, it is easy to spend more time on those things than enjoying the moment and being mentally present with your kids. For a while, I was so into our routine that I was a little robotic moving the kids around their "stations" - bouncer, mat, swing, jumper, etc. - without thinking much about it. About a month ago though I started to really focus on making myself present, realizing how important that is and that I wasn't doing a good job of it. Of course I need to get chores done and I don't think it's healthy to play with your kids constantly (they need to learn independence)...but I now spend much more time just sitting with them, talking to them about what they are playing with (of course in French 40% of the time! lol), holding and kissing them, etc. I'm really making sure that I'm not letting it all pass me by. I'm REALLY aware that these are probably the only kids we will ever have. I would give myself a D on this one in the past but lately I would give myself a solid B. Still working on it, and I know this is very, very important.

6. I want to be a parent who pushes their kids to be their best. It's so not cool these days to say you want to "push" your kids. It brings to mind images of hard core parents who are shuffling kids to and from activities without time to breathe, who live by the mantra that only first place matters, and who enroll their baby daughters in pageants by age 1. This is not what I mean. Notice that I said "pushes their kids to be THEIR best"...not to be something they aren't. I'm always surprised at how many people bristle at the idea of pushing their kids, that they just want them to be themselves and make their own decisions. I don't believe that kids are old enough to make many decisions on what is best for them, so it is up to the parents to use good judgment in this area. Just like I have the weaknesses I described, my kids will have weaknesses. I am certain that Nathan will have a temper and Kenna will be overly fearful (one of my own weaknesses), for example. But I don't want to just accept that that's how they are and we're done. If Kenna is fearful of something, I will work with her to overcome that and be conscious of her tendency toward fear so that I don't encourage it. I saw my friend K's son fall from a playground ladder once and I screamed while he was in the air. She hardly flinched, and neither did her son because he is used to her not making a big deal of things (it wasn't a huge fall). It sounds funny, but I was inspired by that - kids really respond to how you respond, so I will be cogniscent of Kenna's fears in order to not overreact to things which would then encourage her fear further. Another example of "pushing" would be requiring them to finish things they start (unless there is a good reason to drop out). I doubt any kid is happy about piano lessons all the time. But, if our kids take piano lessons (B plays piano so this is likely), they will be required to take them for a given amount of time. After that, we can talk about things. But there is NO WAY I would let them take like 4 lessons, tell me they hate it, and quit. I don't know how many I would make them take, but I would decide with B up front, agree with the kids on it so they know what to expect, and go from there. It pushes them beyond what they would do naturally and teaches them about tenacity, patience, and the rewards of hard work. Hard to grade myself on this one yet, but I will say that I'm already working on Nathan's temper/impatience...I have been making him wait in the high chair for a while after eating and he no longer screams to get down. :)

7. I want to be a parent who fosters character building. I really believe this is another thing you have to actively work at as a parent. I want to instill in them values of being humble, kind, gracious, self-giving, thankful and loving. I have been thinking, for example, about how cool it would be for them to give something to a child in need each year on their own birthday. I want to take them to volunteer for others when they are old enough. It would be a lot easier to not actively think about what experiences would foster character building, but I want to be a parent who seeks out these experiences to make the most impact on their development.

8. I want to be a parent whose kids know that they are loved at all times. OK, so I said that "all kids need is love" is too trite, but it certainly is something they need lots and lots of! As I have "gotten to know" my little ones over the last few months, I have fallen so deeply in love with them that it scares me sometimes. I sometimes feel like I shouldn't love them so much because if something happens to one of them I would die. In a weird way, I think that fear is exacerbated because I know we probably can't have any more kids. It's not that I could ever replace one of them, but sometimes it feels like they are EXTRA precious because of our unique situation. B and I for the last few weeks have been sneaking into the nursery at night before our own bedtime for a "baby check"...it has nothing to do with the babies needing to be checked and everthing to do with us needing to look at our sleeping cherubs. We go in, whisper about how precious they are that night (every night), put a hand on their backs just to be closer to them, and kiss them gently to not wake them up. We love them sooooo much and I always want them to know that. They are the most amazing little people. No matter how tired I am in the morning, when I walk into the nursery and see their smiling faces, all I can do is smile, feel my heart melt and be oh so grateful that I have the opportunity to sweep them into my arms for one more day. I can only hope that I can live up to the expectations I have for myself in this post in order to give them the best lives possible.


Jennifer said...

WOW! I can tell you have thought about this a lot. BTW, we still go in to "check on" our little ones, and they are 3 and 4. :) I just can't go to be without seeing them first. It's good to think these things through, but don't beat yourself up if you don't always make the grade (no pun intended there!), and know that (at least for me this was true) your ideas may change A LOT and fluctuate over the years, and that is OK. Love ya!

Karma & Adam said...

This is a great list...and thinking about it, and writing it all down, is definitely half the battle to making it true! I too have many things I strive for as a mom, and some of those things I'm doing well, and others, well...progress not perfection : )