A couple of weeks ago I was asked to do a post on what intentional parenting looks like for me. That was a hard question for me because I don't feel like I parent intentionally though I am working on it and want to. Yesterday hubby and I had a really long conversation, the type that makes you feel as if everything in the world is going to be ok again. He asked me 3 questions. What do you want out of marriage? What do you want out of being a mom? What do you want out of life? I really had to analyze that. It reminded me that I have been pondering for a couple of weeks what I want being a mom to look like. So here goes......
The mom I want to be:
My kitchen is clean. I enjoy teaching my kids the basics of life, how to fold laundry, how to cook, how to load the dishwasher etc. I play Monopoly with my oldest, do puzzles with my middle and color with my youngest. We work on the summer homework daily so that it isn't a huge amount at the end of the summer. I listen to my kids intently. TV time and video games are limited and earned by doing chores. When my kids catch bugs I help them to learn about the bugs they catch. I talk to my kids and uphold our family's no yelling rule. My youngest recognizes his letters. My middle can read. My oldest knows how to use the computer. I encourage my kids to come to their own conclusions and to ask lots of questions. I am genuinely interested in their thoughts, ideas, questions and dreams.
The mom I am:
There are usually dishes in my sink. Because of the mess in the kitchen, I tend to yell at the kids to "get out of my kitchen" when I am trying to make a meal. It is just too crowded to have mom + kids + mess so the kids are the ones I kick out. I have taught my kids to unload the dishwasher but I still don't have them load it. I once started working with my oldest on folding laundry but found it is easiest for me to do laundry when everyone is in bed. My son has a bike that he got for his 7th b-day. He is turning 9 in a couple of months and the bike has still never been ridden. I wanted to teach him but never found the money to buy a helmet so I just didn't teach him since he didn't have the helmet. My kids have learned to recognize letters from preschool. My youngest can recognize his name but other than that, any letter knowledge is from TV, Leap Frog toys and preschool. I get flustered when my kids ask lots of questions. I want them to be inquisitive but I have a hard time explaining some of the things they want to know about. My kids have summer homework packets that have to be turned in on the first day of school. Oldest has 22 pages of math, middle has 19 pages of math. Only 2 pages each have been done. The required summer reading hasn't even been touched. My kids wake up much earlier than I do. They play Wii and watch cartoons until I wake up around 8ish. I am genuinely interested in their thoughts, ideas, questions and dreams but I probably don't convey that very well. I have to remind myself often that they won't be little forever and that they need me to pay attention to them. Sometimes it is hard to slow my brain down and focus on just what they are saying and nothing else. I fear sometimes that I give the same impression of being indifferent to their words as my mom did to me. I usually have a reason why I cannot do something right then. Oh, I can't look at sports cards right now, I'm making dinner. We can't play a game until we get cleaned up (which would be fine but we never seem to get cleaned up).
How I am making the transition from who I am to who I want to be:
I am working on slowing down. I am working on explaining things that need to be explained. I am working on not engaging with my oldest when he questions every decision I make. I am working on actually adhering to our family's no yelling rule.
I am working on making sure that I spend time with them doing something important to them. This last one is harder than it sounds. It is so easy to take them along with me to run errands and then try to consider that to be quality time.
When they make an observation, before I give my opinion or tell them why they are right or wrong, I ask what thoughts led to the conclusion. (Ok, son, why do you believe there are really aliens out there somewhere? or Tell me why is it that you think that Anakin made a bad choice on Star Wars?) It is amazing when I ask them about their thought process how much they enjoy the independence of figuring out things and expressing themselves by themselves. I never had that and I love seeing how empowering it is for them.
I apologize when I am wrong. (I'm sorry, Son, I would never allow you to speak to me like I just spoke to you and it was wrong. I didn't think before I spoke and I am so sorry that I yelled at you and spoke to you in a disrespectful way. Will you forgive me?)
I try to let them in on my thought process in an age appropriate way. My oldest always want to make everything better. When I was frustrated with one of my kids breaking something of mine, he came and hugged me and told me not to be upset. I explained that it is ok for me to be frustrated that my stuff was broken as long as I handled my frustration in an appropriate way. Or when I was hurt deeply by a friend, I told him my feelings were hurt. He didn't need all of the details of what had happened but he was seeing his mommy cry and that bothered him. I told him that my friend had hurt my feelings with her action and I was sad. It helps them to understand and identify their feelings when they see me identify and feel my feelings (which sucks by the way and is really hard!)
So all in all, I don't have this parenting thing mastered at all. I have discovered that being the parent is much more difficult than I ever thought. I thought I knew so much from all the time that I had spent working with kids and nannying. I was wrong! Deciding what is appropriate for your own child and what rules are non-negotiable is much more difficult than enforcing someone else's rules for their children. I pray daily that God will bridge any gaps that I have made with my children by my faulty parenting. I am thankful that His grace covers my mistakes. I am far from a perfect parent. BUT I do love my kids with everything in me and I do my best to become the parent I want to be. I wish I had known that parenting needs to be intentional when my first was born. I think I get the most resistance from him out of the three because he lived the longest with the old rather loose boundaries and it is the most difficult for him to adapt.
My biggest advice to new parents or those wanting children someday, is to start before the child is ever born. Know what things are important to you to pass on to your children. Know what language, television/movies you are comfortable with. Talk together with the other parent to be a united front from day one. Do you want to pass on your faith? How will you do that? Do you want your child to know or not know certain things? What does that look like to you? Talk together about how you want to handle the birds and the bees talk. Trust me, it arrives much sooner than you will be prepared for and you need a plan. Who will have the talk, how much detail do you give at each age/stage, what will you call body parts? How do you feel about pre-marital sex and homosexuality and how will you relay that to your children? Be intentional. If you want your kids to know something, make sure you are the one to teach them whatever it is. Don't wait for someone else to share their faith with your child, or their views on sex, or their thoughts about the world.
Other advice, not along the lines of intentional, but still critical to successful parenting. NEVER, EVER, EVER undermine the other parent in front of the kids! If you don't agree, talk later, in private, NOT IN FRONT OF THE KIDS! If they think that you are not united, they will take full advantage of that and pit you against one another.
And take care of your marriage. Kids are a lot of work, especially when they are little. Don't neglect each other and your marriage during the times of full time parenting. Someday, those little bundles of joy will grow up and move out and have their own families and then it will be just the two of you again. Make sure that you still know each other and love each other and want to spend your golden years together. Do it now. Your kids will thank you later for the stability that the strength and love of your marriage has brought them. They are most secure in your love for them when they know that your love for each other is strong.