Family goals are an interesting thing.
It's funny to recall yourself as the women bathed in sunlight, staring out a window and touching her first-time pregnant belly, gazing up at your partner, dreamily discussing ideas about what the future might hold; your intentions and commitments. "This child shall never taste a French-fry that isn't sweet potato lightly seasoned with coconut oil and chia seeds." And "Never shall this baby's eyes fall on a screen. No. This child shall quote Shakespeare in Latin". Flash-forward eight years. You are franticly looking for a KFC while the second iPad, plugged into the car cigarette lighter gives you no relief from your screaming child number three. Your youngest, gazes despondently out the window and you start singing a guilt ridden ABC's because you have basically dragged that one though errands for the last 72 hours... And you think to yourself, 'how did we get here? Where did I go wrong?'
Relax. You are still a good parent. The truth is the standards and expectations that your previous self held would always overshadow the reality that is parenthood. It's easy to judge ourselves and others, but we shouldn't. Setting rigid values for parenting is difficult because people forget that parenting has to be fluid. Your core values must be consistent, but if you knew your child was on the verge of a hangry meltdown and a quinoa salad on the highway wasn't an option, then maybe some French Fries aren't going to kill him. Maybe the five year old who is reaching for the iPad has just been immunised between his older brothers football practice and youngest sisters ballet class and just needs a moment to listen to his favourite song. It's easy for you as past parent to criticise your current situation.
We'll refer back to our comment on values. We have used examples of some of the things we try and incorporate, they will certainly be different for every family and individuals within each family. We are presenting these as talking points from our family's experience. We celebrate many different kinds of parenting styles and as long as it's working for your family, go with it, if you find insight from any of these, or have ideas you think we should incorporate, please get in touch!
Let's talk about Flexible Parenting Strategies first. These are the everyday tools we use as parents. They are perhaps more guidelines that help us to contain- and I use the term, 'contain' in a positive way - boundaries for ourselves and our children because we believe that boundaries and containment help a child feel safe. These highlight some of the flexible values because they require variations.
1. Arguing. We encourage inquiry and exploration. Our goal isn't to raise a minion, rather we want a child that will challenge us when he doesn't understand the purpose behind our actions, or the justness of it. We want him to understand why we have put certain rules in place, but it shouldn't become an argument or tyrannical on anyone's part. This is why we use the "Did you ask? Did I answer? Do you need me to explain again?" model. We've talked about this before, but it is hugely helpful in getting a child to engage in the process of why they have been told to behave a certain way. Also, it kicks them off the whining train pretty quickly. Flexible because though we don't want a war zone of a house, the reality is that people do fight and conflict resolution is important to learn.
2. Distractions. Our Ideal was that when bored, our child would wander into his room and create Narnia-style stories where he is lost in a world of imagination, or compose a new symphony on his violin. But the reality is that whenever we are on the phone to the bank, our child's internal alarm sounds and it becomes necessary for them to gain our attention through whatever means (usually, rather annoying!) they find necessary. Are they going to understand that in order for the heating to remain on you need to make this call? Probably not, so as parents, we try to put ourself in their frame of mind. Give them some breadsticks and let them watch ten minutes of telly if it means that you don't have to scream at them for something they can't yet understand the importance of. Flexible because sometimes your child needs to sit and wait until you can help them. Patience is part of life, no one gets whatever they want when they want it. But in the heat of the moment, deciding if it will be a battle or a lesson can be very constructive. This takes practice!
Core Values. These are the basics; the fundamentals that we believe require very little wiggle room.
1. Be kind. We don't care if you are pretty, smart, rich, funny. None of that matters as long as you are kind. This is something that we try and model. It's good for the whole family because it reminds us that we are each others most important people. If you can speak politely to a client who has flown off the rails, we should work hard, in the midst of a blow out to speak kindly to those we hold the most dear. Again, this takes practice, but the habit becomes natural.
2. Do your best. When Nikko gets frustrated we say the mantra "If at first you don't succeed..." and he will usually chime in (maybe only 30% of the time with en eye roll!), "try and try again." It's important to model this. I try and let Nikko see me fail. We might be kicking the football around and if I slip, I'll almost pantomime say, "WHOOPS! Never mind! Let me try again." It's vital to let your kid know that success is in the trying and not in perfection. Applaud your kids for trying, encourage them to persevere, and praise them when they get it right. This builds long-term confidence and if they feel safe to fail, they will always try.
3. Be the change you want to see in the world. We all have those friends that just seem to smash life. They are fun, happy, clever, generous, you just look at them and think, 'Your parents did really well with you'. Demonstrate for your children the values you hope they will carry through life.
Talking to some of these people, we asked them what they thought their parents did to make a difference and came up with this checklist that we have adopted as our family 'Commandments', if you will. Again, some of these come into our Core Values and some of these come into our Flexible Parenting Strategies. Perhaps some will resonate for you and you may completely shy away from. For example, we shared this list with a friend who gasped and said, "Craft time in my house would be world war three." This she replaced with reading time together, so pick and choose and develop for your family accordingly. The actual practice of making a list as a family really helps to get the commitment to these goals and to re-align with those initial dreams you had for your family when that little baby hadn't yet come into the world. It reminds us to be the parents we wanted to be and remove the world's noise that can hijack us from the parents we truly are.
Our Parent Goals:
✔️ Kids feel safe to make mistakes
✔️ Kids all get along when they are grown up
✔️Annual family holidays even after the kids are grown up to keep everybody close
✔️At least weekly phone calls when the kids leave home
✔️Encourage the kids to play musical instruments
✔️Cultivate a sense of humour in the family
✔️Look after animals
✔️Family sports and hobbies
✔️Look after the elderly together
✔️Bake cookies for the new neighbours and welcome anyone on the fringes
✔️Institute family craft time