The ABCs of Parenting


Happy, happy we will be

When we know our ABCs

Accept that there will always be some things you can’t change.  We are guides, not surgeons, in our children’s lives.

Believe that your relationship can still be happy and healthy even when your kids don’t behave the way you’d hope they would.  We can delight in who they are even when we don’t like what they’re doing.

Change yourself first.  The qualities we need to acquire in the process of parenting are the same for many of us: greater patience, loving responses, firm but kind guidance…

Discover the depths of your love, courage, resourcefulness, and grace.  These are the things we need to tap into as we meet the challenges of raising kids.

Engage with your kids.  Avoid multitasking when you’re with your kids, at least some of the time; they need eye contact and undivided attention to feel loved and valued.

Fight the urge to fix everything for them and within them.  We need to give our kids the space to make their own choices and recover from their own mistakes.

Gather with other parents to commiserate, encourage, discuss… We need to be open to giving and receiving support from other parents; by sharing this journey within community, we grow.

Humour your kids when you can.  It’s easy to dismiss childish concerns, but in taking the time to tickle away the monsters under the bed or hear all about teddy’s adventures we honour our little ones and help them know that they’re important to us.

Imagine what it will be like when they’re grown.  When we think of the future and how we’ll look back on this time, it gives us clarity about which things are worthy of our time and energy, and what we should let slide.

Joke with and about your kids.  Humour provides relief, release, and perspective.

Keep trying, even when you feel like giving up.  We all have days when we feel like we’re just treading water; find a shoulder to cry on, pray for strength, and carry on – parenting is a long term investment.

Listen when they want to talk.  It’s easy to become habitually dismissive (especially during their garrulous phases), but we must practice taking time so that we don’t miss our kids’ most important communications.

Make memoriesWe should buy the ice cream cone, try the science experiment, create traditions – these are the practices that underscore our family life and add meaning to the mundane.

Nurture your family through the everyday tasks you perform.  Thinking of cooking or chauffeuring or communicating as nurture helps us to infuse these duties with love and kindness.

Observe your kids in different settings.  Watching our kids with others provides us with clues about how well they’ve internalised our family values and how easy or difficult they might be finding social situations.

Pray.  In parenting we plumb the depths of disenchantment and experience the pinnacles of human existence – often all in the same day.  Bringing our triumphs and struggles before God allows us to tap into His strength and wisdom when our own wells would run dry.

Quell your fears and tread confidently in your decisions.  Knowing where and why we’ve set boundaries helps us to stand firm while allowing us to be flexible in our parenting.

Respect yourself and your kids enough to own your mistakes and apologise when necessary.  Admitting our own weaknesses and learning from our errors encourages them to do the same.

Show mercy and grace at every opportunity.  This is how we practise and teach compassion.

Teach by example.  When we are intentional about modelling right behaviour for our children, we let them see our values in action (and actions speak louder than words).

Understand where the parent leaves off and the child begins.  When we don’t acknowledge the division between us as parents and the choices our kids make, we misappropriate their triumphs and their failures for ourselves.

Voice concerns and hopes to your children.  By sharing our hearts with our kids we give them the opportunity to make decisions that are informed by our greater wisdom and experience.

Walk the walk.  Kids abhor hypocrisy; it is vital that our words and our actions are complementary.

X & O (Kiss and hug) your kids often!  Even when they wriggle out of our hugs or dodge our kisses, we must offer physical demonstrations of our love – even just a squeeze of the arm or a gentle ruffling of their hair lets them know that we care.

Yield on the unimportant things.  In choosing our battles wisely we avoid becoming wrapped up in conflict over unimportant things and help our kids to differentiate between negotiables and non-negotiables in our family.

Zigzag towards your parenting goals.  The path to mature, responsible, respectful adult kids almost never runs straight; we should be prepared for the detours and navigate closer to our ultimate goals over time.

Faith, Life, Parenting

This Is How a House Is Built

Foundation by Brett Neilson, flickr


My folks are building a house in their (our) backyard, and we’ve been watching the progress with great interest.

First, the ground had to be prepared.  There was digging and bulldozing and then the long, labourious process of building the forms and pouring the concrete for the foundation, then more digging and filling as they installed gas lines and other connections.

This was slow, dirty, tough work; the guys were out there in rain and sleet and eventually snow, at the mercy of the elements for hour after hour, day after day, week after week.  When it rained, the earth became heavy and muddy – manual digging was excruciatingly slow, and if they left it for any time without adequate supports in place, the sides would collapse and undo much of their labour.  When it snowed or got cold enough to do so, the existing pipes (exposed by their digging) froze, and they had to bring in heaters to keep the water flowing to the main house.

This process of preparing and building seems to me a great parallel to the process of parenting.

Drafting a Blueprint and Preparing the Land

We begin with a plan; a vision of what we expect to accomplish through our efforts.  (Of course, this is where the analogy of raising kids digresses somewhat from the ‘concrete’ process of building a house; in parenting you start by thinking you’re going to build a mansion and you end up with a modest bungalow, a garden shed, or a dingy.)  Preparing the ground, digging up old pipes and making new connections – this is us taking what we know about raising a family, examining what we’ve experienced in our own lives and making decisions about how we’ll proceed in our new roles as parents.  Those of us who have a partner in raising our kids need to make sure that our two ‘blueprints’ for parenting match; having common goals and a unified vision helps us to work together to raise kids whose lives and hearts are wholesome, healthy, and resilient.

Lots of old junk came up during the digging.  Large boulders, tree roots and other obstacles had to be removed.  There were bits of glass and old tools and other things that needed to be discarded.  Plans had to be adjusted for the slope of the land, and other factors required alterations to the original plans.

West and I have to do this all the time – we are constantly attending parenting seminars and reading things (OK, I read things and report my conclusions – he grunts his assent and follows through) and talking, talking, talking about how we’re going about this business of raising our boys.

My parents’ new place is being built to be their retirement home – so they’ve taken care to think of details that will be useful as they age.  My Mum has added a tile bench into the shower, in case they need/want to sit whilst bathing.  Of course, I couldn’t help but point out that this would provide the perfect spot upon which they might strike their skulls if they slipped in the shower, and asked if they’d considered the comfort of sitting on cold tile with bare bottoms…  Which leads me to this point:

In the building/parenting process, people will give you lots of advice – whether you want it or not. And more than likely, I’m going to be one of those people.

A firm foundation

And then the foundation – arguably the most important part of any house, and yet possibly the least glamourous aspect of any architectural plan.

“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock.”

(Matthew 7:24&25)

When we build a strong foundation, it functions as this ‘solid rock’ upon which we are constructing our house (we’ll take it as a given that the land itself was adequately chosen and prepared for this purpose as well). Jesus spoke of a life built on his teachings being the wisest choice; one that would offer protection and sustenance in times of difficulty.  So what are these teachings?

Jesus himself summed up the most important commandments as follows (Matt.22:36-40):

  •          Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind
  •          Love your neighbor as yourself

A life built on the tenets of loving God wholly and loving and valuing others as you love and value your very self – this is a constructive, useful, generous life.

Jesus mentions following the ‘demands of the prophets’, too; one of which is this:

O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with your God.

(Micah 6:8)

Then there is ‘The Golden Rule’:

  •          ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ – or, put more simply, ‘Treat other people the way you’d like them to treat you’.

Our job as parents is to lay this foundation – to teach our kids right from wrong and show them how to love others, practice grace, and to walk in the light.

These are practical things we can work on; and what we cannot accomplish in our own strength, we pray for.  Never, ever, underestimate the power of prayer – it will help you see God’s heart for you and your family and it will help you know your children’s hearts better as well.  This is not just the privilege of the Christian. God will bend his ear for the least of us.

Support Structures

After the foundation came the framing.  Seeing the internal and external walls go up was thrilling; it was really starting to look more like a house.  These supports are essential elements in the building of any sound structure.

They say it takes a village to raise a child.  We in the Western World rarely have the luxury of such a close natural community; but we can forge relationships with others around us and allow them to share our burdens while we share theirs.

We can surround ourselves with people who will love and nurture our children as we seek to love and nurture them.  A good church will help with this, and good circles of friends and family can offer support as well.

A Roof Overhead

Once the walls were in place to support it, the roof went on.  This was an important step; now there was some protection from the elements – a necessary move, especially as the weather was growing colder and wetter.  Now when the torrents poured and the snow fell heavily from the sky, the house stayed dry.

How do we protect our families?  We offer spiritual and emotional protection through prayer, teaching and conversation.  We provide physical protection in training our children to make wise and safe choices.

Let the Sun Shine In

No house would be complete without windows to let the light in and to provide an outlook on the world.  My parents also chose frosted glass for the side that would be exposed to passing cars (to minimize the glare of the headlights), and double-glazing to reduce noise and provide insulation from the cold.

In parenting, we provide our kids with the benefit of our outlook on life – a way of interpreting the world around them.  We help translate and make sense of the perplexing barrage of ideas, events and experiences faced by our children as they grow.  And we reinforce the fact of our belief that there is a plan and a purpose at work throughout this life, even when we ourselves can’t see the bigger picture.  We teach them how to let the light in.

Insulation and Flooring

In addition to the insulation provided by the double-glazed windows and roof, the builders needed to place batting/foam as insulation.  The floor, too, has layers of protection against the elements.

Our love and care for our kids is underpinned by a thousand small acts of sacrifice; making time for them, celebrating their successes and encouraging them through challenges.  This is the hidden work of ours that provides necessary, sustaining comfort to our families – it might seem like a bunch of fluff, but these ‘behind the scenes’ things we do can make a big difference.

The End Result

We’re still waiting to see the completion of my parents’ house.  There’s a lot yet to be done to make the house (though by now structurally whole) livable.  The addition of cupboards, appliances, hardware and furnishings will personalize the house and make it more functional.  And it will be delightful to finally see the end result of all the careful planning and hard work.

When we do that first walk-through, I doubt that we will be worried about what it isn’t.  I don’t think we’ll see the deficiencies (if any) or worry that it’s not a two-story mansion.  I imagine that we will remember the effort made to create this dwelling, and we will look forward to all the memories to be made in it.

Each house, even if built from the same plan, has its unique qualities.  So many things can contribute to the uniqueness of a home: using different blueprints and materials, building in and for a specific climate and purpose, the setting and the furnishings…  We would be foolish to try to compare this house to any other.

In the same way, we as parents have to wait many years – perhaps a lifetime – to see some of the end results of our efforts.  And as we watch our children grow, we do well to avoid comparisons; instead, I believe that we do best to delight in the joy of what is ours – and to put in the hard work now with a vision towards the future.  To humbly and patiently assist the process of the construction of a whole person, beautifully created and nurtured according to God’s good purpose.

Because this is how a house is built.

Cottage by Stefan Ray on flickr