What’s your end for parenting?
My husband often chides me for not following recipes. Sometimes I see a picture of a beautiful dish and I try to recreate it with a little of this, a little of that. Maybe I like the idea of being a better cook than I really am. Inevitably, it flops. Rarely, it quasi resembles my original intentions.
And such is often parenting. We have a fuzzy, far-off picture of the end. A well-dressed, well-mannered, athletic, do-good valedictorian crossing the graduation stage, on his/her way to [insert Ivy League of your choice], as we beam with pride from the front row at our own accomplishment. My vision included me in a Pretty Woman, at-the-races-style polka dot dress with beautiful hair and 20-something skin and body and the most perfect sunset backdrop. But that’s just me.
As this blog title might imply, parenting should be backward thinking in nature. In other words, as soon as before you bring your bundle of joy home, you ought to have already considered what kind of person you intend to eventually move out of your home 18-20 years later. Rarely do parents give this much thought- ever, or until it’s too late. I am, regrettably, one of those parents. You think you have time, 18 years seems so far away, you’re busy surviving in a sea of baby then toddler then elementary aged “do-rights”- right bottles, right growth charts, right milestones, right books, right clothes, right trapper keeper (oh wait, that was me in the 80’s), etc, etc, etc. We forget that planning parenting with an end in mind is absolutely essential. It will not guarantee success. NOTHING will guarantee success. In fact, the first part of planning your parenting ought to be that you will fail. At something. At everything. At one point. At some points. I’m unusually hard on myself, so I pretty much think I failed at everything, yet I know I didn’t. But preparing your end with the notion that sometime or another you’ll mess up, is a good start. A very good start.
I suggest you plan your parenting end deliberately. I’m talking paper and pencil, contract-like planning. Don’t just have a “discussion”or lofty ideas of a singular, movie-like moment when little Johnny suddenly becomes a responsible adult. But write it down, keep it prominent and revisit it often. Tell people, include people and allow for revisions. Keep it visible.
Decide on specific goals in specific areas. I’ll make some suggestions, but every parent, every family, is different.
PHYSICAL– What general guidelines will you instill in terms of eating habits, health habits, sports, general physical appearance, etc. Will you allow snacking? Do you want to have family meal times (highly recommend)? How often? What will be your stance on sports? Try everything? Allow free choice? Make them stick out seasons that they committed to, or allow them to quit? Will you allow piercings, tattoos, colored hair, pick their own mix matched clothes at age 8? Believe me, these issues will arise, and you should already know how you will respond.
EDUCATION– Nobody (I mean nobody) really knows what should be the primary goal of education. Trust me, I was a teacher in public school. And nobody really knows. So, trust your own instincts. What are YOUR educational goals for your child? Tailor their experiences to match your goals. Straight A’s and tracking toward college? Then make sure there is quiet space for homework and high expectations for report cards and tests. Hands-on learning through life experiences? Then feel free to pull them out of class and take a trip to the zoo, or Europe. Public or private? Home schooling? Trade school? Don’t make their decisions for them (actually, go ahead), but don’t assume your local public school is the right or only option. And don’t assume, if you choose public school, that they are getting all their educational goals met. YOU should be the primary educator of your child (see When To Stay At Home for more advice on this).
SPIRITUAL– I learned the hard way on this one. My years of wandering spiritually in my own life coincided with the formative years of my children. I (naively) believed that they could and should form their own spiritual identity. Wrong. I won’t be ashamed of the fact that I am a Christian and have developed a strong faith in God, which I have tried to instill in my children. But this is not a faith-based blog. Decide early on what your spiritual beliefs are/should be/will be. Develop your spiritual self early and instill those beliefs in your children. Let them see you practice your beliefs. Take them to church/synagogue/mosque and give them a spiritual base from which to draw their own conclusions. THEY WILL STRAY from this base, most likely. They will not mirror your beliefs, but you will have given them a moral code and sense of spiritual belonging long before they begin to challenge themselves on their own spirituality. This is crucial, otherwise they are at the mercy of peers, teachers and other parents at a time when they will grab on to anything (and I mean anything-think Illuminati) that makes sense to their undeveloped minds. And usually, that turns out not-so-good.
EMOTIONAL/Personality– What kind of adult do you want your kid to be on the inside? Nice or kind (and they are different-see here)? Driven or laid back? Hard worker or lazy? Outgoing or introvert? Judgmental or pragmatic? Compassionate or strong willed? Some personality traits are innate. But many traits that you want to see in your child can be instilled. Most are learned by modeling parents and other close adults. Start by being the person you want your child to be. Don’t assume they will naturally develop their own personality. Don’t cross your fingers and hope he/she turns out to be a “good” person. Establish, in writing, what a “good” person means to you, talk about it often to your child, give them real examples, put them in real situations, that help them establish being the person you want them to be.
DISCIPLINE– Decide early and consistently what you will and will not allow, and how you will issue consequences if when your child messes up. Don’t get hung up on minute details about this one. Often parents put this topic on the top of their list, it’s the subject of most parenting books, and it causes the most grief between mom and dad. But if the other topics got just as much, or more, attention, this one falls into place naturally. Set boundaries, sway little from them, be consistent in your consequences. To this day, my 12 year old knows, no matter what I am asking him to do, if I get to 3 and he hasn’t started doing it, he loses something, something of real value to him. It used to be a snack, now it’s his ipod or computer time. But the process has never changed. Establish processes early and keep them simple.
So my husband was right….
When you want to make a knock out dish that Rachel Ray would drool over, you start with a picture of the end. If you want the best chance at success, you follow a recipe that has the end in mind. You begin mixing the main ingredients. You then blend in the special spices and extra goodies that make it unique. Finally, if all goes well, you end up with what you had envisioned.
Such is parenting. Begin with your end in mind.
Establish your main ingredients (see above list), and add in the little things over time (When does he get a cell phone? When is make-up allowed? How short should the skirt be? What meal time manners are acceptable? They’re all little things-and it’ll be easy to decide on each of them once you’ve established your main goals). Mix them all together, consistently, and hopefully, in the end, you’ve got what you pictured in the beginning.