Since the beginning of the year, Denisa and I have been attending a weekly parenting class offered by our church. (Well, most weeks. Some weeks it was just me, some weeks it was just her, and we had to miss entirely once or twice, because life.) It’s been an interesting experience, as much of the learning was done through sharing different experiences between the parents who were in the class.
My biggest takeaway was that each family is very different, and the things that work for one household won’t necessarily work for another.
This is frustrating in some ways, because I like to think there is a Good Way to do things, and that if you talk to enough people, you can figure out what that way is and make it work for you. But with so many approaches out there, that throws a wrench in that plan. You might follow someone else’s advice perfectly, only to find that it totally didn’t work for you.
The other takeaway is that parenting isn’t a thing that you learn once and then master. It changes from child to child, and from age to age. What worked for one child perfectly might stop working as they get older, and it might not work for the child’s sibling either.
As if that weren’t enough, it seems to me that no parent can really truly prepare for what’s going to hit them as soon as they get a baby. I remember the old “What to Expect When You’re Expecting Book.” It made it all seem so straightforward. And it kind of is, for those first few years. As a parent, you have a fair bit of control over what your child does, who they play with, what they eat. You name it. You have a lot of control.
But as they get older, it’s your job to cede that control over to them bit by bit, so that by the time they’re heading to college or a career, they’re fully ready to tackle the challenges life might throw at them.
Parenting it tough stuff, and I think my biggest frustration with it is how much of the time it feels like I’m flying blind. I’m on a rollercoaster with no brakes, no rails, and no real guarantee that the thing is going to turn out okay in the end. Denisa and I have come to points where neither one of us really has a clue what we’re supposed to do, and the advice we solicit from friends and family doesn’t seem to help too much either. (Because of that whole “what works for one might not work for all” thing I noted earlier.)
So what do we do? Honestly, we pray for guidance a lot, and that’s gotten us as far as we are now. I have to hope it’ll continue to help.
In the end, I think I’d sum up my parenting style (so far) as follows: I like to treat my kids as full fledged members of the family. I want them to know that their voice is heard and their input is important. When we make rules, we make them with them, not simply “for” them. Communication is a huge part of it for me. The most frustrating times have been the ones where my kids just don’t want to talk about what’s upsetting them, and I enjoyed the pieces of the class that went over different approaches to talk to kids.
For me, family comes before friends. I’m much more concerned that all members of the family are getting along and spending time with each other than I am that my kids are having great friendships outside the home. This doesn’t mean I don’t want them to have friends, but if something comes up that conflicts with a family activity, family wins out. I still talk to some of my high school friends and a few college friends, and there are a couple of middle school friends I have contact with now and then, but they play such a small role in my life. On the other hand, I’m still with my family. Those ties are strong. I want that for my kids.
I wonder how many times over the years I’ve said things (on the blog or in person) that have shocked other people. Things I take for granted that most sensible people believe, which actually many people don’t. I assume it must be fairly frequently. At least a few times a month. Maybe even a few times a week, since I blog so publicly. I base that assumption off the fact that in the bit of interaction I have with friends, they still manage to surprise me now and then by what they let their children do or don’t let their children do. There are things parents allow (or don’t allow) that just don’t compute with me, so logic says there must be things I do or don’t let my children do that seem like terrible decisions to others.
This is another one of those blog posts that doesn’t really have a conclusion. There’s no big “aha” moment that brings it all together. Just a general observation that parenting is difficult, and if I (or you) think someone is clearly doing it wrong because it’s different from how I (or you) would do it, it’s perfectly fine for me (or you) to take notes about how I (or you) won’t make those same decisions, but as for speaking up and telling you (or me) how that’s wrong for you (or me)? Maybe it’s better to bite my/your tongue and realize we might both be right (or wrong.)
How’s that for a sum up?