In my last post I started a list on how to build a strong family. With all of the different ways to parent, some ways may be easier and ensure a win-win for us and our children. Our children can grow up feeling secure and attached, knowing the boundaries we have set for the family. We in turn don’t sacrifice everything–physically, mentally, emotionally, and our relationships–in order to make our children happy. This is a continuation of the last post.
#2: Create a Parent-Centered Family
This seems like a selfish statement. Look at it like it is a foundational statement. It is a true principal. We can sacrifice everything for our children, but sacrificing the parental relationship can ruin a family. We need to remember that each other comes first, and then the children. Our date night every week was an anchor to our relationship. It saved me. We could have an uninterrupted conversation, escape into a movie, have a quiet meal , remember why we chose to be parents and why we love each other. We also would take time daily to connect and talk. It was important to both of us. Dr. John Rosemond, a psychologist, said he spent a lot of time being a good father, and realized he was barking up the wrong tree. He realized that a good husband is a good father but not necessarily the other way around. He said that the marriage comes first, keep it first and it is more likely to last. He also said that married or single parents need to have full, rich lives outside of the responsibilities of their children.
#3: Parents Lead the Family
I have always felt that it had to be worth it to be a parent. Who would sign up for a life of total self-sacrifice of time and effort, being treated rudely and asked for money often? Nowadays, more and more people are choosing not to lead their families. I don’t think this is a conscious choice, but we find ourselves giving in and not helping our children be wonderful to be around. We think in the name of patience and long suffering they will grow out of their rudeness, and so we enable bad behavior a lot. A primary focus for me has been to figure out how being me, the parent, can be a win-win for all of us in my family. There had to be reciprocity of love, connection and respect. It has been so worth it!
If we grew up without leadership in our homes, it is hard to figure it out. One young mother emailed me and said it was hard disciplining her children without the shame she grew up with. I love her awareness. In a neighborhood or church community we can be mentored by many parents who have more experience than us. Look for families where you like their children. There is a good chance the parents are leading the family well. Ask them for help or resources that helped them.
Parents who are comfortable in their leadership know that it is more important to do the right thing, than to be liked in the moment, by their children. Parents who are leading their families won’t get into verbal squabbles with their children, and aren’t distressed and tense all of the time about their children.
What does this mean? How do we get comfortable in our leadership? It is having certainty and conviction that we are doing the right thing. We don’t lie to our children and we follow through on what we said we would do.
I was in a group of mothers once, listening to a psychologist who had been asked to speak to us. One mother said, “What do you do, when you and your husband are gone, and you get back, and the house is destroyed?”
The psychologist said, “It depends on the tone of your home. What rules do you have? How do you maintain calm and order? Do you follow through when the rules have been broken?” I have never forgotten his words. When I think of “the tone”, I think of safety, warmth and emotional space for acting out but being taught a better way to be. Is there kindness and firmness? Are we so respectful that we are happy to be with each other?
This idea of parent leadership gives us the long view, and so we don’t do the short, quick fix. We know what we are doing is right for the child. If we are securely attached with our child, he will want to please us, and disciplining becomes easier.
It’s not about our child’s behavior as much as our mindset. Our mindset, that we have more experience and wisdom than our children, will help us realize that we are the ones to lead and teach.
Here is an example of parental authority. I was making Christmas cookies with one of my teenage sons. I was enjoying the moment, making an effort in my mind to have an enjoyable experience together. I even had Christmas music playing and he said in an irritated voice, “Can we turn off the music?” My idyllic scene was shattered. I said, “Hey! We are making Christmas cookies together, which absolutely requires Christmas music. Why don’t you pick the music, but it has to be Christmas music!” He picked something he liked better and we were able to talk through his irritation and any hurt feelings I had. The point is, we aren’t doing our children any favors when we allow them to be demanding and rude. As we gently steer them back to a positive connection with us, we are teaching them how to be flexible and and not just be irritated all the time.
A negative example of parental authority was a young couple, my friend’s niece, whose two-year-old would only eat chicken nuggets. They would bring chicken nuggets to every family party so that their two-year-old would have something to eat. There are so many red flags here—from agreeing with a two year old that all of her nutritional needs will be met with chicken nuggets, to realizing at age two, this child is already controlling her parents.
#4: Work together every day
Working together binds a family. Working together is such a virtuous circle. Our children can:
- learn to sacrifice their time and energy
- learn a new skill
- be with us, and
- we have a better home or yard because of it
- this makes them so happy that it binds them to us
We get to do it again the next day, over and over. This circular pattern day in and day out, creates all of the above benefits that are developing wonderful inner qualities of our children, This inner and outer effort of consistently working together as a family, provides our children with a priceless security–that they can do things. We are giving our children knowledge and practice to know how to take care of themselves as adults.
Besides working as a family, our children did their own chores. These are done for free to help and serve the family. We taught our children how to earn and save money and not spend it as soon as they get it.
#5:Guard Family Time
Our culture has become a slave to after- school activities. I told my neighbor, at a BBQ, that all I did was see her coming and going, in and out of our cul-de-sac. She sighed and told me her only daughter, one of four children, had 6 after-school activities. She said she got her down to two, because it was so overwhelming. I love the win-win attitude. The mother saw an excess of activity and was able to reduce it for both of them.
I know a family with eight children. In order to guard their family time, they have chosen skiing as their family sport. They do no other organized sports with their children. The mother gets all of their gender neutral skiing clothes from thrift stores, and finds skis, boots and poles, second hand. It helps that the clothes and skis can go to the next child as children grow, so she only has to find ski clothes for her oldest child every year. The ski passes would be expensive, but here in Utah, resorts are clever in getting parents skiing– some children ski free, like 5th and 6th graders statewide across all resorts are given free passes for a certain number of times. At most resorts the child season pass is greatly reduced. The day I saw this couple on the slopes they only had their youngest, a three-year-old they were skiing with, while everyone else was in school. What a brilliant idea! Their choice of sport involved everyone together, being outside for extended periods of time, and no other sport commitments, games, fundraising, equipment, clothing, clubs, tournaments, or practices. They were making team family the priority with their children skiing together.
Think about how much family time they are creating together. Taking eight children skiing may seem a herculean task but look at all the time they are gaining on each weekday—not having 8 different sports teams they are involved in. If it’s their only sport, they can get really organized and focused on how to have it run smoothly. The parents can also participate with their family into their sixties and beyond, , creating years of family time together. I also like how they turned their backs on a cultural norm of organized sports being a must, of dropping off their children for someone else to teach.
You can be a hiking family, a swimming family or a pickleball family. Anything that keeps you together, gets you out of your house and outside, and gets you moving.
I would love your comments on what has helped make your family strong.
My next post will finish up this list of building a strong family.