Saturday, May 7, 2011

Parenting Philosophies - (get a cup of coffee - it’s a long one!)

Another one from the archives... October of 2009.  I can tell a definite difference in my reflections on my upbringing now!  I wish that I had been a little less sarcastic in this writing, as I'm sure that it was misread as caustic!  I wish I had included many of my favorite memories of childhood, like impromptu rubber-band fights with my parents, midnight trips to What-A-Burger and downtown to pay bills, family vacations and "country church" (When we'd just go for a drive and pull over somewhere to read the Bible together!)  Ah, well I know that I am a work in progress, here's a little proof!

A friend posted a blog about her parenting ideas and I thought it might be interesting to do the same.  We are all so different, yet all of us love and care for our children.

A pivotal moment in my own parenting career was a word of wisdom from a dear friend.  I was expressing my concern that I wasn't doing something "right" and telling her of my search for information.  She told me "You care.  That makes you a good parent.  Bad parents DON'T care."  That forever changed my outlook and gave me a much needed dose of confidence!

My background:  I was raised in a very strict Christian home.  We weren't allowed to watch unrestricted TV (we had to use a highlighter on the TV guide to mark the program we were interested in and get it approved, only 1 hour per day and if there was a 2 hour movie on, my brother and I had to go in together to watch the whole thing!), we didn't have cable until I was about 12 and we only had one TV.

We were home schooled to protect us from the evils of peer pressure, drugs and alcohol and of course pre-marital sex.  Also, this prevented us from being "indoctrinated into the left-wing agenda of socialism and one-world government", evolution, and the "re-writing of history to eliminate our Christian heritage".

No toilet-papering or practical jokes of any kind were allowed.

We attended church regularly, although not excessively.  We listened to Christian radio (mostly talk radio - I hated that!) and I was banned from listening to Amy Grant after she "crossed over into the mainstream media".  (Bummer, I really liked her - anyone want to go with me to the concert in Ft. Worth on Nov. 14th?)

We were told that pre-marital sex is a sin and that you'd probably get pregnant anyway, so you shouldn't "do it".

Fast forward to college:  I thought everyone was like me, boy was I in for a surprise!  My first roommate's best friend was a vegan (didn't even know what that was) who wore all black and had her tongue pierced!  I thought she was a Satanist for sure!  I lasted one semester at a Public" university and transferred to (insert angelic music here) Southwestern Assemblies of God University.  There, I was certain, everyone would be more like me.  Another big surprise!  Apparently even Christian families are different! Many of my friends weren't virgins!  Some thought that drinking was ok!  Some were opposed to Homeschooling all together!  Many watched terrible TV shows, like 90210 and Friends!  Oh, the scandal, oh the horror, oh the reality!  (I hope that you are reading this with the touch of previously forbidden sarcasm with which it was written!)

I married William, who was raised in a Christian home, but much more liberal.  They had TV's in every room, including the kitchen and bathroom (seriously).  He watched anything he wanted, including horror movies when he was only 9 or 10 (and he wasn't a Satanist – my world was changing by the minute!)  He smoked at 14, and cursed so much the visiting airmen in his parent's military home were embarrassed (not that's something!) 

Opposites attract?  You think?  LOL

So, parenting was a major discussion issue in our relationship.  We each had things that we were committed to about our upbringing, as well as things that we hated and promised to "never do to our children".  We decided early on that our style would be a blend of our upbringings, choosing the best from each.  We think of our style as "conscientious parenting". 

We learn all we can, we have goals in place of what we want our children to learn and be, always being aware of what God-given talents and dreams they each have.  So, we have to be "students of our children".  We look at each situation as an opportunity to learn something new about our children, listen to them and then guide them in the way that we feel is most appropriate.  The very early years were spent in a "traditional" way of parenting, instruction and correction (lather, rinse, repeat – ad nauseum!  It takes a lot of dedication and patience to "instill" character in children who are born with a natural selfishness (aka "sin nature")) We have high expectations ("children will live up to what you expect of them, so aim high!") and try to correct with Grace, after all, God parents us with Grace – he doesn't smite us every time we make a mistake!

We believe that no matter what discipline method you choose, the most important thing is consistency.  If you say "if you stand on the table one more time, I'm gonna…" then you had better! 

We also believe that children learn much more from what they see, not what your say.  If they see you return the extra when you are given too much change, or go back into the store to pay for something that was under the car seat and forgotten, then they will learn to be honest.  If they see you going out of your way to help someone, then they will learn to value kindness.  If they see you choosing to do right, they will be more inclined to choose right for themselves.  The biggest turn-off for me is hypocrisy.  I saw people who were very "religious" and not very kind.  I saw people who were all about rules and the way things should be, but not about the people. 

When I became an adult and had a true relationship and experience with God, I realized that He is much more interested in me and the motive of my heart than whether I say and do the "right" things.  That's a principle that we try to work with in our children.  We try to see past the action and into the motive.  For example, we are teaching our son to be kind and "gentlemanly".  Naturally a part of this is learning to hold the door for others, especially women and girls.  Jordan hit an age where she didn't want Calvin holding the door for her, she wanted to do it herself! This was a perfect opportunity to remind Calvin that the point of holding the door is to show kindness.  If someone wants to open it for themselves, it is kind to let them do it.  (And to teach Jordan that accepting an act of kindness is a gift that you can give to others!)

We really do believe that sex has it's proper place inside of marriage. We have seen the devastation in other's lives that has been wrought by the wide abandonment of this principle.  We have had our own share of troubles by indiscretions prior to marriage that stole a part of the Glory that God intended to be shared by a husband and wife.  If you stop for a moment and think of how wonderful it would be if the whole world shared this conviction… There would be no molestation, rape or incest. There would be little or no STDs.  There would be greatly reduced "unwanted" pregnancies.  There would be no adultery, which would certainly reduce the amount of divorce and marital strife.  There would be no pornography, no "kiddie-porn", no sexual exploitation of women, children and even men.  Not to mention the emotional benefits of having a fully trusting relationship, never wondering if you were "as good" as someone else, wondering whether your spouse was thinking of someone else while you were together.  No pressure for teens to lose their virginity, no unwed mothers, no shotgun weddings, no stigma for virginity…  Wow, back to reality I guess. 

So, if all of that is possible, why wouldn't I want the very best for my kids?  Why wouldn't I strongly encourage them to keep sex in it's intended place?  This brings me to another point that is troublesome: Sheltering.  It's a dirty word, as in "They really shelter their kids."  But the reality is that sheltering isn't bad, it's our job as parents.  What is inexcusable is sheltering without providing information and training, equipping children to make wise choices for themselves.  I was told that sex was for marriage.  That's all.  There was no guidance of what to do with my raging hormones or the thrilling feeling of holding hands, hugging and kissing.  I read every book in the Christian bookstore where I worked, desperately seeking an answer to the question "How far is too far?"  I found nothing, only empty phrases like "ask Jesus how far" or "pray about it."  Those are true, but not practical instruction for a frantic teen!  How I wish I had had a resource like those from Dannah Gresh ( who takes girls through a series of questions about what they want to save for marriage, what they want to save for engagement, what they want to save for a serious boyfriend…  It gets girls involved in the thought process, a crucial element to "owning" your decision to wait, not just trying really hard to wait because it's the right thing to do.

My oldest kids are 7 and 9, we've already had "the talk" with them. Actually that's not true, it's not a single talk, it's a series of dialogues and captured moments that we take to show them what God says, tell them what we believe, tell them what others believe and discuss the differences with them.  We are setting the expectation that they will follow God's plan and wait until marriage, however we are also giving them the truth (in age appropriate pieces) about sex and the realities and consequences of those decisions.

We believe in being honest with our kids.  For us, this means no Santa Clause, Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy.  They still get Christmas presents, Easter baskets and (outrageous amounts of) tooth  money.  We also believe that every family gets to make their own choice on those matters, and the family that "does" Santa is not evil, wrong or warping their children, just different.  We have told our kids that they shouldn't "ruin it" for someone else, because that would be mean, not to mention undermining another parent's wishes!  Being honest with them also means no empty promises, no empty threats, admitting when we are wrong and asking them for forgiveness.  There is nothing more humbling than apologizing for losing your temper and asking your child (or spouse) for forgiveness.  It also models appropriate behavior for them. It meant that when they asked "what if this baby dies too?" I didn't say "Oh, that won't happen sweetie."  I had to face the question head on. Tough stuff, this parenting business!

In closing (long overdue – I wonder if anyone actually read this far? LOL) I observed several different parenting styles when I was growing up.  My parents were very strict, so were most of my friend's parents.  I had one aunt and uncle who were "permissive", they never really disciplined, just yelled when things got out of hand.  Another aunt and uncle "talked them to death", never spanked or did much time out, just reasoned with their kids (which my mom said would never work – she was appalled!).  The bottom line, we all turned out fine.  Not one axe murderer among us.  No convicted felons, no abusers, no alcoholics… What really makes the difference is involved, caring parents. 

Our final philosophy?  "We are not raising children, we are raising adults."  What do we desire for those adults to be, do, have?  It is our job to be intentional about our parenting, always striving to do our best.  We will make mistakes, we will learn, we will change.

Don't stop - there's lots more good stuff...

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