Since I was a "late bloomer," getting married at the ripe old age of twenty-eight, and since there was some concern that I might have a difficult time becoming pregnant, our idea of family planning was "we'll take what we can get when we can get it." Okay, that was Mike's policy. Since said babies would be issuing forth out of my body, I added a little fine print to the policy: "until I am 35."
Turns out, I didn't have a difficult time--as in three babies in four years--which was good, given our late start and all. Still, by my calculations, I changed diapers for seven consecutive years. In fact, because of their spacing, every phase happened all in one long stretch. The toddler years, preschool years, peewee soccer and basketball years, elementary years, middle school years...high school years....ulp. With two in college already, I am now in my final year of the high school years.
Well, THAT went fast.
I joke often nowadays that once the baby (the six-foot something baby) graduates, we should get a set of "do-over" kids now that we know what we're doing. (As if we do...) Actually, unless the "do-over" kids come with a "do-over" energetic body, I think I'll let that dream go.
Still, I'll pass along some of the things I've learned through the phases. (NOTE: I'm not claiming to be a perfect parent--so not. Remember, some wisdom comes from failure.)
1. Let them eat dirt. I know there are awful stories of kids getting sick from eating raw cookie dough, improper hand washing and what not, but generally speaking, they have a tendency to live. I am convinced that my kids are so healthy now because when they were young they ate dirt (or worse, in the case of my taste-testing last born), chewed on the occasional bug, walked around barefoot, and entertained themselves swimming in ponds, digging craters in the back yard, and making potions out of mud. Most of this was without my permission, mind you, but they are living proof that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
2. Consistency in discipline is far more important than what method you choose. Naturally I am talking about appropriate and loving discipline. This tip I learned from a wonderful pediatrician in Bellingham, Washington who had a rather large brood of kids with a wide range of personalities. He told me that more important than whether I opted for time-outs or spankings, what my kids needed most were clear expectations for behavior and consistently applied consequences for misbehavior. Children need to know the deal and know that you can be trusted to keep your end of the deal--even when it's unpleasant.
3. The goal of child-rearing is not to control their behavior, but to help them develop self-control. Perfect behavior may feel more peaceful in the short-term, but if their behavior can only be regulated by external forces, we're not really raising adults. Every human being has free will. Our job is to teach our children that choices have consequences, but the choices are theirs to make. Help them own their choices by letting them make choices--even the wrong ones.
4. Child labor is good for the child. Give them chores. Age-appropriate chores build self-confidence and autonomy. At the same time, taking part in the chores of the home gives kids a chance to be part of a bigger team. Along the same lines, (and this one was a tough one for me) don't do for a child (or teenager) what he can do for himself--even if you can do it better and faster.
5. Let them get bored! Do I really need to explain this? My sweet momma actually strategically applied #4 and #5 together: If we told her we were bored, she had a long list of chores for us to relieve our boredom! Some of my kids' sweetest memories and most creative moments came from the need to find a way to cure boredom. (So did some of our biggest messes, so be warned...)
6. Praise character over performance, or intelligence, or beauty. Hard work and perseverance are praiseworthy, regardless of results. Kind actions are praise worthy. Honesty is praiseworthy. In contrast, intelligence and beauty are simply a matter of genetics and God's design--they are no more praiseworthy than freckles, height or hair color. Although this applies to both genders it is CRITICAL for girls. They need to internalize at a young age that their value lies much deeper than the outer shell.
7. Let them take risks and give them permission to fail. You can't have great success without risk, and risk brings with it the possibility of failure. Encourage them to count the cost, take risks, and recover from failure. Share stories of your own failures and what they taught you.
8. Model humility by admitting when you are wrong. Ask for forgiveness. Kids don't need perfect parents (which is good, because there aren't any); they need authentic and humble parents.
9. Let them see you and HELP you serve others. It's great for kids to experience their parents serving them, but they also need to see their parents serve someone besides them. The most unhappy people I've met in my life are people who live only for their own happiness. Help your kids experience the satisfaction of looking beyond themselves and working for the happiness of another.
10. Always remember that your life speaks much more loudly than your words. Live the truth you want them to understand. If you want them to value honesty, be honest. If you want them to be kind, be kind yourself. If you want them to love Jesus, delight in Him.