We've had a quiet couple of weeks before the rush and excitement of a new school year. Matt has been fighting with Lyme disease, and all of us got knocked flat with summer head colds. I wanted to continue my thoughts on proactive parenting with a principle that could have easily been #1:
Children are a welcome part of the family.
Children are welcome.
In America, we tend to reject anything that messes with our own ease and comfort. The excitement of a new baby joining the house quickly degrades as sleep, finances, and personal time are disturbed. Proactive parents see the end picture (or at least a little further down the road!) Each new child added to the family brings out a facet of each family member that never would have been revealed without them. We are all richer, we grow in Christ, we grow in love -- it's a truly amazing experience. Seeing your husband in the role of Daddy will be some of your most precious memories. Watching older siblings with new babies is one of the sweetest times this side of heaven.
On a practical level, I make it a point to light up and hug or pat each of you anytime you come into a room. I always stop what I'm doing to acknowledge you and let you know what an important part of my life you are. Computers and phones can be a real hindrance to children feeling welcome if you're not careful.
I'm going to give you a bit of uber-controversial advice, here. Don't tag team your parenting. I hope that trend is past by the time you're reading these letters, but I doubt it will be. You will both resent your children and exhaust your marriage if you're essentially functioning as single parents. As much as I hate the whole concept of day care, tag team parenting isn't the answer, either. Bring your needs to the Lord, and allow Him to show you ways to make ends meet without disrupting the stability of your parenting, home, and marriage.
Children are a welcome part.
Children do not make a couple into a family: God makes two separate people into a family at their wedding. When children are placed at the center of the family, they become an idol. Human beings who are worshiped in place of God become increasingly demanding. Mom becomes the high priestess, and no one can interact with the child without her presence and intervention. Anything and everything will be sacrificed for the happiness of the child, even God and his Word.
We had to guard this tendency in particular with Matt. His considerable health issues combined with a winsome personality made it very easy to move him to the front and center. Usually his high-and-mighty tone with you or Nate would signal that the special treatment had gone a bit too far and he needed to be reigned in again. The teens and adults from this family dynamic are not just selfish and demanding with others, but personally subject to depression and a life feeling misunderstood and miserable.
Single child families and divorced parents have an incredible challenge in this area as well.
The proactive family could not look more different. God is the center and the purpose, not the children. Mom and Dad continue to make each other priority in ways the kids will understand. "Of course Daddy gets the last cookie: I love him most!" is a common refrain from your childhood. Children in proactive families are given distinct boundaries that cannot be broken without punishment. The welfare of the family exceeds the whims or wants of the one. At two, this might be a toddler learning that he has to wait until mama is done folding her basket of laundry before she'll read him a book. An elementary aged child might have to learn to do her math paper independently and quietly so mama can work with another child. A teenager should be mature and well-trained enough to do any job around the house as well as his parents the first time, on time.
Each of you had to be taught to value Daddy, me, and your siblings as highly as you valued yourself. Of course you want to cuddle, talk, cook, walk, drive, or watch a movie with us -- that's a natural outpouring of affection and love. But your desires didn't trump the others in the family. Daddy used to physically give you a low growl if you tried to wedge into our couple time or hugs. Your brothers didn't have it quite so easy-- he'd grip the top of their heads and physically move them out of the way. It was done in fun, but you got the message: this isn't your time right now! We also made it a point to have family night with the 5 of us, dates involving mom or dad and one kid, and plenty of activities that combined siblings and parents in different ways. Matt spent most of his middle school years convinced that the minute he was in bed we broke out the snacks and movies for Dad, Nate, and I and celebrated. He struggled with the concept of Nate having time alone with Mom and Dad, and we were able to do a lot of heart work.
Children are a welcome part of the family.
There were times and places when your position as our child didn't give you special preference or a "right" to be there. This is a major pet peeve with most proactive parents.
When kids are little, they persistently interrupt or act out to pull mom's attention away from another person. It's strictly a power play and colossally selfish. Train that behavior out ASAP in three ways. Anticipate needs they may have: a drink, snacks, a game console turned on or toy from a high shelf and take care of that ahead of time. Secondly, teach them how to politely interrupt by placing one hand on your forearm and waiting quietly to be acknowledged. It may be wise to give them tokens ahead of time that only allow them to interrupt a certain number of times during your visit. Lastly, discipline appropriate to the age if they persist.
Beginning in the pre-teens, we went through another spike when you realized that adults are sometimes actually interesting, and you wanted to insert yourself in our conversation. Teaching social etiquette regarding conversation and having some kind of simple hand signal that encourages them to move on without embarrassing them are both ways to handle this issue. Ultimately, a teen is capable of realizing that we use our home and lives to minister to others and they are hindering that ministry if they join a private conversation uninvited. We're in the thick of training in this area right now, so I'll add more later when hindsight gives me a bit more wisdom.
Children are a welcome part of our family is one of our top parenting philosophies. So much of our proactive parenting bounces back to this statement it could almost be the motto for proactive parenting. As you minister to the broken families all around you, you will quickly see that they have to change one of more of the words above to reflect their troubles. Money is a welcome part of our family -- children, not so much. Children are a barely tolerated part of our family we secretly wish didn't exist. Children are the welcome focus and worship of our family, and woe unto those who don't worship our new gods. Children are a welcome part of every moment and situation -- what's your problem? All of those perversions above represent parents who reacted to this discomfort of parenting biblically and took the next exit to Easyville. And Easyville? It's only an illusion. Everyone's life -- mom, dad, child, siblings, and extended family and friends -- is terribly difficult there. Ultimately it turns out to be a wilderness where Mom is stranded, overwhelmed, and hopeless. If you find yourself in the wilderness, turn to Christ, and ask Him to point you to a Titus 2 friend who can help you back to the path of biblical parenting.
You are a beloved, welcome part of our family, Sweet Liss!