If you are a parent, you know there are no guarantees in raising kids. You can read all the books you can get your hands on, do all the right things, and still your kids end up making their own way. Their choices may not be optimal and opposite of what you’d do. But you do have some years to influence them. Greg and I feel fortunate our kids are now self-sustaining adults. But in our roller-coaster journey of raising kids, we still wondered what the endgame would hold.
We give five things we did right in raising kids, but readily realize there were plenty of things we did wrong. There is no single path for any child and most will agree no one is completely prepared for the responsibilities that come with parenthood. Those little bundles of joy turn into toothless balls of energy, to become defiant teens and finally, blossom to what we hope to be functioning adults!
We will cover boundaries, activities, holidays, natural ability and education. If you don’t have children or your kids are grown, we hope you can glean something here that will still help you with the kids in your life.
One: Set Boundaries
One of the first books we read was My First 300 Babies. It’s a short book but the principles given from the author, working with hundreds of newborns and their families, made a huge impact on us with the importance of order and schedule, clear from birth. The book is still available and it’s a worthwhile read.
We found that developing and keeping to a schedule brought a sense of safety and respect. It’s like safety rails for crossing a bridge. Those rails bring security and trust in order to safely walk across the bridge. Limits weren’t always easy to establish, but those limits ended up creating flexibility for us as parents.
Bedtime was fairly consistent and we decided they should be able to at least fall asleep in other places, not just their own bed. This meant we could eventually put them down most anywhere on a couple blankets (usually their blankets) at a certain time and they’d go to sleep. This gave us a lot of freedom as parents to visit friends or relatives from time to time and not always need a sitter. I realize every child and family is different in their approach, and this may not work for you, but don’t give up after one try. When you look at the benefit of boundaries, there are many ways to apply this to your situation.
Two: Participation in Multiple Activities
Today’s emphasis on sports is similar to when our boys were growing with sports club teams, travel teams and national competitions. These activities keep kids very busy and focused. But it also keeps the family very busy, sometimes too busy to even see grandparents or other special friends.
Instead of club teams, we focused more on family teams. Our kids still played all the sports but didn’t reach their full height and size until later in life so they weren’t stand-outs. They were good athletes, but not great athletes. They learned many great principles of working together as a team from their involvement, but the sport didn’t take over our lives. I will put a disclaimer here that we do have one that turned out to be a professional athlete. We saw his natural ability at a young age, but he grew late. He decided to pursue the sport in college and his natural ability propelled him quickly.
Music was another area we included throughout all primary and secondary years. I’m a strong believer in the benefits of music for spatial reasoning, creative abilities and hand-eye coordination. See: Music for Kids. You don’t need to have a savant child in order to pursue the arts. If you make music a part of their education, like math, it will lessen the temptation to push too hard. It becomes music homework. (Keys to the Keyboard is great for this!) The additional benefits and enjoyment of adding music appreciation is a life-long gift you can give your child.
Three: Family Holidays and Celebrations
We celebrated the main holidays together with extended family, though we didn’t have the monumental task of coordinating with step-parents, step-cousins, etc. I realize many situations involve many more pieces and personalities to coordinate than just the two sides of the family as in our situation.
Being together with parents and grandparents on the main holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter) not only honored them but built a bond of respect and created lifelong memories. It was very worth the effort.
Family makes you realize you’re a part of something bigger than yourself. I realize there are toxic situations within some families and I’m not promoting those at all. But values, respect and commitment to the family is caught more than taught by being together. The payoff is wonderful when we hear our kids say, I remember the times we had at grandma’s at Christmas with all our cousins. Then they proceed to tell of some funny incident that brings them to tears, laughing. See Family Holidays.
Four: Find Their Bent
Bent is an Old Testament biblical term taken from Proverbs 22:6 that says, Train up a child in the way he should go and he will not depart from it. Literally, this means according to his way and is interpreted as natural talent or inclination.
Each of our sons were very different in personality and abilities, but we tried to expose them to multiple areas without making too many judgements too soon. We soon found they each gravitated toward different interests, so we tried to nurture as much as we could yet realized they would need to make their own decisions.
By the age of two, we knew one of our sons would make a great attorney. However, he didn’t make that decision for himself until after he finished his degree in business. Beginning college, he had received a full ride scholarship in the area of bio-engineering, yet it wasn’t a good fit at all and he quit. He finally found another way to finish his B.A. in business. When a boxful of books then showed up at our front door, he announced he was studying for the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) which was in three months. It was his decision, he got the score he aimed for and is now a very successful attorney. Go figure! There was nothing we could do to push him toward a legal career. He had to decide for himself and take action.
Five: Importance of Education to be Self-Sustaining
We are strong believers in lifelong education. Our society has at least two, if not three generations that aren’t readers. With the exponential rise of technology (see: Crypto Currency & Bitcoin) and everything A.I., it is impossible to keep up with all the advances in tech. However, a lifelong learner doesn’t give up on tech and progress. My opinion is you don’t have to understand everything new, just enough to manage well. To do this involves reading and listening throughout life. (see Resources)
Education goes a long way in creating functional adults who contribute to society. Most everyone can keep in touch with teachers and find out what their child is learning and if access is denied, go directly to the school board. That is your right. They are elected officials. Homeschooling has increased in popularity, as kids learn so quickly. However, not everyone is cut out for homeschooling. But there are different forms of homeschooling, so it’s at least worth it to check it out. Thirst for continuing education can be sparked at a young age by parents or extended family. Some of what you learn in school is how to search for resources and information. This provides additional options as the average person changes jobs twelve times in their lifetime according to a 2019 survey. As of January 2020, the average employee stays 4.1 years with their employer.
Continuing education and research provide the tools to pursue something new, especially at mid-career or halftime. Being equipped with confidence to search for something new when asking that question Is that all there is? is something you can give your kids now. (see: Essentialism) Education should never end and developing that love for learning is a great gift we can give a generation.
Quantity Time vs. Quality Time
Memories can’t be scheduled. Teenagers are only teenagers once. Life will suck as much out of you as it can. Quality time doesn’t happen on a calendar.
So many memories are created with spontaneity. Within those memories, the stories grow through the years. I remember my father sitting back and just listening to my sisters and I jibber-jabber over breakfast. He always had a smile on his face, listening to us laugh and tease each other, recalling crazy things we did through the years. I find this is already starting to happen within our immediate family. Any time we can get them together, the laughter that occurs as we listen is such a joy.
Now having adult children, we have to remember they are adults. It’s not easy for me as a mom when I still visualize that little bundle we brought home from the hospital. However, they quickly remind me they are adults when I slip into mom-mode. A healthy focus lets us now be friends and partners in life. We can now look at the men standing before us and realize the summation of what we did right as they are successfully launched. That helps us forget the many things we are sure we did wrong. But they are now on journeys of their own and we have a healthy relationship with them. That’s all that matters.
There are many books on parenting but these are some classics that are worth reading: 5 Love Languages; Parenting Collection by James Dobson
Memories can't be scheduled.
Thought Leader, Keynote Speaker, Author
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