Monday, January 14, 2013

Intentional Doesn't Just Happen

Every time I post a parenting blog, I feel like this should be the warning label:

We are by no means perfect parents. My children don't wear pajamas, they fight over socks, and sometimes they pick an apple out of the trash can and start eating it. Just pretend like what I am saying comes from someone actually has it all together. The box of mothering I thought that I needed fit in, has actually been torn up, reworked, and taped back together a thousand different times. 

I have been thinking through the phrase "intentional parenting," here lately. Whether you are an atheist, a banker, an athlete, or a gypsy, we all have values we want our kids to pick up on. Parenting is like bowling. You don't just lob the ball down the alley in hopes that you get a strike. You get the right sized ball, you line up with the arrows, you take a few steps back, and you aim for the pins. Lobbing the ball haphazardly down the lanes might knock down a few pins, but it also might be knocking them down in the wrong lane. 

*Let me preface myself by saying, there are NO guarantees in parenting. BUT there is common sense and patterns of life habits. This does not mean that we force our children into an occupation or career tract. We are talking character issues, not career ones here. 

1. Helping your children find their voice. Most of the time it's easier if we just tell our kids to stop talking at the dinner table and in public. You avoid statements like, "My  mom and dad like to shower together" or "Why are boogers sticky?" But you also avoid questions such as, "If God loves everybody, why do some people go to hell?" This takes figuring out how to give your kids space to talk. Because of our large family size, we have had to resort to raising hands at dinner. While it sounds sterile, it gives everyone the peace of mind that they will get a chance. 

If we are in public and they want to talk to us, they put their hand on our arm and wait for us to acknowledge them. It would be easier to shoo them away, but that would also steal their desire to contribute. Our family values children who care enough to contribute. But if you don't allow them to have a voice when they are young, by the time they are teenagers, you will merely get silence and apathy. Let them participate in adult discussions. Have them be the ones who ask your dinner guests the first few questions. 

2. Do exercises for desired traits. We strongly value analytical thinking. That means we do logic puzzles for homeschool and play strategy games for fun. We are constantly asking questions like, "If there is a bowl and a spoon at the dinner table, what can you conclude we are having for dinner?" Simple things that keep their mind aware of putting pieces together. 

Maybe you are wanting your kids to be clear communicators. To that end, you would need to have them give brief presentations at dinner, describe an event in their own words, read the dinner menu out loud while trying to persuade you to order the night's special. 

Maybe you want your child to be artistically expressive. There should be an open, messy space where they can go to create without worrying about staining the curtains. Let them use your camera on an outing and then mess around with a photo editing software. Pull up Garage Band and let them compose their own music without you looking over their shoulders. If they want to do homeschool as a Jedi or naked Batman, let 'em. 

3. Building character, requires building materials. If you want your children to love and serve the community, then you need to give them chances to be in those environments at a young age. Last year, we had a family who jumped on a plane with 5-year old and 3-year old boys. Certainly it was not for the joy of traveling 26 hours with young boys that possessed them to buy tickets to come over. This family desires to raise children who love other cultures and desire to see God's work playing out around the globe. This took sacrifice and time on their part. It was hard and exhausting for them. But one year later and their boys are still asking about China. 

If you want your kids to love orphans, then find a care center around you and do play dates with those kids; volunteer at a pregnancy assistance home; befriend a family who has adopted and let you children ask those parents questions. You can't wake up one day and expect your 16-year old son to all of the sudden be overwhelmed with compassion for the orphans. It has to become normalized for him to think outside of himself and his Xbox. 

SimpleMom has some wonderful posts about living and parenting with intention.

I'm going to leave it at this for now. I like to try and keep things short enough for you to hide in your bathroom and read for the 5 minutes before your kids have another question. I hope this helps. It has really helped hubs and I keep ourselves focused. It's easy to look around and want certain things for your children. Pray and decide what your 3-4 are going to be and put both feet in. Don't look around and change out your vision for someone else's. Trust that what God has put in your heart is on purpose, and go with it. 

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