“We’re going to have a baby!” Those are the words that I told my husband almost five years ago when I first learned I was pregnant with our first child. I didn’t know it then, but what I should have said is something like this: “We’re going to have a baby who will grow up into an adult, and it is our responsibility to make sure that he becomes a good one!” Somehow that doesn’t roll off the tongue in quite the same way.
But the reality is that our children will be adults one day. And my job as a parent is to help them tackle the journey from tiny human to big human. As it turns out, that’s way harder than I thought.
It’s funny how easy parenting seemed when our first son was a baby. He kind of just did what we told him to do because he didn’t think there was another option. But as his personality developed, so did the interpersonal struggles in our family. Once it dawned on Leon that he had a say in things and some agency in his own life, things became really tough. Add to that Leon’s innate belief that he is the center of the universe, and well, suffice it to say that we’ve had some rough moments in the Dove house.
The other night there was a particularly epic battle of the wills between Leon and me. Afterwards, I slumped down on the couch next to my husband. Exhausted and defeated, I looked at him and said, “This is hard.” And all at once it hit me. We had been duped. We thought that the hard part of raising kids would be the sleepless nights, constant feedings, and insatiable crying that comes with a newborn. But as hard as that was, the end goal of those tasks was keeping our baby alive and happy. Now, things have become much more complicated because the end goal is for him to become a successful adult. And honestly, I have no idea how to make that happen.
Thankfully, my husband and I are surrounded by a proverbial village of people that help us. Recently, we had the opportunity to be a part of a small group at our church that focused on identifying long-term goals for our family and intentionally implementing strategies to achieve those goals. Through the lessons and discussions, my husband and I realized that we’re not failing (completely) at this parenting thing, which was a bit of a relief. But we also received some tools to help us be more deliberate in our parenting.
First, we identified our personal values and determined which ones we would like to pass along to our children.
This was actually a really interesting and enlightening thing to do; I assumed that my husband and I would share all of the same values, but it turns out that he and I differed quite a bit in what we deemed important. As we compared our lists, I really saw the nuances of our personalities in a new light. When we discussed the thought process behind each of our choices, we realized that our core beliefs are very similar. (Whew, we were nervous there for a second.) But the way we go about acting on those beliefs is different. What a great thing for us to be able to teach our boys. That we can all believe in the same things, but we can live those beliefs in different ways that complement our personalities, gifts, and individual desires. Thank goodness we don’t have to raise our boys to be just like us. We can raise them to be themselves and help them do that in the best way possible.
Next, we developed a vision for our family.
Okay, I’ll admit that at first I thought this was a little goobey. Touchy-feely is not
really my style, and this sounded like something that June Cleaver might suggest. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. All successful organizations have an idea of where they want go, And they have specific ways they intend to get there. It seems only logical that as the head of our own little organization, my husband and I would do the same. So we used our values as a launching point to set long-term goals for our family. I was pleasantly surprised that our goals were less material and more existential. We focused less on things like jobs and money and status and more on things like character and faith and consideration for others. Because I know that if our boys possess those qualities, the material things will most likely come as a byproduct of them.
And finally, we developed some specific things we can do to achieve our family vision.
We focused on practical, everyday, achievable things that we can implement to develop and foster our values in our sons now. And that will sustain those values later in life.
Now we’re two weeks in (so we’re practically experts), and I’m seeing some really neat effects. For starters, I have adjusted my own attitudes and behaviors to fall in line with our family values and vision; I can’t expect my four-year-old to exhibit qualities I’m not exhibiting myself. Also, I filter my reactions and interactions with my sons through the same lens. I find myself dictating less and discussing more. My approach to discipline and correction has become less authoritarian and more instructive. And guys, you won’t believe this, but it’s working!
I have no doubt that the road ahead for our family will not be all cupcakes and rainbows. But I feel like we’re headed in the right direction to purposefully help our tiny humans become happy, healthy, successful big humans who will make this world a better place.