Thursday, July 21, 2016

Parenting Intentionally

Recently, my husband and I read this fantastic article (followed by this one) about how to create a positive family culture. It was a fantastic read and it really got us thinking about what we are teaching our kids, and whether it's intentional or not.

So while we were on a long road trip with the kids snoozing in the back of the van, we started discussing what we want our family culture to be like: what we want our priorities to be, what our expectations are, and what kind of people we want us (and our kids) to be. We talked for a long time and filled a page with ideas. We wrote down words like adventure, harmony, traditions, education, dreams and love. We talked about families we looked up to and specific things the did that we wanted to incorporate in our own family. We wrote down our ideas for family activities that could foster the type of culture we'd been talking about building. And then we took a big look at our list and tried to pick out the most important things. Eventually I'm hoping to take those main ideas and turn them into a functional family mission statement. But for now, at least we have a start.

Even though our mission statement is not complete, we've made some changes to our daily life because of the things we talked about. For example, one of the things we talked about wanting to be part of our family culture was physical activity. It's always been important to Forrest and I, and we want to pass our love of sports/fitness/outdoor activity to our kids. I do a lot of playing with the kids at home, wrestling, swimming, riding bikes etc. but Forrest is often at work when we do those kinds of activities. Then he would get home from work at 6, we'd eat dinner, give the kids a bath and then put them in bed. There wasn't much time for "family activities" in the evenings. However, our kids (Charlie and Caroline, to be more specific) lately have been beasts to get to sleep. We lay them down at their normal bedtime (around 7:30) and then sit and wait and tell them to get back in bed a million times until they finally fall asleep around 9 and we are exhausted and frustrated. So after our discussion and list-making exercise, we made an executive decision: after dinner, we have family activity time for an hour or two before bed. Now when Forrest gets home from work we eat dinner and then ride bikes, or go to the park, or go swimming, or go on a walk, or play outside with a ball. And then the kids go to bed at 9, completely exhausted and they fall right to sleep. No fight. No frustrated parents. And we got to spend time together as a family, doing things with our kids that are important to us.

The idea of parenting intentionally has changed the way I look at our day. The way I look at our activities, priorities and pastimes. I've gone from just surviving (which is how I often used to describe life with 3 kids under the age of 3) to doing things on purpose. I feel like a better parent because I'm thinking about what I want to teach my children ahead of time, and then when I find myself in a challenging situation I find I'm better able to react in a positive way. It's important for me to teach my children responsibility. So when they messes (many of you saw Charlie's otter pop mess in the bathroom the other day), I make more of an effort to have them help me clean it up, even when it would be way easier and faster for me to clean it up myself. (In that instance, I locked all 4 of us in the bathroom with a bag of baby wipes and gave each of the kids a wipe and told them to scrub the floors and walls until their wipe was dirty, then I gave them a new one. It took us a while, but the kids cleaned it all up.) I've also started giving my kids more chores. They LOVE helping with the laundry, washing dishes, unloading the dishwasher, etc. but for a while I just did it myself because it was easier and cleaner. Now they are responsible for putting their dishes into the dishwasher after meals (I have to be careful with this one because Charlie sometimes gets confused and throws his dishes away haha), loading and unloading the washer and dryer, putting their clothes away after I fold them, washing dishes, vacuuming and sweeping the floors. That's not to say that I never vacuum, sweep, or do laundry or dishes anymore. Most of the time when they are doing those chores, I'm helping them. But I try to make it clear that it's their responsibility and mommy is just helping.

I know we still have a lot of work to do. I imagine we'll be redefining our ideal family culture pretty regularly over the coming years. But for now, I can see the changes we've made starting to take effect. The kids LOVE family activity time, and every night at dinner they ask what family 'tivity we get to do that night. I've also noticed that now when they make a mess, they are instantly searching for a towel to wipe it up. And I'm taking that as a win!

Have any of you created a family mission statement? If so, I'd love to hear it!

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