This past Monday we had a meeting with our social worker.
Why do we have a social worker?
Because for the past many months, Chris & I have been preparing to be a foster family. Since sometime in March, we have been having homestudy visits. Our social worker visits our home and interviews us on many subjects from our upbringing to our current daily routine.
This past Monday our homestudy meeting focused on our parenting styles - our parenting philosophies.
Since then, I have been chewing on the concept, and really searching inside myself: What is my parenting philosophy?
Our simple answer stated that we want to provide a safe consistent loving home, which will enable our children to grow up secure and loved, and set up for success. That our kids will become happy secure successful adults. Isn't that what every parent wants?
So, my question to myself has been: What the heck does that even look like? What does that mean? How will I live that out in real life? How am I living it out now in real life?
This blog entry is simply an expression of my mish-mash of thoughts since that day.
1. Love is not love unless it truly does meet the child's needs - not my need to have the child show me affection.
I know my love for my birth children is true & sincere beyond a shadow of a doubt because I know what I've gone through to have them. I know labour. I know what it's like to live on 1 1/2 hours sleep (literally) at a time for many days/weeks at a time. I know what it's like to walk a screaming child up & down the halls for minutes which stretch to hours with barely any relief. I know pain from trying unsuccessfully to nurse through thrush. I know the deep pain inside when I've had to give Liza a time out for throwing a temper tantrum, which only made her scream louder, which made me hurt inside because I knew that all was not well in her at that moment. I know what it's like to maintain self control through the pressure, to stay steady, to stay calm, and then after it all to have my devotion unchanging, or even to have it grow. Love when it is returned is easy, and most of the time at this young stage love is returned, but my love for my children does not depend on that return. I just love them.
My parental philosoophy on love is that I am the parent. It is not my responsibility or obligation to ensure that a child shows me love or affection - it IS my responsibility and obligation to ensure I live out love and express affection to my children. (And it's my joy.)
I know that I can extend this love to other children. I have watched children in many different settings from day camps to church nurseries over the course of 15+ years. I did not always enjoy it, but closer to when I was ready to have my own children, I noticed a deep change in my heart. I noticed that when I watched other children, I spoke with authority and the children listened to me. I noticed that I spoke and acted in love, and the children felt safe with me. I have encountered situations of children beating on other children, or pushing them, or saying mean names, and I have put the offending children in time outs and then spent time talking with them, leading them to repentence and asking for the other child's forgiveness. I know that kids act up, and I know that when they are set in a stable loving environment, many of their problems lessen because they feel safe and are able to grow.
2. Consistency means self development.
I believe that consistency and routine is one of THE most important parts of parenting.
Consistency is on my shoulders. Consistency in parenting means that I as a parent am consistent. In order to be consistent, I must purposefully live out my life. I must think before I act. I must work on myself: I read books on parenting, I talk with other parents who I see to be successful in their parenting & I want to learn from them, I try out the concepts I learn, I learn from my mistakes. I do all these things and it is very important to me to continue to do all these things. I think it is very important to always be developing oneself. This is an active lifestyle - not a passive one. I must actively make time to read, to talk with other parents or mentors, to journal or meditate/reflect on my days and think about whether my actions are in line with my values.
It is not easy to be consistent all the time. It is not easy to grow or to change. The only way I have found to help this process is to make it a constant part of my life. When I stop reading, when I stop communication, when I "take a break" from self-development, then I get lazy in my own growing process. It's just something I need to do to stay healthy, mentally & spiritually, and then my attitude & lifestyle reflect that, and this gives me strength to make right decisions, to make my life line up with my words & beliefs, and to remain consistent.
The buck stops here.
That's what consistency means to me. It means that I feel I am the parent. The responsibility lies on my shoulders (and Chris' with me - we are married, we are partners, we live and parent together). Consistency means to me that I work to set up a routine and a lifestyle of consistent behaviour that will allow our children to be set up for success. Success in their growth, and their behaviour, success in that they will have the platform they need in order to move forward.
Consistency means that however I want my children to be, that is who I must be.
They will not learn from my words but from my actions.
So I live with that in my heart, knowing that how I act, that is what they are absorbing. How I let my attitude be - whether relaxed or angry or peaceful or scared or stressed or joyful - these attitudes, my responses to life, and how I choose to act upon them or passively let things be, these are the concepts that my children will absorb and learn from me.
My job is not to make my children better than me.
But my job is to be a better person for my children.
In the day to day, consistency & routine means that we all have a bedtime. We eat meals at the same time every day. We have play time. We have reading time. We have nap times. We have times that we go out together as a family, to church, or shopping, or to visit family. We have daily & weekly routines which are very important to us. We give thanks to God before we eat supper together. We all eat meals together at the table so that we can interract and maintain relationship. These are things we do consistently, on time: our lives are full of the expected, and brings us and our children peace, security, and keeps us connected. We are a family, this is our home, and we are consistent.
3. Unity within Our Family
Chris' & my marriage comes first. Chris is my husband, and even after only 4 years, I feel him as though he is a part of my own body. I sense him near and I sense the loss of his presence when he is far, even just not in the same building. When we are on the same page, when we discuss whatever issues or thoughts we might discuss and are completely open with each other - there is nothing like that kind of unity. He knows everything about me and I about him, and the freedom of such intimacy in a relationship that is loving & forgiving & so accepting - nothing compares.
The success I have had in business, in other relationships, in my own emotional well-being / personal growth, has all been a process of our marriage.
Do you understand?
It's like with $250,000.00 I can buy a house, but with $500,000.00 I can buy a mansion.
We are not two houses, we are a mansion.
Together, in unity, I find more inner strength than I ever knew existed. Together, in unity, I find more fulfilment physically, emotionally, mentally, than I ever knew existed. Together, in unity, I can do anything: we can do anything. I feel not only my small portion of strength in different areas, but I feel his as well. And together it's not addition of life resources, but multiplication - we can accomplish so much more together than alone.
What does this look like in my parenting?
It means that I must nurture my husband and our marriage relationship in order to be a good parent. It means that we go on dates. That we talk. That we spend lots of time together. It means that we defer to one another - that we respect each others values and try to meet each other's needs. It means that we relieve each other when the other needs a break. It means that Chris stays home with the kids one night a week while I go out with the girls, and vice versa. It means that we try to get a baby-sitter at least once a week so that we can go out alone together. It means that we try to go to bed early enough to spend time together. It means that we do not entertain any thoughts pertaining to having our intimacy needs met elsewhere, in any other way besides with each other together. It means we pray together and for one another. It means that if things are off, if we are having a bad day or week or month, that we recognize it as quickly as possible and then put it at the very top of our priority list to make things right and to spend time together in ways that will grow and develop our relationship, and nurture each other, encourage each other, understand each other.
It means that I must die to myself.
Marriage is the death of myself, in exchange for the life of us. It's not easy to sacrifice, to choose his needs over my own, to love him more than myself, to watch out for his best interests. I want to take care of me! And often I do fall, so to speak, and hurt him because I am "taking care of me and my wants", but that is not my heart. I know that single me is dead, and married me is SO much better, and I value "married me" far beyond the petty issues which encourage me to make "single me" decisions. I choose marriage everyday. I choose Chris everyday. It has been a very humbling and very freeing and amazing experience to morph into this new person - this new person of "Mr & Mrs".
4. Teachability / Flexibility
First in myself & my husband, then with our children.
I have summarized above "My Parenting Philosophy," but I am not perfect. This philosophy is what I value, and who I strive to be. I do and I will make mistakes. I don't try to make mistakes, but I am not perfect. I must keep that close to my heart: the fact that when I fall, I am to repent or make things right, then pick up and keep going. I love and I work to be a loving person, but sometimes I say or do mean things. Like not watching a movie with my husband because I don't feel like it, even though it wouldn't hurt me and he really wants to spend the time cuddling with me & enjoying a good show. I want to be consistent, but there are times I'm late for meetings or forget to make lunch at the right time. Oopsy! I make amends, deal with the current situation, and try to set myself up to do better next time (like setting an alarm, or beginning preparations earlier).
And as I do & will make mistakes and must have grace for myself, I must also have grace for my husband, and for my children. Because none of us are perfect. When the kids misbehave or deliberately disobey or make wrong decisions or don't do what they are supposed to, I must have grace. We will not always be perfectly on time, or get perfect grades, or say the "right" things to our neighbour, or remember an important date, but it's ok. Tomorrow will still come and everything will be ok, so we can relax and have peace through the process.
And just because I've written an essay on my parenting philosophy, that does not mean I am an expert in all of these areas. But it does mean that I value these areas very highly and it is my goal in my everyday life to continually grow & develop in these areas. These are my values and it is my mission in life to live them out.
Ok, enough for now.
Your thoughts in response?