As my kids grow and change and our family learns more about ourselves and each other, I find the focus of my parenting goals changes as well. Sometimes, important parenting themes last for a season and with more experience and knowledge of who our kids are, the things that are important to us shift. A few things I’m working on right now…
Oh how we all love a good label, a way both to define ourselves and save us the effort of figuring someone else out. “Save me the trouble, just tell me your Enneagram number.” Vegan. Paleo. Extrovert. Introvert. Suffers from anxiety. The Funny One. The Athletic One. The Artsy One. Enneagram 7. I love a good personality label as much as anyone else, but the challenging thing about labels is that we are ever changing (especially kids!), and when we label ourselves and everyone else knows that label, it can be difficult to break free from that generalization or evolve into something new. Yes, Lainey will probably always be more shy than my other two, and Dash stands out as our spirited family entertainer. I will reference those labels from time to time, but I never want to lock my kids into personality traits because I need a way to define them. I don’t want to be so loud with my “She’s shy! She’s shy!” proclamation that it drowns out the many times Lainey’s lively and extroverted with friends. It’s very freeing and enlightening to pull back a bit on the labels for my kids and delight in all the ways they surprise me–they’re constantly evolving, and I want them feel permission (and an invitation!) to do so. I loved one of the stories Kelly Corrigan shared in Tell Me More about her friend who adopted a baby, consequently having no immediate inherited labels to attach the baby’s personality to like we often try to do.
“MH and Leon had accepted the call to raise a child, not by railroading her into becoming a gratifying mashup of biology and dreams, but by allowing her to reveal her nature over time, in no particular order, with switchbacks and reversals along the way.” Twelve years later, MH still says, “I don’t know who this kid is.” Now she adds, “But she does. She knows exactly who she is. I’m just along for the ride.”
– From Tell Me More, Kelly Corrigan
Less Telling Them to “Be Kind,” More Complimenting “I Love How Kind You Are”
“Be kind!” “Look out for the kid who needs a friend!” “Make sure you include!” “I hope you were nice to her!” I’ve been hammering my kids with these messages since the day they were born, but at some point, constantly instructing “Be kind” suggests that I think my kids wouldn’t be kind on their own without my reminders. Lainey and I were recently talking about a situation at school with some girls, and I immediately jumped in with my obligatory, “Well I hope you were kind. You didn’t add to the drama, did you?” From her reaction, I realized my tone and questioning suggested that I didn’t trust her to do the right thing on her own. Of course she was kind! She’s proved so many times that she is kind and has been complimented many times by others for being a good friend to all. I want to do less nagging and more recognizing her natural inclination to be compassionate. I’m trying to switch those “I hope you were kind” responses to compliments that show I trust her and am proud of her: “I’m so glad she has you because that’s one thing you are so good at–being kind to everyone.”
More Night Time Reading
We’ve been a reading family since my kids were born and have children’s books galore in our home, but I’ll admit we used to do better with the consistent bedtime reading together ritual when they were all really little. However, I’ve been reading The Enchanted Hour, and the data regarding the benefits of reading aloud to your kids is stunning and enough to challenge me to recommit. The kids are loving it so much and holding me accountable. There’s no way I can get away with putting them to bed without reading aloud now–Dash won’t have it. Now if I can just convince him that we don’t need to read 7 books every night.
Less Bemoaning Falling Off the Horse, More Shutting Up and Getting Back on the Horse
The lapsed read aloud before bed tradition is a perfect example of how you can easily pick something back up in parenting without loads of guilt. As in other areas of life where we fizzle out on commitments–eating healthy, working out, waking up early–parenting offers a smorgasbord of opportunities to fizzle and fail. I want to spend less time bemoaning the fact that I fell out of a good habit and focus more on simply getting back to business. We are human. We’re going to fall off the horse many times. What sets a successful person apart from others is one’s ability to get back on the horse and keep riding without all the drama of beating yourself up for falling off. Better eating, healthier screen time rules, more reading, more snuggling, more play time together, better listening–it’s never too late to try again.