By: Tim Lawton, MD
Parenting – once you step through that one-way door into parenthood, you can never go back. Parenting changes your life, forever. It is a crash course in
selflessness. It is a kind of sacrificial love you never before imagined. It is being on-call 24 hours a day for someone who is completely dependent upon you. It is changing diapers. It is washing mountains of tiny clothes. It is spoon-feeding every bite. It is getting up when you’d give anything to just have a few hours of sleep. It is giving up the ability to finish a conversation, or take a shower, or go out to eat, or even finish a meal. Parenting is survival. But only when one can see the bigger picture does it all start to make sense.
Parenting has been the greatest challenge of my entire life, and also the most rewarding. Herein lies the secret. Successful parenting is an “all-in” commitment. It challenges your intellect, creativity, endurance and patience to grow beyond what you ever imagined possible. My wife and I both have significantly altered our original career dreams, but the new dreams we are building as parents are even more significant.
Parenting may come naturally for some, but it appears to be a skill that must be learned by others. I think one of the first steps to successful parenting is realizing that you can’t and shouldn’t try to do it alone. The experience and support of others can be a very valuable resource. During our first years of parenting, as I was finishing my medical residency, we were all alone in an apartment in Chicago, without family support close at hand. Exhausted, we moved back to Wichita to be close to my wife’s parents and family. Although I didn’t see it at the time, she recognized this as an incredible opportunity for our children to grow up in the nurture and guidance of extended family.
While advice from parenting experts, authors and speakers can be helpful, there is no substitute for the love and closeness of family. Nurture your marriage. Encourage your mate. God’s design for the family is one of the richest blessings we can know on this earth.
What happens if you are parenting alone or don’t have the support of extended family? Get help. Meet other parents. Get to know parents who are a few years further along in life’s journey. Adopt a grandparent. Be part of a faith community that shares your values. Pray for strength, patience, wisdom and love, one day at a time. Talk to a counselor, pastor or trusted friend. Read or listen to books or audio programs about positive parenting. Strive to keep life’s priorities in balance. We all make mistakes. Forgive yourself, learn, and move forward. Remember, the intensity and sleeplessness of early parenting doesn’t last forever. You will blink and your child will be starting kindergarten, then middle school, high school and leaving the nest for college.
Positive parenting is discovering and nurturing the strengths in your child. This includes not only the traditional abilities in academics, arts or athletics, but also extends to character qualities and virtues.
Creating lifelong memories is another important piece of building a successful family. We’ve also taken many trips together to enrich our family bonds and learn about interesting and scenic places. We’ve hiked and camped in National Parks. We’ve taken our children to explore their family roots in Illinois, Canada and Jamaica. We spent a month together in Kenya volunteering at a mission hospital, making new friends and learning about our beautiful and challenging world.
Positive Parenting is doing things WITH your child:
1. Plan a recipe, shop and cook together.
2. Plan time together: have a family game night, watch a movie together, make a fire and roast marshmallows, and read bedtime stories together.
3. Make mealtime family time – turn off distractions and tune in to one another.
4. Take family road trips – and bring books to share or audio-books to listen to (like radio-theatre). Enjoy the journey and stop at interesting sites along the way.
5. Make holidays special – share traditions, read about the origins of the holidays and how they are celebrated around the world.
6. Find activities that you and your child can enjoy and share TOGETHER – like scout camp outs, drama (on stage or behind the scenes), singing or helping your child learn to play a musical instrument, rock-wall climbing, cycling, cooking, exploring the out-of-doors, building things out of wood, fishing, gardening, fix-it projects, painting the house or deck or fence… the possibilities are vast.
7. Help your child with special projects, maybe a young writers and illustrators contest, a creative assignment for school, art projects, or Halloween costumes.
8. Set an example of patience, engaged listening, and kindness because by your example they will learn how to be loving and positive parents to their children someday. Be faithful and trustworthy.
9. Be flexible. Circumstances change. Kids keep changing and growing. Adapt and grow.
10. Model the kind of habits you want your children to have. Be calm. Slow down. Don’t be too busy for your children. Discipline in love. Hug often. Laugh often.