The following is excerpted from a recent edition of Lower School News, but the advice from our Head Of Lower School Michelle Alexander can apply to families with children of any age. Later this fall, Mrs. Alexander will welcome her fourth child.
There have been many times in my life where I have said that I wish there was a true parenting manual, where I could look up the answers to the questions that confound me as a parent. Have you ever had this thought when something happens and you have absolutely no idea how to deal with it? I know that I cannot be alone here. However, the more I thought about this, the more I realized that such a book could not exist, as there would have to be a different book for each child and each family, as we all have different experiences, as well as a myriad of beliefs and values. Yes, we have parenting books galore, but many of them cannot speak specifically to our day-to-day experiences.
A lot of times, we realize that experience is indeed a good teacher. Something happens, we react or respond to that occurrence, we make decisions, and then we watch the aftermath. At times, we achieve the expected or hoped for end, while at other times, we are confounded by the fact that our approach did not work. We get upset with ourselves, but we have to realize that this is what the parenting journey is like. It is a true exercise in trial and error. However, how we then use what we have learned from the experience makes all the difference.
And, sometimes, life throws a curveball at you that changes your perspective. It might not deal specifically with parenting, but it can influence how you parent. These moments can be just as precious and profound. This is actually where I found myself this summer. As I began to think about my newest adventure and welcoming a fourth little one into my family, I was immediately confronted with the fact that I needed to shift my thinking and my approach to a number of things. I realized that in order to make the most out of my time, to enjoy my family in this moment, I had to adjust my routines, as well as some of my philosophies. This had to be done because, more than ever, I felt keenly that time is fleeting and that childhood lasts for just a moment. Now, it does not always seem that way when you are going through it, but it is the truth of the matter. Having children who range in age from 15 to 9, helped to also reinforce this fact. I took from this summer some very important life lessons that I believe that we can also apply to parenting.
Lesson #1: Get Rid of Distractions
Many of us have so much on our plates as parents and we find that we get ourselves into a state of “busy-ness.” In fact, a number of articles have been written recently concerning how being busy has become somewhat of a status symbol in American culture. It seems that the busier you are, the more successful you are. However, this quest to be busy can sometimes lead us to forsake that which is most important, like spending true quality time with our children. With the advent of computers and smart phones, we are finding ourselves not only busy, but distracted, and time is passing right before our very eyes. In order to “slow down” time, or get the most of the time that we are given, we need to limit distractions so that we can be fully present for our children. Being fully present will lead to more meaningful conversations, as well as a greater understanding of our children and who they are becoming. Having this knowledge can help us to better mold them, to teach them, and to guide them in their own journey. Take the time to think about your distractors and then be intentional about ways to limit them. For example, I like to look at Facebook. However, I found myself wasting time scrolling up and down my Facebook feed, when I could have been using that time for more noble purposes. In fact, this knowledge led me to removing Facebook from my phone. I am not saying that you have to do the same thing. Just think about where you are spending your time and make the changes necessary for the benefit of your children.
Lesson #2: Enjoy and Embrace the Simple or Little Moments
I came to find that sometimes it is just the simple moments that mean a lot. As parents, we are driven to create huge experiences for our children. We want them to be well-rounded, to see new places, and do cool things. However, sometimes the most meaningful times are those that we take for granted, like sitting together at dinner, going for a walk, having a conversation, reading a book together, or even doing a puzzle together. These moments pack just as much punch for our children as the big moments, so make the most of them. You are still creating memories, and at the same time, you are sharing the message with them that spending this time with them is important. Trust me, they will thank you later!
Lesson #3: Know What is Urgent and What is Not
Things will happen in our children’s lives. They will have problems in class with their classmates, they will make a mistake, they will win friends and lose friends, they will forget to do their homework, and they will fail a test. This is a part of development. We experienced this ourselves when we were children. However, as parents, we can forget this fact and we automatically go to a red alert mode when things occur. We can find ourselves in a constant state of urgency, which is unnecessary. Living this way is stressful, not only to you, but to your children. In fact, this can even lead to anxiety in our children. We have to learn to evaluate situations so that we do not go immediately to the alert mode. When we learn about something, we need to use discernment and take a step back, think through the situation and then decide our approach. If we utilize this strategy, there will be times when we come to realize that the situations that our children find themselves in does not require our urgent response. Rather, it requires us to listen and to help our children to problem solve. Now, if our children are seriously hurt in some way, an urgent response is, indeed, needed.
These are just three simple ways that I could improve and take a new approach. I did find that as I put these into practice, the time that I spent with my children was more meaningful. Now, was I able to successfully do this each day? No, I was not. However, I know that each day is a gift and each day is new. Every time I am granted with a new day, I can make the decision to look inward and change my direction. The more often I put these lessons into practice, the more likely they are to become habits. I am making this conscious choice not just for me, but for my children.
I hope you, too, decide to pick up one or more of these lessons. They will make a difference.