Welcome to the KingZoo and Funny Farm, where we learn to live, laugh, and love together. Here you'll find snippets of life in our zoo, parenting tips we've learned along the way, reflections on shining God's light in this world, passions in the realm of orphan care, and our journey as parents of a visually impaired child with sensory processing disorder. Have fun!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Forever a student

As I've processed the wonderful feedback, both face-to-face and written, following the rites of passage blog, I have been surprised and humbled. My husband just says, "I told you so," since he's been asking me to write that into a blog for a while now. But he was born and groomed with a lot more self-confidence than me.

The same thing has been happening after King's Strings concerts, as we and our children share our stories and about how we are finding our place in God's story. One young grandmother, with tears in her eyes, shared how she wished she had parented purposefully. A great-grandmother, also with tears in her eyes, approached me to say that she also had seven children, but "I didn't parent them like you do yours." So for the many people who have asked for more information about "how we decide how to parent", here goes.

It is common practice in our academically-minded society to think that we can learn anything by reading a book. I've found that for myself, there are several problems with this method when it comes to parenting education. The first is trying to decide what books to read. The over-abundance of parenting materials makes it more difficult, not easier, to find good parenting advice. The second problem is that we have no way of finding out if the author's ideas and parenting methods worked out for him/her. I'd love to have some type of follow-up website where we can watch their children for several years to find out if they have grown into mature, responsible adults that I'd like my kids to emulate. Worse yet, some of these authors aren't even parents. Third, you can find a book to describe any type of parenting strategy out there. If we're honest, it's way too easy to choose the book that promises the easy way. Momma never said parenting would be easy. If it is, something's probably wrong.

This is not to say that we shouldn't read parenting books. In fact, I am currently reading a book on parenting. However, as I read these authors (husband and wife) and their parenting strategy of sheltering their children from the world around them, a parental "burying their heads in the sand", I really wish I could see their children now. The book was written long enough ago that their oldest would be in her twenties and their youngest would be in middle school. I want to know if their children are able to function in that "scary and damaging" world the parents wrote about. Are they able to work in and among the culture at large? Are they making a difference in the world? But I'll never know. So instead of relying on books to teach us how to parent, we've found a different approach that works better for us.

We have made ourselves students of parenting. Let's face it, I don't like school, at least not the view from a student's desk. I spent the obligatory 13 years in school, then completed four years of college to get that coveted teaching certificate, then even forced myself to take a certain number of graduate credits to get my permanent teaching certificate (before Pennsyvlania decided to no longer accept permanent teaching certificates but that's a rant for another day and another blog), but then I was done. I do not like going to school. I'd much rather be on the other side of the desk. Someday I hope to be able to audit classes somewhere. I'd love to learn for the sake of learning, without the pressure of homework, tests, or grades. And I would love to be one of those seniors (senior in age, not school years) who takes advantage of colleges that allow those with gray hair to take classes at a reduced rate. But until then, no more bookwork for me. However, when it comes to parenting my children, I get only one chance. There is no extra credit and there are no take-overs.

To accomplish this, I look around me. When I see a family whose children think and behave in such a way that I want my children to think and behave, I observe very closely. And these don't have to be grown children. One can tell pretty early on in a child's life if that is a parenting style you'd like to emulate or not. I have even been known to ask these parents what they have done differently in their parenting. The question usually surprises them but the ensuing conversation is always very interesting and helpful. The answers have never been based on any of the currently popular subjects like hospital vs. home delivery, epidural vs. "natural" delivery, bottle vs. breas tfeeding, cloth vs. disposable diapering, sling carrier vs. baby wrap, preschool vs. daycare, homeschool vs. public school .....you get the picture.

In fact, when I was the mother of 3 preschoolers, I purposely invited a family over with the intent of asking them how they did it and what they think set them apart in their parenting. This family also had 3 children, at that time 1 was in high school and 2 were in middle school. I had watched them for several years and knew that this was a family whose children were going to be strong Christian leaders. I wanted to be a student of their parenting advice. This led to several years of going to them for advice and wisdom and the mother became a strong prayer partner for me in my parenting. Now that they have 3 "grown" children, I know for certain that the family I chose to imitate was the right one.

Granted, there are children who have challenges and/or who are more strong-willed than others. It doesn't matter. You can still tell a lot by watching that child and his/her parents. Is the child maturing in the right direction? Do the parents address the issues and expect more? We all know families with children who have struggled with social, developmental, educational or attending challenges. But when there is purposeful and diligent parenting, you can tell. In fact, sometimes these are the parents to watch the closest and from whom you will learn the most.

For example, I can think of two families that I've observed for several years. In one, their son struggled with medical, social, and emotional difficulties as a young elementary student. Due to persistent parenting, however, he is a very well-adjusted and mature young man. These are parents I have learned from. On the other hand, there is another family with a child who was and is very bright, maybe a little more on the strong-willed end of the spectrum. I've watched a type of parenting that allowed him to always call the shots. As I look at their son today, I know that this is not a type of parenting I want for my children. These are obviously gross generalizations, but you get the point.

Okay, ready for the nuts and bolts? It's really quite simple. 1. Observe from a distance. 2. Get a little closer. Be proactive. Don't expect these families to come to you. In most cases, they don't see themselves as doing anything special. Invite them over. Choose to spend time with them. Take the initiative. 3. Go ahead and ask them the most pressing question. I like to just throw it out there: I see wonderful qualities in your children and I'm wondering what it is that you do differently. They might look at you blankly at first, but given time, they'll be able to come up with what you're looking for. 4. Go to them with specific parenting questions as they arise. Don't know how to deal with a certain behavior? Ask a family you've been watching.

Be prepared for what you hear. Be open to hearing things that are contrary to the way you've been parenting. Before you throw out the suggestions you've heard, think about it again. What is it in that family that made you ask the question, or observe them in the first place? Chances are, if they are farther along in the parenting journey than you, they are on to something good. And definitely spend time praying about it! (In fact, one of the most common answers I get when I ask parents what they think they're "doing right" in their parenting is, "We pray constantly."

And yes, I know that there are exceptions to every rule. Life happens. Each child makes his/her own choices.

And if you really want to learn about parenting through a book, don't use the close-your-eyes-and-point method. Ask the people who are already doing it best - the ones you've been observing.

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