‘When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence’ – Thich Nhat Hanh
Music: I would say Justin Vernon is somewhat of a musical genius. His band, Bon Iver, is pretty special. Click HERE to listen while you read!
What does it take to raise our children properly? And when are they ‘raised’? How can we measure what we’ve done…what they’ve done…and decide if they’ve grown up, succeeded…if we’ve succeeded as parents?
I think about this a lot. And I’m always trying to gather answers from books (just finished ‘Duct Tape Parenting, and I loved ‘Parenting without Borders’…check my reading list HERE), and other parents, and family. Parenting is unique and intriguing. We’re all just trying to do what we think is best, and use what we believe to be, the most effective strategies in order to prepare our children for the future. Do we employ methods our parents used that proved to help us, and that left us with happy memories? Do we fall into inevitable patterns and behaviors that we swore to ourselves we’d never practice?
With the fact that I’m only 4 years into parenting, new experiences, and questions, and trial and error, have been frequently arising. It’s forced me (or allowed me) to strengthen my opinions regarding methods, search deeper for more understanding, and laugh when I catch myself thinking I’ve figured it all out. I have figured out a little actually, and have gathered some ideas I believe in:
Circle of Elephants
Our children do best with a strong support structure around them. We as parents can fulfill the immediate needs of our kids. But we can’t do it all. This is the ‘it takes a village’ idea. There are so many obstacles and challenges in our children’s future. There are many hyenas trying to get at our baby elephants. Our community is where we can find and select our other elephants that will create a circle around our calf.
|Matilda with her Aunt McCall|
We should look to our relatives, our friends, our schools, our neighbors, our church, our coaches and others that we trust to be part of our network. I think this is such a healthy way to ‘use’ people. And immediately that term brings up a host of negative connotations. However, along with a love, companionship, trust, and reverence we have for these folks around us, we can also simply appreciate that they all offer wonderful and diverse perspectives, beneficial for raising our kids. If this is a consideration of yours, you’ll be able to ‘use’ their help. And especially as the children grow older, they’ll hopefully see some individuals in the circle as mentors, and will be able to access them on their own.
There are 168 hours in a week. How much time did you spend last week in the immediate presence of your child? I mention ‘immediate presence’ because I feel strongly about our proximity, and accessibility, and availability to our children. We can’t be home, but removed. Nearby but inaccessible. And we can’t just rely on our Circle of Elephants, before we’ve created a strong, healthy pack at home.
|Matilda’s seedlings are fragile but resilient|
My daughter, Matilda was born prematurely, and needed to stay at the hospital for a month or so. Fortunately, the hospital she was delivered in (Catholic Medical Center), was practicing ‘couplet care’. This is an evidence based best practice in maternity care, encouraging the mother and baby to be as close and together as much as possible during their stay. I’m guessing the research and evidence with Dads is lacking…I don’t see much. And from my perspective as a single Dad, I’m starting to notice more discrepancies and cultural norms and interesting gender roles like that still present in today’s world. With that said, I still attempted to be as close to Matilda as possible, for as much time as possible…even so close as practicing ‘skin-to-skin’ contact when able, in order to strengthen our bond and concentrate on that connection.
Maybe we could consider Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule, in which he proposes that we need to practice something for 10,000 hours in order to achieve mastery. Maybe if we are around our children for that many hours…they will be ‘raised’! You see, I try to think of standard time with our children as addition. Just add up the hours. However, I believe in somewhat of a multiplier option. The closer you are to your children…the more multiplication is happening. Some might see this as ‘attachment parenting’. And by the way, the definitions for that mostly speak of a closeness for mother and child…doesn’t mention as much on Dads…there’s something wrong with that!
Anyhow, during the earlier stages of the child’s life, it’s even more exponential. I think we can make a single hour become 1.1 or 1.2 hours with this practice. Another way to multiply is to think of the intensity of the experience
together. This can be emotionally or physically. Think about if you went rock climbing with your child for an hour…and compare that to playing Angry Birds with them for an hour. This significance of the experience is multiplied on out. Be careful though, a once-a-month movie date does not compete with 30 days of dinner at the table together. It doesn’t add up.
If we are around our kids for an hour before school, and lets say three hours after…is that enough? 4 hours in a given day? Let’s also say we spend more time with them on the weekend…maybe 10 hours per day. So 20 hours on a weekend, and 20 total during the week. That’s 40 hours out of the 168 available. This is obviously a very general estimate…maybe way low or way high for you. But I would guess it’s close to average. Is it enough? Is that enough time for us to reach our goals as parents? Is it enough to raise our kids properly?
This, for me, brings in the question of schools or daycare. If a child is on the bus, at school/daycare, attending an after school activity for 8 hours a day/ 40 hours a week…that’s the same amount of time that we are spending on them…investing in them ourselves. It must be stated that we are placing a huge responsibility…an immense pressure…on those institutions we send our children to. At the same time, we as parents are holding a tremendous amount of trust and faith in these people and places.
|Matilda made this at her pre-school.|
I’ve been to school. I’ve found amazing teachers and mentors. I’ve had some bad ones. Some helped me overcome obstacles, and challenged me, and helped me grow. Some seemed out to lunch, cold, unavailable. I’ve also taught high school English, and held other positions at schools. I wonder if I was ever ‘out to lunch’. Oh no! There were definitely moments when I was! Sorry kids. And parents. I only say this because I’m not sure we think enough about how our kids time is spent, if our teachers are amazing…incentivized and rewarded to be such, if the administration allows that. “It’s a good school district,” is what I hear from many parents…but I often wonder where that came from and if they truly know what’s happening for the 40 hours a week…if their situation is truly the best use of that time. It’s such a hard question. And what are our options? Moving, private schooling, homeschooling, unschooling? Maybe it’s as simple as having that conversation with the teacher that you’ve been meaning to have. I think these are all worth exploring.
What are your best tips for parenting? What are the books or films that have helped you the most? Do you have a circle of elephants? Please comment, share, post, and follow if you like!