Sunday, July 29, 2012

Strategic Parenting 101: Full Course

Note to readers (if any);
I've been working on this one for a long time.  It's long, drawn-out, and morbidly boring in an enlightening sort of way.  I wanted to record some of my parenting ideas, and it's not finished yet, but I'm about to publish this year's blog book, so I'm posting it.

I.  Welcome.  Today we will begin our quite lengthy discussion with Young Adult Literature societal themes and how they apply to parenting.  We'll also touch upon other literary sources such as the bible, and how parents in general need to use strategies to accomplish desired outcomes.  Then I'll explain some of the stuff I try to do as a parent.   I'll even include some meal ideas.  (Wait! Don't leave!  I've got some profound thinking going on here...  OK, go.  Whatever.  I'm mainly writing this for myself, anyway.)

I love to read historical fiction, and award-winning young adult novels.  They're usually interesting, well-written, entertaining, and clean.  I love Louisa May Alcott, among many others.

One of the things that appeals to me about the books written by Louisa May Alcott is the focus she puts on parents and their role as teachers, comforters and mentors for their children.  Little Women obviously, but also Eight Cousins and An Old Fashioned Girl compare and contrast life with conscientious parents vs. absentee or self-absorbed  ones.  I don't agree with all of her theories, but the idea that a mindful parent or caregiver can influence a life for good really resounds with me.

The Anne of Green Gables series, As I Have Loved You, and most of the books on my Favorites list are there for the same reason.  I want to be the kind of parent that God wants me to be, to one day have my children, "...rise up and call me blessed."  I feel that I owe it to my children, and to my Mother(s) who have worked hard to teach me, and have sacrificed (and continue to do so)  that I might have joy.

The scriptures are full of examples of parenting.  Father Abraham's great love continues to be a blessing to his posterity today, while the Jewish people are still suffering from the curse their ancestors placed on them as they called for the crucifixion of Christ.  For more discussion on this topic, go to church.

Anyway, YA literature has changed quite a lot in the last few years, and it seems to me that a big theme currently is that adults disappoint, but we can still choose to be happy.  I like the message, but it makes me sad, too.  I feel that we are failing our children in many ways.


The world tells us that we should take care of #1.  We should fill all of our own needs, have our own lives, and then if we want to, we can have a baby and then hover over the child, hand it over to someone when it's inconvenient, and use the kid to fulfill our unmet needs for glory.  Self-absorbed parents cause dysfunction, and well-meaning parents create monsters with their overachieving hyper-parenting.

It's socially unacceptable to break the "Zero Population" rules of two people having more than two children.    But, if you need more welfare, have another kid.  Kids are resilient, so if we failed to set up a stable environment for them, and now they need to bounce between homes or adapt to distressing situations, no biggie.

On the other end of the spectrum, but just as damaging, we put our kids in pageants and music and sports and over-schedule them to tears.  They need the most expensive car seats, to wear the latest fashions and go to the best schools.  No matter what they do we think it's glorious, and we stand behind them against teachers and authorities.  Their immediate wants are gratified, they are the center of the universe.  We want them to be happy, and act as friends instead of parents.

I would like to suggest that we step back and think about parenting more strategically.  Many kids are growing up unable to work, feeling entitled to everything, or lacking knowledge about how to form deep bonds.  Some have very limited experiences with stability; some reality.

I believe that most parents want their children to be happy.

In my opinion, happy people:
1.  Are grateful
2.  Have the ability to love and be loved
3.   Are skilled communicators
4.  Are lifelong learners
5.  Accomplish meaningful tasks; setting goals and evaluating progress
6.  Appropriately take care of themselves physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally
7.  Serve and contribute to society in positive ways
8.  Make good choices and recognize and enjoy the consequences of those choices
9.  Improve themselves and learn from mistakes (Humble/Teachable)
10.  Understand the importance of moderation
(Among other things...)

Just as the most successful businesses and organizations have a strategic plan for short and long-term progression, I think that parents should be strategic and goal-oriented.

Now, just as a disclaimer, my kids are still kids.  None of my theories have actually proven themselves in the real world producing contributing adult members of society.  This is kind of like when I was pregnant with my  first, and I had a lot of ideas about what "good mothers" should and shouldn't do.  (Most of which, of course, had to be discarded the first month or so, when I realized that I would never again be well-rested, or even mostly functional.  Also, stuff happens.)

But the following ideas are things that I have gathered from friends and family members who did actually raise productive citizens (or who seem to have really great ideas).  They're also things that I have been impressed to implement as I've plead desperately for Heavenly guidance concerning my little heathens.

My motivation for sharing is mainly that I thought it would be a fine idea if some of my best mothering stuff was written down and saved.  I print the blog into a book each year, and that would immortalize my great wisdom.  (Or, it could serve as a kind of "What Not to Do" source if it all falls apart.  Either way, informational.)

Please take this all with a grain of salt.  There are plenty of "survival days" where we're all still in our pajamas at 1:00 in the afternoon, and it's every-man-for-himself-cold-cereal-for-breakfast-and-lunch-and-possibly-dinner.  Sometimes it's all I can do to keep everyone alive for one more day.

Most of life is picking up and facing forward and trying again and again and again and little bits of progress that eventually add up...

Sometimes we're the 11 year-old who teaches the tiny neighbor girls a 4-letter word with his friends,
The kids whose Mom sent them to school with the stomach flu who then puked in the hall,
The family who is late a lot,
The Mom who forgets because she didn't write it on the calendar,
The kids with the "Wall of Boogers"
The students who didn't hand in the permission slips because they were under a pile of dishes stuck to the counter with chocolate syrup,
The yard with the collection of neighborhood socks...

You get the idea.  But here are some ways that I'm trying.  I'd love to hear your best ideas.


1.  First of all, I have realized that the only One who understands any of these lunatics I live with is the Lord. So I pray my brains out.  I pray that I will know how to help each person in the best way for that individual.  Something that was absolutely brilliant for one child is bound to cause permanent emotional damage for the next.  I also pray that the Lord will help me filter out all of the chaos and key in on the important stuff.  I desperately hope that I won't miss something important because I was distracted by the circus.  I also heavily rely on the Atonement to bridge the gaps between what I did and what I should have done, or what the child needed.
I really want my kids to gain their own solid relationship with God, to KNOW that He hears and answers their prayers, and to turn to Him for comfort and guidance.  We pray together as a family, and encourage them to pray morning and night at least on their own each day.

**I've got a set of parents that are praying for their grand-kids--specifically that if one of them does something potentially life-altering-naughty-bad, he or she will be caught immediately so that it can be nipped in the bud.  Brilliant.

2.  I can't teach my kids anything that I'm not doing or at least striving for myself.  "Do what I say, not what I do," doesn't really float.  This is the concept that really trips me up sometimes.

As a couple we both really strive to have our own personal scripture study and prayer daily, go to the temple weekly, serve others, work hard, read, set goals, take care of ourselves physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc...

Handsome Prince, being who he is, is a lot better at all of this than I am, but I really try, and we both try to let the kids see what we're doing.  "Modeling" is what it's called in education.

*In my opinion, this is one of the reasons education is so important for parents, formal and informal, but constant and varied.  Many of my best ideas have come from classes, workshops, articles, books and lectures--many that weren't directly linked to parenting.


3.  Write it down!  Someone wise once said that if you think it, it's a wish:  if you write it, it's a goal.  Writing things down makes everything more strategic and detailed.  If it's not written down, chances are it won't happen.
Each Sunday I meet individually with each child and I encourage each of them to write down the notes from our discussion.  It teaches them journal-keeping, letter-writing, goal-setting, progress evaluation, etc...More on that later.
It's important to me that I keep a record, as I forget things later.  So I write in my journal, and I write to entertain myself, and I write to serve others.

I also like to write letters to each of my kids periodically to let them know about what things they are doing developmentally, funny things they've said or done, goals and hopes I have for them, and to let them know I love them.  I put these letters in each child's "Baby Book" (NOT a scrap-book!)

Sunday Conferencing:

One of the most inspired things I do is the one-on-one "Sunday Conferencing" with the kids.  They each have a "Sunday Notebook" that I encourage them to write in.  (Some only write a tiny bit, some draw pictures, and some simply refuse and that's OK.)  I try to keep this time as positive as I can.
During the week, I think and pray about and for each child, and tuck away ideas of what I want to chat with them about when it's their turn. We revisit the previous week's conference, a sort of "Return and Report" assessment of the goals set previously, etc...They can write about the week in their journals.

I record volunteer time, money earned and saved, and we talk about the calendar.  This is a good time for the child to bring up things he/she needs or any concerns.  I try to recognize something good from the last week, or compliment the child about something.  Then we discuss and work on some of the following:
Scouting, work, finances, volunteering, spiritual development, individual Patriarchal blessings, behavioral problems, physical fitness, social skills, school, YW Personal Progress, Primary Faith in God award goals, Duty to God activities, thank-you notes needed, social plans, life goals, short-term and long-term goals, the weekly jobs, human growth and development and anything else that the child or that I wish to discuss.  I take notes in my Sunday Journal.

Some of the conferencing is done in whole or small groups.  We often discuss the calendar for the week as an entire family just before family scripture study.

 The four oldest children and I spend about 1/2 hour studying Preach My Gospel, the missionary handbook which teaches basic doctrine and missionary work.  Sometimes we'll also study the LDS Annual General Conference talks together.  I make sure that they each receive their own copies of the conference issue of the Ensign to study from and mark.
A lot of Sunday Conferencing, (along with a lot of our life) is hit or miss.  But, we're facing forward.

*Some of this inspiration came from a sweet 1st Grade teacher that Mr. Lamadingdong had.  She told me once that in order to really get to know her students, she would focus on just one student for a day.  She would quietly notice who he sat by at lunch, what he liked to read, do and be during the day.  As she mindfully tracked an individual, she found that she understood them better, and loved them more.   
As I have fasted and prayed for each of my children individually, and spent Sunday time and also other time with them one-on-one, I have learned to love them and know them better.  They're amazingly unique!

These weekly chats help us to reinforce family goals and expectations.  They keep the kids on track with

1. Volunteering/community service
2.  Schoolwork
3.  Household chores--More in a minute about this.
4.  Paying jobs, savings, tithing and money management.

During these and more informal teaching moments we use positive family statements like:
"Keeley Kids
                  are loyal
                  work hard
                  go to college
                   are honest
                   leave camp cleaner than we found it"

Well, in theory.  We're still working on a standard of cleanliness, it's a constant battle.  Here's the theory...
The house is divided into areas:  The Living Room, The Kitchen Counters, The Kitchen Floor, The Sink and Diswasher, The Kitchen Table, The Family Room, and The Bathrooms.  Each child is assigned a job for one week, and then rotates through the jobs in order from oldest to youngest.  Each job has an age/ability appropriate list of tasks.  Each child must do his/her job, clean his room, and put away her own laundry, and complete homework in the school year, do two extra jobs in the summer.  This must be done before paid work or play.  We are on a rotational basis with loading the dishwasher.  All work and no play...doesn't happen here.

It takes a lot of work to co-ordinate time together, but it's worth it. (Mostly)

FHE once a week.  Painful sometimes, but we do it.


Vacation.  (I'm not sure if this word means what we think it does.)

See previous post.  I'm trying to offer 3 fruits/veggies at dinner.

Along with feeding our own people at meal times, we have found that one of the keys to having the kids hang out at our house is having food for friends.

I try to have fruit, chips, cookies and other assorted forms of snackage available.  Friends know that they are  welcome to eat anything that is sitting on the counter.  I make a point of popping popcorn and pulling out hidden goodies when teens arrive.  It makes them feel welcome and view our house as a hangout.

*I learned this from my Mother-In-Law.  It took a while for me to figure out why her home was such a magnet, and there are many other things that play into it, but this is a major one.

I know I can't save the world, but I can make children and teens who come into our home feel loved, valued and comfortable.  Many of my happiest times came while in the homes of my friends.  I hope that visitors see that there can be a spirit of co-operation and fun, that big families are awesome, that Christ can abide in a home.  I hope that we can be a source of inspiration for family, high standards and solid values. I want them to laugh and have fun and feel good.

COMMUNICATION skills are important, and we can learn them with our friends.  When kiddos come whining or tattling, I help them to work it out using, "When you_____, I feel ______." and reflection communication.  (Repeat it back in your own words until you get full understanding.)  I make them work it out and mostly refuse to play referee.  "What could you say to fix the solution?"

Sometimes I help little visitors see that there are two choices, 1.  Keep the rules   2.  Go home.

I discourage whining and tattling.

*Learned this and about everything else from my Mom.

A little bit of humor goes a long, long, long way!

Long ago, I realized that the consequences for a child's bad behavior ought to benefit me.  (Grounding is a "mommy punishment"--dishes teach lessons and give one time to reflect on evil.  And they make my life easier.) 

We try to also make the punishment a logical consequence of the naughty choice.  This way the child learns that "choices have consequences."  (Life Lecture # 314   Roger Rowan.  While we're at it, we might as well throw in "Freedom Comes With Resposibility"   Life Lecture #227 Roger Rowan)

We try to give kids one-on-one time, recognize their accomplishments, and see them how the Lord sees them.  We pray for inspiration for each child.

This is the hardest job I've ever done, and I fail every day.  But I feel that I owe it to my family to do my best and keep trying, and continue to move to the next level of parenting.  My parents did it for me.

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