To me, parenting is the most important and the most unpredictable part of my life. For my husband and I, parenting brings us our greatest joys and our greatest challenges. We wouldn’t have it any other way!
Like so many of us, we had dreams of happy, joyful kids who would sleep through the night, have lots of friends, do well in school and grow up to be great positive citizens. I expected all this with little or no glitches on the journey. My husband and I have been blessed with four kids, one girl and three boys (now aged 29, 27, 19 and 17 and, presently, three beautiful grandkids). I am very proud to say that our children have grown into amazing people, each with their own skills and strengths. But the journey was not glitch-free.
Before having my own kids, I worked as a preschool teacher….and believed that I was well prepared for parenting! I understood children and child development. I was really good with the kids and could handle pretty well any behaviour or issue. Parents liked me and came to me for parenting tips and strategies. The truth of the matter is, though, I was the “best parent” before I even had children.
I found that the difficult times were those unexpected challenges we faced.My husband, was diagnosed with diabetes while in his 20’s which has resulted in a disciplined diet, unexpected foot and eye issues and sugar level highs and lows. Our daughter was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 17 resulting in surgery to remove her large intestine and life-long medical challenges. One of our sons has high functioning autism—he is a great guy with a wonderful personality, but working with his quirks and finding the appropriate supports for him was a challenge. Another of our sons had encephalitis at age 6 which resulted in some major learning difficulties for him. After learning to walk, run and balance again, he had years of educational and social skills therapy and will continue needing supports into adulthood. Our youngest son had laser surgery in his eye when it was discovered that his retina was detaching; his eyes do not move together when reading which resulted in vision therapy. Over the years, we have experienced many hospital stays and countless specialist/therapy appointments.
We found that through it all—through everything our family was facing—what our children needed the most was for us to “hold them close”—not always physically but by being available to them no matter what. We did this by spending time together, as much as possible. Spending time together for us means having meals together, camping vacations together, or just singing at the top of our voices in the van on the way to or from an activity or an appointment. Sometimes it meant being a listening ear in the wee hours in the morning or in a hospital room. Sometimes it meant listening to their anger at life and at God. At times, there was both tears and laughter. But, no matter what our kids were going through, they always knew we were there for them. Going the extra mile to deal with school issues or judgments from extended family has all been worth it. I clearly remember once when talking to my husband about a therapy that would be valuable, but very expensive, his response was: “Oh well, it’s only money . . . “. I feel lucky that we were truly able to put our kids first.
In my parenting, I have been influenced by the work of Gordon Neufeld, a developmental psychologist from Vancouver, B.C. Dr. Neufeld talks about the importance of attachment and the parent-child relationship. He emphasizes how important it is to hold our kids close, to be curious and involved in their lives, to be attuned to their emotions and needs, and to let them know, through every day, that we are available to them. My husband and I had already adopted this approach but when I heard Dr. Neufeld’s words, I felt assured that we were on the right track. Dr. Neufeld also talks about the importance of allowing kids to be kids, balancing structured activities with opportunities to explore, play, dream and be adventurous. We believe this, too.
We have always encouraged our guys to be creative and spend a lot of time outside. One March break Rueben (14 at the time) had a friend over and they decided to make a forge in our fire pit. A forge! They created a mound of dirt over a mesh in which they had a bed of coals underneath. They added pop cans into the fire where it melted and then poured the tin into a mold. To keep the fire going, they decided to use my blow dryer and burned out the motor. We were really impressed and took pleasure by their creativity, but also needed to hold Rueben accountable for destroying my blow dryer. He was asked to replace it and he did with an even better one.
Parenting for me has been and continues to be about relationships, about communication and about consistency. I believe our home has always been a safe haven in which our kids could truly be themselves; where they could relax, be silly, play, cry, get mad, retreat from the stress of the world. We have always assured our kids that they could come to us about anything. We tried very hard to stay open to the issues they were bring to us, even though we did not always agree with what they were saying. Sometimes, it was really hard, I have to admit. Like the time Reuben built the forge! But we kept on trying. We also feel that our home has been a secure base for our children, a place where they could try new challenges, take risks, celebrate milestones and make mistakes.
I feel the most important and toughest job on this earth is parenting; it is also the most rewarding. Studies show us that we parent the same way we were parented unless we have learned another way. I have had the privilege of being raised by loving parents and a family who spent time together; although not perfect, there was and still is a very strong connection. My children are grown up, or nearly grown up, now and I have the luxury of being able to reflect on my parenting. As a parent who has “been there” I am often asked for parenting tips. Here is what I often say:
Nothing matters as much as the relationship we have with our kids.
When we stay curious about them, open to what they tell us (or do), respond with firmness and kindness, and use empathy and understanding, everything else just seems to fall into place. As Gordon Neufeld says, “work the relationship and the behaviour will take care of itself”. Even when we have faced very difficult challenges, I have found this to be utterly true.
Value your child for who they are, both their strengths and their challenges.
My husband and I have raised four unique individuals and we love and value them so very much. I know it can be hard to stay connected to what we love and value about a child, particularly when they are misbehaving or creating all kinds of difficulty. However, it is when they are being their most difficult, that they need our love and support the most. Reminding yourself and your child about what is positive and strong in them, keeps us connected to that part of them…..and actually helps them get back on track.
Be predictable, loving and safe—no matter what.
We wanted our children to feel they could turn to us for anything so we worked really hard at listening and trying to understand our child’s point of view. It was not always easy and I can’t say we did it right all the time, but we got there. Our younger boys have enjoyed the benefit of the parenting skills we developed with our first two children—which is really good, because we sure needed those skills! We have always valued creating a home that is safe and loving though, even when we did not always know exactly what we were doing.
Be kind to yourself.
No one is a perfect parent. We all make mistakes and that is ok. What matters is, do we learn from our mistakes? I have always apologized to my children when I have messed up with them and our relationship has been stronger as a result. There are many ways to reach out and connect with other parents when you are struggling. I do. It really helps
The Joys and Challenges of Parenting: The Legacy Continues
These best part about implementing these strategies is that the legacy continues.
I’m Teresa’s grown daughter, Lydia. I feel like somewhat of a guinea pig because I’m the firstborn, but I can certainly say that, while not perfect, Mom and Dad did well. Really well. I am so thankful to have grown up in a home where I was accepted for who I was, challenged to go out of my comfort zone and pushed when I needed a little pushing (for the record, I still can’t stand job hunting and interviews, but the only reason I ever had a job/career was because Mom pushed me to hand out resumes and taught me how to interview effectively.) 😉
I now have a wonderful husband, Nick, and three kids…age 3 and under. Parenting is the toughest challenge I have ever faced and yet it is the most rewarding. I’m now reaping the benefits of growing up in such a strong, accepting, relational family. So much of parenting comes naturally to me…tucking my kids in at night, showing them love, encouragement, discipline and accepting them for who they are…especially accepting them for who they are.
I learned this first-hand as I watched Mom and Dad pouring themselves into helping my younger brothers develop the necessary skills they needed to graduate and become productive members of society. They saw their gifting; they noted their challenges and they worked so hard to help them become the best they could be. They didn’t live vicariously through us but accepted each of us for who we were and celebrated our differences.
The reason we sit down for dinner as a family 98% of the time is because Mom and Dad did it with us.
The reason I let my outdoorsy 2 year old son dig in my flowerpots is because Mom and Dad let me make mud cookies and build forts out of skids in our backyard (and let me tell you…he is the messiest kid I know!)
The reason I hug my daughter after a temper tantrum, rather than yell at her is because I know she is simply disappointed or tired and needs to work through her emotions, not be punished for them…just like Mom and Dad did for me.
The reason I can advocate on behalf of my family (whether it’s concerning a health issue or not overbooking our schedule for example) is because Mom and Dad taught me how to stand up for myself while showing the upmost respect for those in authority.
Mom and Dad did mess up, but from my perspective, I don’t remember much of it…just enough to know that they were not perfect. And really, that gives me grace. I know that I don’t have to be perfect for my kids to turn out really good…and I’m not in this parenting journey alone.