family life / parenting / philosophy / what I've learned

thrive, finding a vision for our family

 thrive: advance, do well, get ahead, get better, grow rich, prosper

The question is not how to survive, but how to thrive with passion, compassion, humor and style.” Maya Angelou

Is my family thriving? Some days just getting by feels like it surely must be enough. The kids are fed. They poured themselves a bowl of cereal, I think. They’re dressed. Well, he did wear that outfit to bed, but it’s relatively clean. And kept out of harm’s way. Until I realized a hot cup of tea shouldn’t be sitting on a side table when toddlers are around.

Why should I seek for my family unit to thrive? No one is watching (unless of course they are, then we’ll seek to thrive). It’s hard enough not pegging myself as dysfunctional when I realize that scolding and commanding might not be an effective strategy in getting them to stop being unkind to their siblings. How then to thrive within the confines of the family unit? Well, a word from someone wise: “dysfunctional family is redundant“. Ain’t no perfection anywhere.

Yes, dress them. Feed them. Keep em safe. But I know there’s more, a daunting task. Reality is, the role of parent is bigger than we thought and never ending. We started with grand ambitions, memories of beautiful babes swaddled quietly in our arms. We still have time. To thrive, not just survive.

1. Be proactive, not reactive. It’s the default setting to parenting: reactivity. Too easy. Your kid walks away from you while you’re telling her something, and offense is your instinct. You slam her with no iPod privileges or groundings. Someone comes roaring down the stairs with, “Mom, she hurt me, took my thingy away, isn’t being fair…” And a big sigh… Can I just ignore this? Hide under my covers until they fall asleep…

If I know that one of my kids has a habit of whining, what will I do in response…before it happens, again. If I know that one child reacts too harshly, what shall I do the next time I hear her lambaste her brother for touching her? If I can see that two children fight whenever they’re underslept, oversugared or overstimulated, how will I plan their days?

In our study of American History this year, we were studying the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution. In order to cement the learning, we drafted a preamble to our family constitution:

We the people of the Wiedrick family, in order to form a more perfect family, establish harmony, ensure happiness, provide people space, promote consideration, secure privacy, share and help those in need, do not play fear inducing pranks on your kin, do not create excessive noise to ones ear, do not stir more trouble into your kin’s life. We endeavor to keep the spirit in the bond of peace.

It was primarily inspired by my three daughters. Otherwise, I’d have added a few more things. But I was pleased that they knew how they wanted to be treated and what they valued in how they should treat each other.

As I’m sure you’re certain, it’s not foolproof. Far from it. If you want to know how effective our family constitution is, you can come for coffee. You’ll quickly uncover my  parenting blind spots, and you’ll learn what my kids need to learn too. But instead of fussing about the imperfections, I’ll accept that this family thing is a journey, and I’ll choose to be proactive, rather than reactive.

2. Have a vision for your family. I try to imagine what it was like being pregnant with my first, daydreaming about my idealistic pre-parenting days. When kids were just cute. They were going to be amusing little cheerleaders to my already busy life. The background to my everyday aspirations, not the consuming beings that they are. What was it that I wanted way back then? If you’ve been in this parenting thing long enough, you know what I know…you were idealistic, and possibly unrealistic–of course the payoff to the effort has also been greater than expected.

The days can be long, and demanding, and we forget the effort and intention behind our choice to parent. But we can decide how to approach each day.

What do we want our day to look like? Do we want to have many of our creative activities complete before the kids come for breakfast? Do we want to have a fifteen minute break after lunch? Do we want to spend the day learning together? Playing games? Crafting? Feeding the goats? Helping the neighbours? Building that playhouse?

What are the themes our family would like to live by? What do we aspire to emulating? Is it kindness? Do you want to be an example of your faith? An encouragement to everyone you meet? A stamp of goodness and truth to your children? It is ours to decide.

If you don’t have a vision, the people will perish (or at least wither from their unhappiness).

3. Have an individual vision for each child. You have a certain number of children. I’ve not heard of anyone having the classroom average of 25. You have what? The homeschool average of 4? Or a singleton? Possibly 3? That’s how many people you’re dealing with. That many is plenty, but that many is manageable. What do each of them need to thrive?

They have individual needs. Some of them have a high aptitude for natural empathy, perhaps a natural teacher for even you. And some of them don’t. Some of them listen respectfully. Some of them don’t want your opinion. Some have a better approach to their angry feelings; some, not so much. Every one of them has different preferences and ways of engaging learning. Some love structured time, some do not. Some work hard, some are hard to keep sitting still at the table. What do each of them need?

Plutarch’s quote, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled“. As Dr. Peter Benson summarized in a TEDTalk titled “How Youth Thrive”, we should be asking our kids, “What is their spark, what is their fire?”

As my children have grown, and I’ve come to understand them better. I’ve discovered that in some ways my children are similar, but in many more, they are remarkably different. Just as there are no two fingerprints, or DNA strands, on this earth, there are also not two identical people. Each one could contribute heartily to society if we follow the spark and allow it to flame.

Just as growing as a person makes me realize that my vision needs to adjust along the way, so will my parenting vision, and often. But choosing a vision provides a tangible goal to pursue.

What you do today is important because you are exchanging a day of your life for it“. author unknown

If you’d like to explore questions that might define your family’s vision, take a look at Creating a Positive Family Culture How and Why to Create a Family Mission Statement

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