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 have been on a side table with a toddler in the house.
thrive: advance, do well, get ahead, get better, grow rich, prosper
In the beginning of family life, just dressing them, feeding them, keeping em safe seems a daunting task.
Finding time to pee or shower without an audience is a challenge. Grand ambitions of happy outings to the zoo seems unrealistic when you have the two year old unhappily strapped into her carseat, container of cheerios splattered all over the car, the baby desperate for a nap just as you are gearing to get out the door exactly two hours after originally planned.
They get older and they are independent enough to make their own breakfast, but they still need to learn how to talk kindly to their siblings, they need to speak in a way they’ll get heard from parents, and learn to deal with their angst about, well, everything an adolescent gets anxious about.
Different ages, different struggles.
What does thrive mean when we just hope to survive?
1. Be proactive, not reactive.
It’s the go-to, default setting to parenting: reactivity. It is too easy. Your child walks away from you while you’re telling her something, and offense is your instinct. Someone comes roaring down the stairs with, “Mom, she hurt me, took my thingy away, isn’t being fair…” And a big sigh from mama… 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? If I know that one child reacts more harshly than seems appropriate, what will 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? I definitely need to pre-plan.
When reading American History with our four kids, we studied 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 girls. Otherwise, I would 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.
And as you know, it was lovely to pin to the fridge. Easier to write than to implement. Y’all know it hasn’t been followed to the law. We acknowledge our imperfections, we’ll always be imperfect, and we accept that this family thing is a journey and I’ll continue practicing to be proactive, rather than reactive.
2. Have a vision for our family.
I remember being pregnant with my first, daydreaming about my upcoming parenting days. My kids will be so cute (they are). They will be amusing little sidekicks to my already focussed life. And then everything changed.
The days can be long, and demanding, and extending, but we decide each morning to approach each day with intention and vision, because though the effort is immense, the payoff is greater.
- What do you want our day to look like?
- Do you want to have a creative activity begun before the kids come for breakfast?
- Do you want to have a fifteen minute break after lunch?
- Do you want to spend the day learning together, playing games, crafting, feeding the goats, helping the neighbours, building snow forts?
- What theme words do you want your family to live by?
- What values do you aspire to?
3. Recognize that each child has a vision for their own lives.
We have our visions, but our children have their own too.
This, of course, might be more challenging to see when they’re three. Though I’ll bet not sooo hard as they gravitate toward scissors and books, or playing in the flour bag, or staring at picture books for hours. It all speaks something about them.
As my children have grown, I’ve come to understand them better. A couple are spitfires. A couple like to follow the rules. Some love structured time, and satisfying all the boxes. Some want to explore things their own way, thank you very much! Just as there are no two fingerprints, or DNA strands, each person contributes heartily to our world if we follow their spark and allow those sparks to flame.
“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled” (thanks Plutarch). As Dr. Peter Benson summarizes in a TEDTalk titled “How Youth Thrive”, we can ask our kids, “What is their spark, what is their fire?”
Adjusting the vision along the journey.
Just as growing as a person has helped me enlarge and adjust my vision along the way, so does my parenting vision. And with surprising regularity.
These kiddos do the same thing day in, day out, for such a long time that we identify that ‘thing’ as them, but then they stop. They love British history, and are found lost in books, then one day, they have no time for reading. They gravitate to the playroom for Barbies with their sister for years, so many years you wonder if it’s appropriate that they’re still playing Barbies, and then they don’t. Their interests expand along the way, and so will their visions.
Some days, some weeks don’t feel like we’re thriving at all. But when we learn to be proactive more, reactive less, chart our vision, expand our vision, consider our children’s visions, and adjust our vision again, and again, we will thrive.
“The question is not how to survive, but how to thrive with passion, compassion, humor and style.” Maya Angelou