5. “What I’ve tried with my family”
I’m no parenting expert, but I’m very committed, and I’ve tried my best to research and apply most methods known to man on my kids. I believe that my experience might be helpful to you because I know how helpful sharing ideas and wisdom with my friends has been to me. Like any knowledge, theory is great, but perfecting application of a theory is more valuable. Here are few reflections on what I’ve learned so far as a parent.
Balance and moderation as a foundation
In almost 50 years of being fortunate enough to walk this planet I’ve learned a few things. One of the most universal ideas is that balance and moderation are foundational to building healthy families.
This is the first year since I’ve become a parent that my family only has one scheduled activity a week. Beginning in pre-school years, we had multiple commitments almost every night of the week. You name the activity, and one of us have probably done it. Swimming lessons, Boy Scout, Counseling, soccer, play dates, speech therapy, fencing, physiotherapy, tutoring, karate, gymnastics, parkour, music, art, leadership, volunteer work, parent advisory, birthday parties, … and the list goes on.
My husband and I didn’t stop to question this insane schedule. Even if we had, we probably would have carried on, driven by the guilt of not giving our kids exposure to every opportunity possible. We soldiered on blindly, and suffered the consequences, including the added pressures to both of our careers, marriage, finances and worst of all our kids. Looking back, our kids were often exhausted and just wanted to have more down-time to play at home.
We didn’t even feel refreshed after our annual holidays. When we did get away and unplug in the wilderness, far from technology for a week, we experienced our most happy, meaningful, and memorable times together. The four of us enjoyed all of the unplugged activities and enjoyed each other. Tensions quickly washed away, we became grounded, and there was very little bickering between us. A marked change from our kids’ younger years, when my husband and I often referred to our twins as “the Bickersons”.
When the holiday was over, we’d arrive home completely blissed out, and then would jump blindly back into the jam-packed chaotic schedule.
In contrast, this fall has opened up the gift of space to talk, laugh and play. I’ve enjoyed tours of cool Lego buildings, shared quiet moments with the boys and their guinea pigs, debated the merits of female Jedi, learned about what’s funny for teens on the internet, and witnessed the careful construction of a cool role-playing board game. I’ve been immersed in more joyful moments with the kids this fall than I can remember. The kids are happier and more at peace than they have been a long time.
We are never going back
Parenting through some tough times as a family taught me all about “shadow strengths”. Most parents identify certain personality or behavioral traits of their child that result in the child having problems at school and in the family. In our case, we have one very tenacious child who made us feel annoyed when he would become fixated on something, not letting go no matter what. I learned to look at these types of traits or behaviors and imagine how they could be transformed if my child was taught to manage them effectively. In the case of persistence, when used properly, it becomes a strength for him and helps him succeed in many areas of life.
Unfortunately, what parents, schools, and coaches tend to do is to react to these traits and label them as problems that need to be fixed. The result is not only that the child feels bad about himself, receiving the message that there is something wrong with the way he is, but they will often try to starve, squash, or ignore these potential talents. Furthermore, the family, teacher, or coach and the child spend an inordinate amount of valuable time and energy working on overcoming a child’s weakness instead of working and building on their strengths.
I love the Clifton Strengths Tool. My husband and I and many of our professional peers have completed the assessment that measures a person’s natural patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving, to identify a person’s unique natural talents. It teaches you how to use strengths to maximize your personal potential at home, work and in life. There is even a modified tool for kids.
The underlying philosophy of Clifton Strengths is that we should be focusing on our strengths and investing in maximizing their potential instead of wasting our time and resources trying to improve upon our weaknesses, which often include things we aren’t really interested in.
Lolly Daskl asks a compelling question – what would happen if we reversed that pattern? She encourages us to ask ourselves important questions like what are we naturally good at, what comes naturally to us, what do we consistently get great feedback on, what makes us feel good and happy and what gives us energy? She states:
What should you focus on? You can reach your highest potential by focusing on what you do best. Don’t spend all your time working on what you are not; build on what you already are.
Why play to your strengths? Our strengths are gifts that were meant to be used—and when they are, you will find your greatest happiness. When you can play to your strength you can be more focused and more engaged. You’ll feel good because you’re growing and developing, and you’ll find higher levels of innovation and creativity.
By investing in our strengths, we learn to maximize them and forge forward with great confidence.
As my kids get older I feel confident that I know what their natural strengths are and what they aren’t. But as small children, I didn’t know them and felt I needed to encourage them to try everything so they could figure out who they were, what they liked and didn’t like, and what they excelled at. Unfortunately, it’s hard to know when to stop doing that.
I think I’ve also has periods of blindness where I ignored my own values and philosophy (and my gut feelings) and was driven by duty to get my kids ready for the real world and set them up for success and to be competitive even though I deeply believe that money doesn’t bring you happiness. On this basis, I’m also working toward making different decisions for myself.
To be fair, I think it’s my job to keep the kids options open as long as possible. But I often think that I may be casting the web too wide. Is it really critically important that they know multiple languages, can play at least two instruments, and that they excel at every sport on the planet?
Now that we’re on the last leg
Most recently, I have been trying to slow down and be present with my children. The countdown is on. My boys may be leaving the nest in a few years, and I feel that our precious time together in one household, is quickly coming to an end.
Although my kids (or young adults) are less demanding than when they were younger, I’ve never been busier with work commitments. Yet I’m finding some success focusing on disciplining myself to keep my eye on what I think is important for my kids, not what society is telling me I should think is important. It’s become clear that society doesn’t have a great deal of insight into my kids!
I am pragmatic and accept the reality that sustaining a basic quality of life as adults, requires marketable skills. However, as I age, I realize just how finite life is. I notice too many people around me waking up in middle age, lost and unfulfilled. I don’t want to follow that path, and I surely don’t want my kids to end up there.
As I age, grow, and collect wisdom, I am refining my goals as a parent to make sure that my kids end up as healthy adults who are well-positioned to maximize their strengths, living lives that are full of meaning and joy.
I’ve accepted that one of the best ways to achieve this goal is to help each of my sons get to know himself. It’s a powerful gift to help a kid figure out who he is, what he wants, what makes him happy and what makes him tick. This foundation will give him a the ability to make big decisions and evaluate likely outcomes against the framework of who he is and what he wants to become.
I readily accept that there is a disconnect between academic studies, mainstream and popular extracurricular activities, and the skills and experiences my child is going to need to achieve all this.
It’s easy to get sidetracked and swept along in the current practices of raising kids who are often over-scheduled. What I’m trying to do is focus on my kids first and do everything in my power to give them what they need to live healthy and happy lives.
Where to start? What are the important skills to develop? In the next section I’ll show you how Kabooter Knomes can help parents develop many important experiences and skills that contribute to raising healthy and happy kids.