This week’s “Rethinking” podcast from organizational psychologist Adam Grant prompted us to rethink the choices we’ve made parenting our three boys.
Adam interviewed Dr. Becky Kennedy, who is rapidly becoming the Millennial Generation’s answer to Dr. Spock, the noted pediatrician not the Vulcan science officer on “Star Trek.” She challenged the notion that parents’ job is to make their child happy. We were struck by her assertion that parents need to set boundaries and validate feelings.
We’re still processing this advice, but it got me to thinking about some of the choices we’ve made in raising our three boys. Although we’re a long way from “gettin’ them grown,” we are past the formative years when implementing Dr. Becky’s advice would have been more impactful.
Former world heavyweight champion Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”
That’s been our experience of childrearing. We had all these ideas about how we would be perfect parents and produce children with model behavior. It didn’t take long before we were off the script, improvising daily based on any number of instincts and embedded patterns that came from places in our psyches we didn’t even know existed.
Here are a few of the parenting choices we made along the way:
Prioritize church. I was in church a few weeks after I was born, and although the church is not a cure-all for behavioral ills afflicting children, Carla and I agreed that we would raise our children in church. We took seriously the commitments we made at the baby dedication services for each of our boys, reaffirming our determination to raise them “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” That has meant showing up, even when we didn’t feel like it or when we had other commitments calling us away. It has meant praying with our boys each night before bed. It has meant participating with them in church-related activities and programs like the “God and Family” curriculum in Cub Scouts. It has meant having family worship time with scripture, music and a sermon when we’re on vacation. It meant during the COVID-19 pandemic, we worshipped in our pajamas in the living room with the service on our TV screen. We want faith to be real and to be important to our boys.
Attend preschool. Carla has made a number of sacrifices beyond the physical toll of giving birth three times. Those sacrifices include pausing her career at several points to be home with the boys. Even when she was at home, we wanted them to begin to learn how to navigate the structure of a classroom, respect the authority of teachers and engage in creative learning. We believed preschool would help them succeed at school and socialize with peers and adults. Smoke Rise Baptist Weekday School accomplished all of that and more, and we are grateful for the opportunities our boys had while attending there.
Make traditions. We believe family traditions form the glue that holds a family together, especially in difficult times. We built our Christmas holiday traditions with intentionality, making it a priority to be with family, attend Christmas Eve services, wait until Christmas morning to open presents, limit Santa’s gifts to three a piece, make time to eat out and look at lights, watch “A Christmas Story” on Christmas Eve, and to start the season, eat a big breakfast out the Saturday after Thanksgiving before going to Lowe’s to pick out our Christmas tree. Over time we developed other traditions: vacationing at Santa Rosa Beach, Florida; having an egg hunt at the house on Easter with the prized “Poppy egg” stuffed with a $10 bill in honor and memory of their grandfather; watching movies together as a family on Friday nights we’re not with the marching band at a football game; and having game nights. These traditions are cherished by us and our children, and I hope we can continue them long enough to see our boys pass them down to their families.
Support interests. Our boys have shown interest in a variety of activities over the years, and we’ve given them space to try them out. We’ve done sports: T-ball, basketball, soccer, Tae Kwon Do, tennis and swimming. We’ve done music: guitar, piano, trumpet, trombone, clarinet and chorus. We’ve done Scouts. We’ve done cooking classes and turned our kitchen into a test kitchen for experimentation and bake sales. We’ve done school extra curriculars: Readers Rally, Science Fair, morning announcement team, Student Leadership Team, marching band, jazz band, concert band, drama, Mock Trial, Model United Nations, drama, voice and dance. We have taken time off work to attend performances, breakfasts and lunches, and read to classes. We have chaperoned field trips and attended competitions, recitals, rehearsals and productions. We’ve bought T-shirts and hats emblazoned with their favorite bands, cartoon characters, slogans, NASCAR drivers and sports teams. We have tried to listen with patience as they explain the intricacies of video games, obscure historical events, marching band formations, Mock Trial closing arguments, leadership techniques and the plots of musicals. Support is a broad term, but for us it has meant chauffeuring, showing up and listening. It is about giving our boys our time and attention.
Know your grandparents. Carla and I both grew up with the opportunity to spend time with both sets of grandparents, and both of us were fortunate enough to have grandparents live in our homes for a portion of our lives. We wanted our boys to know their grandparents. That has been easier for Nanny and Poppy than for Granny and Paw Paw because of the difference in proximity, but it has remained important for us to give them time on both sides of the family. It’s important for our boys to know where they come from and what kind of environment produced their parents. There are lessons only grandparents can teach, and the love and affection of a grandparent is unmatched by any other relationship in life. It will continue to be a priority until they all have passed, hopefully many years from now. But if losing Carla’s daddy too soon has taught us anything, it taught us to treat the time we have with the grandparents as precious and never take it for granted.
We are far from perfect parents, and a number of our best laid plans have evaporated when parenting punched us in the mouth. But we have found that we hit the target closer to the bullseye when we aim with intentionality.
We’re learning parenting doesn’t end when our children go off to college. In many ways it’s just beginning. Regardless of the twists and turns, I’m grateful for this wild and wonderful journey of parenthood, and I’m thankful for the children entrusted to us to raise.
What are some of the principles you have applied in your childrearing? What did your parents do in raising you? Share your thoughts!