Parenting goes a little something like this...
You decide you want kids. You have kids. You raise the kids. And then you look back on how well you did (or didn't do) as a parent after raising kids when you're old.
Well, in a nutshell that sums it up anyway. But what really lies in between all of this is the terrifying part of actually executing on the role as a parent in the "you raise the kids" part.
Parenting is a little tricky because you're dealing with little humans, with brains that are constantly evolving and the feedback mechanisms to validate if you're "doing well" are delayed by a long time.There is no doubt that a parent that has good intentions ultimately does their best and often no matter how well we think we raise them they will at some point start making their own decisions, the outcomes to which may or may not be ideal, at least in you're eyes.
For mind, the most fundamental part of the parenting process comes down to leadership. Leadership is like BBQ sauce at a cocktail party, the word gets passed around a lot. But in the context of parenting, what does it really mean?
I vividly remember a conversation my wife and I had not long after she became pregnant with our first child, now our 5 year old son. I told her I wasn't going to be worried about finances as that will always work itself out. I wasn't worried about us raising them and how we will do it as such in the context of schooling etc. My focus was on being a good leader, role model, a good Father. I am very aware of the fact that our little one's emulate what we do as parents and look up to us. As parents we serve as the image of aspiration, the figure to whom which our kids aspire to grow up to be - and that is a huge deal!
My kids copy me all the time. If I'm passionate about something, their passion is mirrored, either good or bad. How well they react to a situation is not dissimilar as they grow to how I react to situations. Their positive response to affection is not surprising in light of the love my wife and I openly share at home and this flows through to how my daughter and son show love between each other. Their bond is extremely strong. Traits such as independence and self-sufficiency are saturated in our house hold. Our kids both dress themselves and have done so since they were two years old. My son held is own bottle when only 8 weeks old. This is certainly not a time to brag, rather to highlight that these traits of self-confidence and independence are those that are displayed by my wife and I so I can only assume the display by our kids stems from what is observed in part by them.
It is an absolute honor to have your child want to be like you not to mention an enormous responsibility hence why the process of parenting is somewhat terrifying. When someone comments on a photo or sends a message that I have helped them in some way it is definitely flattering, but nothing truly compares to the warmth you feel when your child says they want to be like you. The responsibility in leadership around this delicate process here on in is something to be approached with precision as much as it is faith.
I'm still a very young parent, and it's quite possible my story here will be a little different in a few years time, but for time being I think the following points, in my opinion and experience, make the approach towards leadership in parenting a little less terrifying;
- Let them do what they do best. Every child is strong in something, whether it be drawing, building things, having a knack for cooking, exhibiting an extra need for order and tidiness, an "I can do it by myself attitude" or even a throw caution to the wind approach with everything they attempt. These characteristics are your child's strengths and it's kinda nice to let them explore these without the need for a big persons invention. They will have plenty of time to somewhat conform to the behaviours of society, now is a great time for them to develop their strengths so they can stand out later. I struggled with this until recently. I like things in order, you know, a place for everything and everything has its place. This applied to objects as well as my views around life. Then I had an epiphany - my child doesn't need to be shaped to such an extent. They will have a much better chance doing what they love in life to make them truly happy if I bet on their strengths rather than have them conform to my views around how I think things should be.
- Accept the truth that the measure of parenting success, to an extent, is retrospective. If it's even at all possible to measure such success I'd have to postulate that it's a retrospective activity. In my view parenting is something that is about as complicated as trying to solve a Sudoku with your hands tied behind your back while underwater. You never quite know exactly just how well you're doing. In the early days the only feedback mechanism you really have is witnessing your child do something sweet, kind, caring or loving and realising you're doing something right.
- What do you want to be when you grow up? Years ago a few of us adults were sitting around talking about our dreams as kids and what we aspired to be in life. Then it came to our kids and one mum said "I want my child to be happy". At the time I paused and let the thought sink in, just like I will for you now.
- Don't be afraid for your child to fail. I'd be somber if my son or daughter won every single time. Not in them, or for them, rather because they will miss out on valuable lessons. Then there is the possibility they will potentially develop a sense of entitlement. Personally I've never been one to reflect too much on my loses, I'm relatively quick to look at what went wrong and move on but lessons also lie in failure just as much as they do success. In my view no one is entitled to anything and it's important for children to grow up not being afraid of work. If they loose then they'll just have to try a little harder next time. No awards for runner up.
- Never be afraid to show affection. I grew up old school. It takes a lot to get my Dad to say the three words, and it's certainly not because he doesn't love me, but because he's old school, and that's OK. I'm fortunate to have also received 50% of my Mum's genes too, and she's all about affection. Because of this I'm a big believer in love being a verb. There is no shortage of hugs in our house and this shines through in the relationship between my kids. Don't be afraid to hug them, even as they grow old or you drop them off at the front school gate. They'll appreciate it some day, if not the first day of school.
- Balance. Ultimately there needs to be balance. And if the intent behind your parenting is true then the leadership process in my view will be equally as successful. You take the challenges with the wins. Your kids might feel you're tough when you don't pin a ribbon on their shirt when they come forth, but when you're sitting around the table, interested in their day, supporting them in their strengths, I'm pretty sure it will all work out in the end.
In light of the challenges and fears, doubts and questions, parenting is an amazing journey. At the end of the day no matter where you are in your journey I honestly believe no one really has all the answers. Experience in parenting comes from parenting and it's not until we look back on our children's journey, as well as our own, that we can reflect on how we truly went. Ultimately though if they are truly happy, healthy and living out whatever intention they were meant to have in the world then I guess the leadership role that parents play turned out OK.