My entire life, I’ve been fascinated by communication—both verbal and nonverbal. What are the messages we send others and ourselves in our day-to-day lives? When I became a mom, I looked at communication through a whole new lens. I began asking the why behind the what. I am not this insightful on my own; I am surrounded by a community of parents and counselors whom I’ve watched and learned from throughout the years. The why became the driving force behind the how and what my husband and I do as we raise our daughter. Our why is that we want to raise up a girl—and eventually a young woman—who loves God and lives with courage, integrity, empathy, and strong relationships. Being a parent is one of the most challenging and beautiful opportunities we get on earth, and we are not meant to do it alone. So in the spirit of doing it together, here are a few things we’ve incorporated to accomplish our why.
Facilitate Critical Thinking
Sometimes connecting with our kids can feel like “pulling teeth.” This is true whether we are simply asking about their day or when we talk about the bigger things in their lives—like walking through their decision to lie or navigating a fight with a friend.
When it comes to connecting to her every day, we’ve learned to ask more targeted questions like, “What made you laugh today?” or “Did anything hurt your heart today?” It lets her think and reflect on her day, and we have an opportunity to ask follow-up questions based on what she shares.
When diving into the bigger things like a decision she made (good or bad; big or small) we ask two questions: Is it kind? and, Is it helpful? As she gets older, we want her to ask those questions inwardly and outwardly. Was she kind and helpful to others, and was she kind and helpful to herself? The goal is to engage her critical thinking so she can see the consequences as well as the lasting impact her decisions have on her and the lives of others. She’s learning to think through her decisions and learning choices (good or bad) have consequences.
Raise Kids with Integrity and Empathy
There will be so many times we look at how we handled situations with our kids (or our spouses, friends, coworkers) and think, I could’ve handled that better. It’s okay that you don’t handle every situation perfectly; none of us do. The defining moments of character-building for us and our kids are what we do when we realize we didn’t handle it well. In our family, we circle back. When we get it wrong or lose our cool, we want her to see us own it, ask for forgiveness, and grow from it. Our kids are watching us closely—they are students of our day-to-day living. Our goal is for our kids to not be afraid of owning their own behavior and asking forgiveness. This models empathy because it teaches our kids to think outside of themselves—they are thinking through how their decisions impact others. It also helps us raise kids who become adults of integrity, because we are teaching them it’s okay to make mistakes or lose our cool—it’s how we follow up, correct our mistake, and grow to do it better next time that matters. We seek progress, not perfection.
Connection and Redirection
I have a confession as a mom and human: being playful and facilitating laughter in our house is a stretch for me. My insecurities get loud when I try to be playful, and the voice in my head tells me things like, you look ridiculous; you’re making a fool of yourself. My husband has been a huge part of stopping that voice. He’s invited dance parties into our kitchen and randomly talks in absurdly terrible accents for no reason other than to make us laugh. His willingness to be silly has facilitated connection in our marriage and our relationship with our daughter. Laughter and fun are now a tool we use (big-time!) to shake ourselves out of negative thinking. At the “witching hour” in our house, the music is turned up and the epic dance moves come out. Yes, our kids need structure and boundaries—they help them feel safe and secure—but they also need fun. I’ve learned fun shakes off the negativity for our daughter, encourages cooperation, and allows us all to enjoy each other more.
As I write this and share these tools with you, I can think of countless things this week I could’ve handled better. So, as you read this, please remember a river of grace flows over you as a parent. We will keep stumbling and fumbling through parenting; we will have days where we feel like we are killing it, and other days where we look around the house at the end of the day and think, who decided I was ready to be an adult in charge of tiny humans? Grace abounds on both those days. Surrender to God—He has called you to this job on purpose.