For all who believe that our children came from a premortal existence and have already-formed personalities and characters, the challenge is to "find out who they really are" — to discover their truest and deepest and most unique spiritual selves.
The best method we have ever found for trying to really know each child as an individual is a practice — a monthly habit — that we call the "Five Facet Review."
On the first Friday of every month, we have a standing date to work on this review. It meant going out to a restaurant and spending some time talking only about our children — as individuals. We talk about each of the five facets of their lives and how we thought they were doing in each: physically, mentally, emotionally, socially and spiritually.
Now you might think that with nine children and five facets for each one to talk about we'd have to go to a Chinese restaurant with 45 courses. NOT! We found that most of the kids were doing fine in most categories, but every once in a while we would hit a bump. One needed reading help; we later learned that he had some pretty interesting learning disabilities which we may not have noticed had we not zeroed in on how he was doing mentally. Another was socially awkward and we decided to have her invite friends to our house with the specific purpose of watching what happened while she was interacting to see if we could find ways to help.
You get the picture. All in all, although we're sure we missed some months, we really believe that we caught some little problems before they became big and had a handle on what each of our children was really about. It was fun and a great way to make our marriage feel like a partnership. We felt that the two of us — the top management of our family if you will — were able to brainstorm about our stewardships and that we received inspiration as we talked about what each of them needed. It was better than some general set of parenting ideas because it was just us, the parents, thinking about each of our unique kids, and really applying ourselves to thinking hard about who they are and what gifts they have and what they need most in all five facets of their lives.
Now our married children are doing similar reviews about their own children. Our daughter Shawni, who has five children ranging in age from four to 14, has a terrific blog post on the idea. She and her husband have a little different way of doing this, but it works for them. Here are some excerpts from Shawni:
"With five kids running around sometimes the unique, individual needs of each one of them get lost in the shuffle.
"That's where our 'Five-Facet Reviews' come in.
"The idea is that you sit down with your spouse (or someone else who knows and loves your children) once a month (or whenever is feasible) and talk about how each child is doing in their 'five facets' of life:
"I love discussing the specifics of each child with Dave in the light of these particular categories because man alive, there is so much that he notices that I don't. And there are so many solutions he comes up with that I never in a million years would have. There's something about having that detailed conversation that puts up red flags in my mind about things we need to work on that I may have never thought of otherwise. It also helps me feel content about the things that are going well. It helps me be deliberate, and that's my main goal as a mother.
"Most of all, five-facet reviews help me see into the personalities of my children in a deeper way.
"And I love that.
"Now, please don't picture us doing this like clockwork every month (although I wish we would). In our family it doesn't work to do some formal deal like my parents did. Sometimes I just make sure we cover these topics casually during a date-night or Dave will bring up something he's been worried about one particular child as we fall asleep at night. Dave doesn't clap his hands in glee when I say stuff about five-facet reviews because he doesn't go for formal stuff like that. But we are both well aware of the 'facets' and we make sure we talk them through whenever we can.
"Because of these discussions I've been prompted to push a little more spirituality with some kids. Dave and I discuss Lucy's eating habits and how we can guide them. We've talked about how Max needs help getting more excited about reading (please send great book suggestions if you have any …), and things like whether or not we should push Elle into trying out for the volleyball team. In our discussions we have realized things like how Grace needs more math help and Claire needs to somehow get more sleep. Then we make a plan and get to work.
"It helps us to know our children in a deeper way.
"Really know them.
"I think parenting has to be made and re-made over and over and over again. It seems like just when we figure out the perfect solution to a particular situation through endless tweaking and prayer and pushing, another child will throw you for a loop and will need parenting from an entirely different ball field. Each child is so darn unique. That's why I love this so much. It makes the 're-mix' of parenting for each child that much easier."
The Eyres' next book is "The Entitlement Trap: How to Rescue Your Child With a New Family System of Choosing, Earning, and Ownership." Richard and Linda are New York Times No. 1 best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit the Eyres anytime at www.TheEyres.com. For information on preordering "The Entitlement Trap," see www.valuesparenting.com