Most parents say their children are their highest priority and that parenting is among the most important things they do.
Yet they often approach parenting in a reactionary and defensive way.
In fact, during our 30 years of writing and speaking to parents and families all over the world, three of the most prominent parenting models, be they intentional or unintentional, are:
The “all I can do is keep them fed, sheltered and clothed” model. Many parents are so burdened and busy that all they can do is try to meet the physical needs of their kids.
The “general contractor” model. Like a general contractor who lets the plumber and electrician and carpenter do all the work, parents often farm everything out to the teachers, the coaches and the tutors and don’t actually do much parenting themselves.
The “wait for a problem and hope I can solve it” model. So many parents just drift along, thinking things are OK with their kids and that if there is a problem, they can buy a parenting book and find out how to handle the situation.
Instead of these passive approaches, parents today need a proactive parenting model, one where they set and strive to meet specific objectives for and with their children. In fact, we all need a model much like a business plan, where we clearly define what we want and then come up with a plan and set aside the time and the priorities to make it happen.
These days, parenting requires more than a defense — it needs a real offense! Our kids live in the media culture, in the peer culture, in the Internet culture — and somehow, parents must make their family cultures stronger than any of these.
In our view, the objective with preschoolers should be to teach them joy — to consciously and deliberately help them learn the social and emotional skills that will help them be happy, aware and well-adjusted. Our specific programs for doing this can be found at joyschools.com.
With elementary-age kids, a parent’s focus should shift to teaching responsibility and values. Perhaps the best way to do this is to focus on a different value and a specific form of responsibility each month. Our teaching methods and ideas for doing this are available at valuesparenting.com.
With adolescents and teenagers, the key is helping them make good decisions in advance and learn to get outside themselves and become better at empathy and sensitivity. Our ideas for doing both are found at valuesparenting.com.
With kids of all ages, it is essential to give them the security and identity of a strong family culture within which they can develop individual confidence and uniqueness.
Things such as weekly family meetings, a family motto and a family mission statement or creed can go a long way in developing this kind of family solidarity.
Family traditions and predictable, reliable practices, from holiday rituals to birthday and Sunday traditions, are powerfully important to kids and actually become the glue that holds families together. It is a good idea to “formalize” and enshrine your family traditions by putting them on a big calendar or in a family traditions book.
In addition to traditions, all institutions that endure have the consistency and discipline of a set of rules or laws and the shared responsibility of some kind of working economy. The most basic institution of family needs the same. The laws should be simple and clear and the consequences natural and consistent. And a family economy where each child has household responsibilities is essential. Further ideas for family traditions, family laws and a family economy can be found in our free books online.
Developing a proactive family and parenting strategy is not easy, but it may very well be the most important and rewarding thing parents will ever do.