Christian Parenting Tips From Mom of 5
Christian Parenting Advice
Having raised five children who have done well in school and are generally considered well-behaved and considerate, I often have people assume that my husband and I are just well-suited to be parents. However, nothing in life that is worthwhile is easy! We know just how much time, effort, and work has gone into our parenting decisions; moreover, we also know that much of what has worked for us can work for other people too. Now that my oldest child is in graduate school, my work as a parent is different but I still have three children at home, and I am still following the advice I give here. These are the top 12 tips from books and friends that have guided us on our parenting journey:
1. Let Sleep Needs Schedule the Day
One of my first "mom" friends, Ann, gave me a crucial piece of advice that I find many other mothers don't follow, causing unneeded stress to themselves and their families. Ann's advice was simple, "Let the physical needs of your children, especially for sleep, schedule your day." How did I follow that? I made sure that my schedule always included time for my kids to be home at nap time, and I put their need for food at regular times at the top of my list. I didn't overschedule activities and said "no" to playdates or other mom's plans when I knew my kids needed a day at home just with me.
Parents need to make sure they get enough sleep too (whenever possible!). Lack of sleep causes tempers to rise, children to become disobedient and grumpy, and can lead to many family arguments that wouldn't happen if people weren't stressed by feeling too tired.
2. Let Kids Learn to Play by Themselves
Another friend, Krista, told me that I should make sure my daughter learned to play by herself. I knew Krista when my first daughter was just a baby. Krista confessed that she had made the mistake of playing with her oldest all the time and now that child was always demanding more than her share of attention. In fact, since my husband and I had had been Sunday School teachers for her sweet but demanding little girl, I knew this was true! Consequently, I worked very hard to make that first child of mine and all of the rest of my children spend some of each day playing alone or with one another.
Sometimes, that meant I had to change some things about my house to make that happen. When my first refused to play alone in her room, I moved some of her toys into the living room where she could still be near me but play alone. When my two middle daughters were under two, I made playtime in their room part of our schedule in the early evening. I cooked dinner (with a bit more sanity when they weren't underfoot!), and they learned to play together with their toys.
3. Know Your Child
I read lots of books before I became a parent and even more afterward. Since I had been a teacher for over ten years, many ideas I encountered were not new, but a few words of advice struck home. One key piece of information was that toddlers cannot discriminate and adjust levels of emotion the way adults can. Toddlers express feelings that are either really happy, really mad, or really sad, nothing in between. The book suggested that parents not overreact to the toddler's emotions, imagining that they are as extreme as they appear.
This information helped me to handle my own emotions when my kids had a meltdown or tantrum. It helped me combat the natural desire to give in to the demands or be angry at them when I realized that the emotions I saw were often not as strong as what the child felt. That helped me to be secure in "waiting out" the anger until the pendulum swung back on its own.
Another key piece of advice was to spend time getting to know your child to understand the internal cause of their emotion. I found that when I did that, I often could see that what I thought was rebellion was instead rmy child's frustration at a situation they had no control over (because they were too young, or didn't understand). That helped me to deal with the problem of their frustration rather than fight with them over their anger.
In fact, paying attention to the way my children handled their emotions also made me realize that I had to adjust my parenting and discipline for each child. I tended to leave my kids to "cry it out" during a tantrum. That strategy worked for four of my children, but one of my daughters could not stop crying on her own. She needed me to come in and help her to wind down from her emotions.
Moreover, I learned that one type of discipline technique might not work for all children; consequently, I've learned to be careful to take advice and share it humbly. Many wonderful ideas are available through books, seminars, and the advice of close friends, but don't assume that each of your children can be disciplined and trained the same. Conversely, don't assume that what works for you will work for everyone you know!
4. Remember You are the Parent
Actually, this piece of advice from my friend, Katie, helped in this area of understanding how to deal with my own emotions. She said, "Never argue with a child, it makes them think they are on an equal playing field. You are the adult. You always win." I've often had to think about this carefully when tempted to get into a war of words with my kids.
How did this work out in daily life? What this advice made me do is to be very careful about what I do decide to make a non-negotiable. Non-negotiables have to be something important which involves safety, values, or something of high importance to our family. It also made me realize that when we have conflicting preferences, I shouldn't pull out punishments and "absolutes." I save those for the important issues, and make discussion and talking things out the way we handle less important issues.
What are some non-negotiables? For us those are following the parent guidelines for bedtime, getting up in the morning, leaving an activity when the parent says it is time to go, obeying rules, respecting adults, and following safety rules. What are negotiables? Whether a friend stays over another hour (after we discuss that with the friend's parent and we have no other conflicts), what you eat for dinner, whether you have a bath before or after dinner. Our policy is to let our children have as many choices as we can to let them feel they have some control over situations. Additionally, we sometimes allow them to make choices we don't feel are best to let them experience the consequences of things like staying up an extra hour, eating too many servings of pancakes, or wearing a sweater when a jacket would be warmer.
5. Keep a Regular Home Routine
All of this advice was helpful, as was the fact that I was raised by loving parents and had been a teacher for twelve years before becoming a parent for the first time at 35. Still, I do wish I had read Susan Schaeffer Macaulay's book, before I'd become a parent. Some of her astonishing insights are often so very commonsensical as to be almost laughable if it weren't for the fact that so many homes ignore them. For the Children's Sake: Foundations for the Home and School
For instance, Macaulay suggests that children and adults do better with a regular home routine. There should be time for work, rest, and play. Everyone should have enough time for activities like getting ready for work or school so that they are not rushed out the door feeling harried and stressed. She insists that there should be plenty of time for spending time outdoors, a conversation with neighbors, eating together at least once a day, and reading together at night. In addition, she says that we should never neglect time for making our lives and homes beautiful by drawing a picture (if we can) or picking up an interesting piece of driftwood to display (if we can't).
I deeply imbibed on Macaulay's view of life and living, and it has made me more thoughtful and purposeful in my daily life with my children and husband even as they have moved past the preschool age and into adulthood. With my oldest daughter graduating from college and moving out of state for graduate school, I'm blessed to know I have never missed those hours she was ready to talk with me or do a project with me. Keeping a regular routine means you will not only have a calmer, happier home. You will have no regrets when your children leave your home.
6. Pay Attention to the Art of Homemaking
Yesterday, a friend of my daughter came over to visit for the first time and said, "This just feels like a happy home." That is not just an accident. I work hard to make my home a place of fun, rest, peace, and happiness. Much of my inspiration comes from Christian author, Edith Schaeffer, (Macaulay's mother) who has written widely about how women can make a home, not just a house. I especially have been inspired by her book The Hidden Art of Homemaking.
This book nothing to do with cleaning or anything of that sort, but has everything to do with making life beautiful through everyday acts of kindness and attention to loving details. For example, Edith would serve trays of food to Hobos passing by their house at the end of the Great Depression, being careful to always put in a small vase with a flower along with saying a prayer that God would reach the heart of that person. She suggests that homemakers think about how they can artfully bring beauty and peace into their homes by arranging some rocks in an interesting way on the table, or by putting an encouraging note on someone's pillow.
Edith stresses that it isn't expensive things that make a home artful. Instead, it is the thought, care, and love of everyday kindness and attention to the beauty of literature, nature, and music. Her book encouraged me to think about how I could work to use simple, everyday, objects from nature to bring beauty into our home, and how I could teach my children to do the same. I was also inspired to sing hymns as I worked around the house and to be careful to stop and pay attention when my children wanted to tell me something that they learned or discovered.
I think it is not an accident that all of my children have loved singing and have always made crafts and decorated their rooms creatively. We decorate the house for all of the holidays and birthdays and even host the birthday parties of friends occasionally. My children also hand-make gifts and cards for each other and for friends and know how to value a thoughtful, hand-made gift.
7. Enjoy the Season
My mother's best advice? She told me to not try to do everything. She said that each season has its own challenges and joy, so don’t worry about the ones to come or you might miss where you are. I have appreciated her reminder to not try to do so much that I miss all I can experience in the season of life I am in right now.
8. Don't Try to Prevent Suffering
Ordinary suffering, like being teased or making mistakes, molds us to be the people God wants us to be. Don’t seek to help your child avoid all suffering. Do seek to talk them through their experiences so they can learn from them and learn to emphasize with other people.
9. Envision What They Can Be
One of the jobs of mentors and parents is to help young people see not just where they are now, but where they can go. Envisioning how a person's gifts can be used by God and seeing how that person's personality makes them uniquely able to serve God is an important part of parenting. To do that, parents need to notice their children's gifts, strengths, talents and personality traits and think about how those traits can be used by God to help others and share about Him. Even more importantly, parents need to see good qualities hidden in negative actions. Remember those bad behavioral traits are good ones misused. I learned that from a wonderful seminar and book, by Verna Burke. God's Pattern for Enriched Living
10. Don’t Discipline Behavior, Mold the Heart
Do you sometimes discipline your children because you are worried other people will judge you if you don't? Ouch! Reading that comment in a parenting book hit me. I was convinced focus my disciplining decisions on what was the best way to train my child at that moment. Too often, I see parents disciplining their children in public harshly while the children pay no attention. I suspect that the parents are not disciplining for the sake of teaching the child, but so they look better in front of other adults.
Of course, I've fallen into this emotional trap myself many times. We don't want our kids to make us look like bad parents who don't discipline. However, we lose a lot when we ignore the lessons we need to teach that particular child and discipline based on what other people think.
Some of my children respond to strict boundaries, but one of my kids can just fall apart when corrected and not be at all able to "pull herself together" after a tantrum. After a lot of prayer and thought, I began to realize that this child (in spite of looking like she didn't care about her disobedience) was actually much more mortified and upset over her disobedience than my other children. She didn't need punishment because she was already punishing herself. She needed my reassurance that she was forgiven and still loved. Moreover, she needed clear consequences which allowed her to make restitution for her actions in order for her to feel better (such as doing some work for me, giving the child another toy, or doing something to fix the broken book).
11. Learn to Love Individually
Gary Chapman's books on the have helped me to understand that not everyone views actions of love in the same way. When we do things that people want us to do they are more pleased and I've found that it helps a lot to understand the love language of each of my children and spouse. When I "speak" to my children in their love language, they understand my concern for them more clearly. It is a pretty simple concept, but easy to forget. However, I have found that if I just do one thing each day that speaks to each of my children and husband in their love language, I will feel I accomplished something and they will feel loved. Try that on a day when you don't feel you've gotten anything else done! Five Love Languages
12. Family Vacations are Important.
When we are tempted to skip a vacation, I remind my husband that we can again never have a vacation when our kids are the age they are now. During vacations, the family is together for a longer amount of time than during normal days. That means we learn things together and have to entertain each other.
There are many deep conversations which happen on vacations (even short overnight trips) just because there is time for it. Moreover, family vacations allow us to have shared experiences and memories that help us feel bonded together. Luckily, these memories can be built on both good and bad experiences, so having a perfect vacation isn't necessarily the goal. In fact, closeness in a family can happen sometimes even more deeply when those memories are negative ones, like a car breaking down, or freezing at night in a tent.
As our children have grown older, we've made it a priority to do some longer and more interesting vacations that have made some amazing shared memories. When we talk about those experiences there is a unique bond that makes the cost, trouble of planning, and time all worth it.
Do you have any great Christian parenting tips or good pieces of advice? Share them in the comments!