There is nothing in life that can prepare you for parenthood. No matter how many books you read, the “theory” won’t really equip you for being a parent. As a matter of fact, sometimes the “theory” causes us to “do” parenting and not “be” parents.
You see, there is a difference. I remember being a first-time mom and being so afraid of “doing things” incorrectly. I think every mother has faced the challenge of letting the baby cry himself to sleep. I know there are those mums that find that this works brilliantly for them, but for me it was extremely traumatic. Firstly, I hated hearing my baby cry so much and secondly, I was overwhelmed by the fears that others had placed on me such as, “Your child will never fall asleep on his own,” or “You are going to spoil the baby,” or “You must bring in discipline from an early stage otherwise they will always manipulate you.” Sleep times became traumatic for all of us. I found in my efforts to “do” parenting, I was causing more harm than good. Eventually our parent instincts overrode, and we stopped “doing” parenting and started “being” parents. We cuddled our baby to sleep. We held him, kissed him and cuddled him some more. As we settled into “being” parents, I found that my heart and our home became peaceful and happy. (By the way, we cuddled all our babies to sleep, and my kids fall asleep on their own just fine!)
As I have grown in being a mom, I have found this principle of “being” a parent to have a positive influence on every aspect of our children. If we want our children to become happy, healthy, creative, positive and productive adults, then we need be that to them. We are to be the leaders that our children will follow. We are to MODEL it by our lives, not just our words.
Here are a few lessons that we have learnt in our journey of being parents and nurturing our children to become the amazing people that they were created to be.
M is for Model
In today’s world, the art of shoelace tying, is something we don’t always think about until our kids are older and progress to “big” shoes. When my kids were younger, as in pre-school age, life was so busy that Velcro shoes were a big hit for me. My eldest could get himself dressed and his shoes on, while I helped the two littlies. It was only when my son reached adult shoe sizes that I realised I hadn’t taught him how to tie shoelaces!
I remember sitting at the shoe shop, feeling like a failed mom, trying to explain to my son how to tie the laces. I then tried to demonstrate, but because the shoe was facing me, I couldn’t figure out how to coordinate myself to tie the shoes upside down. (One of the many things that parent manuals fail to prepare you for!) I started getting flustered, and my son picked up on that and started to get upset, so we took the shoes home to tackle laces another time. Later, after a cup of tea, I apologized to my son for getting flustered in the shop. It was but a small thing, but in that moment, I hadn’t been a good role model and he had become upset. We decided to work together to tackle the shoelace tying challenge.
We found a great “shoe lace model” on the Internet and made two, one for me and one for my son. And so we began our “how-to-tie-shoelaces” lessons. I would sit next to him with the “shoe” in front of me, and next to his “shoe.” Step-by-step we would go through the lacing process. Me, trying to put into words and actions the lacing process that was automatic, and my son trying to coordinate the laces and learn how tie his shoes. We tried a few times, but every time he would start to feel frustrated because he struggled with some of the steps. I battled with the “but this is how I was taught to tie my laces, it must be correct, it’s done this way” thought running through my head. Shoelace tying became an obstacle for both of us. Until, one day I clicked. It was just the one step that caused a block for him. If we could get around that step, it would be fine. So, I fiddled with the shoe model, and managed to work out a way that was different, but worked and easy for him to do. I showed him a few times, and within a week he could tie his laces by himself.
So, what does shoe laces have to do with modelling? The lesson I learnt was that children learn by copying you. They will always copy something, whether it’s good or bad. I learnt that modelling is not about talking, but about coming alongside and showing them how to do something. When you do make a mistake, and that will happen, apologize to your children. They won’t learn how to apologize and overcome challenges if you don’t show them how. The same goes for helping your children discover their talents and passions in life. Model how to learn, how to try something new and how to persevere. Which leads me to the next point…
O is for Observe
As parents, we have the privilege of being able to watch our children grow and develop. We get to see those “magic moments” when something sparks within our children.
We started buying Lego when my youngest son was about six years old. But he wasn’t that confident in building and would wait for me to help him. One day, I came across a movie of a robotic horse, made from Lego, that ran on one spot. I called him and he sat on my lap. When he saw the horse start running, he suddenly sat up straight and said, “Mum! This is so cool!” He watched the whole clip, intensely concentrating, and then disappeared upstairs to play with Lego.
Since then, he has become our Lego fan. He loves building and will “invent” all sorts of things. He is confident and although he is still young, he has hopes of maybe being a Lego designer in the future.
Observe your children — be aware of what sparks their interest, what do they talk about constantly? What do they ask you about? What are the “why” questions and the “how” questions? These are all little clues as to where they might find their passion.
D is for Develop
When you see the sparks of a passion or talent, take the time to develop that within yourself and your children.
My daughter loves arts and crafts. She is creative and loves to make things. Last year our library ran a beading workshop for adults. I was interested in going and I took my daughter along, even though she was only 9 years old. There were extra bead packs, so they let her make an “adult” necklace. She loved it and went to every class. At Christmas, we bought her an “adult” bead kit and she spent many a happy hour making jewelry.
Whatever your child is interested in, take the time to develop and nurture it. Whatever your interests might be, try to fit in nurturing and developing them. You might well find something that you both enjoy doing.
E is for Encourage:
Encourage means to give support, confidence and hope.
In our city, we have a fairly high mountain that has a 360-degree view at the top. It’s quite a hike to get there, but at certain times of the year you can watch the sun set, and turn around to watch the full moon rise over the city and mountain ranges.
When our eldest was almost two, we decided to hike to the top with a group of friends. The road is quite steep, winding around the mountain and at the very top you have to climb up and over numerous rocks to reach the summit. My husband carried my son in the baby-hiker on his back.
Every time my husband climbed over a rock or went up a steep slope, we would hear this little voice pipe up, “Keep going Daddy!” and “Well done Daddy, you did it!” He was my husband’s biggest fan that day. Afterwards, my husband mentioned that many times he felt like turning around and heading down the hill, but it was that little encouraging voice that kept him going. It was a lesson in encouragement that both of us took to heart that day.
Become your child’s biggest fan. Encourage them in all that they do, even if it seems to be a small task to you — for them it’s a big task. Remember the shoe laces incident? I found that the more I encouraged, rather than corrected, the more my son’s confidence grew. Your encouragement will build confidence and hope. Your support will mean the world to them.
L is for Love
Lastly, LOVE your children. I know that sounds obvious, but sometimes we are so busy wanting what’s best for our kids that we forget to hug, kiss and cuddle them. A wise mother once said, “Children spell LOVE — T.I.M.E.” Take time to just “be” with your children. Two years ago, mid-winter, we experienced regular power-outages in our city. We found those hours, without electricity and sometimes just candles, to be so precious. We played mad-charades, cracked silly jokes and just spent time with each other. Those were some of the best bonding times that we have had as a family.
As I come to the end of this article, here is a little reminder: We stay in a part of the world where we have quite a few geese. Year by year we see the same couples raising goslings. I always find it inspiring to watch them MODEL to their goslings how to be geese. That’s why I chose the above photograph. It reminds me that parenting is just for a season in our lives. Soon our children will be adults and launch themselves into the world. Let’s make the most of the season of being parents, and be them wholeheartedly.