I thought I would share an e-mail I wrote to my daughter and her husband as they approach, in May, the birth of our Grandson!
As you approach a new season in life I felt the urge to share some deep thoughts with you. The purpose of this e-mail is to describe what I would do differently if I was starting out as a new parent today. In other words, if I could go back and re-start my parenting life with what I know today what would I do differently? What have I learned along the way?
I was reading that a book that a friend/author wrote. He said he was talking to a songwriter and the topic they were discussing reminded him of a song titled “If the record does not have the grooves you can’t play the song”. Your a little too young to remember vinyl records but the records had grooves on them and a needle would follow along on the grooves to play a song. Anyhow, this is just a way of saying its difficult to parent any differently than your parents because you bring in your own pre-recorded grooves from your family of origin. Mom brought in grooves from her family of origin and I brought in grooves from my family of origin. The purpose of this e-mail is to share with you the new grooves I had to learn along the way. To share with you the grooves I wish I had when I started out parenting. Many of the grooves I had to learn the hard way. My hope is that you can start out your season of parenting with all these grooves fully intact and you can start out parenting where I left off.
I also know that you already know much of what is below. You are starting in a better spot than Sue and I did as parents. However, when the craziness of life takes over its important to remember the big picture. So give me a few paragraphs.
So for the purpose of making an important point I am calling this “Parenting between Pillars”. The two pillars represent two ends between which we parent.
1. Parent between the Pillars of Truth and Grace
In Joshua Straub’s book Safe House he discusses a primarily Christian phenomenon that he calls the uneven house of truth. On these pages he says families heavy on truth and light on grace make it “emotionally unsafe” for Children to share deep thoughts and feelings. Grace gives richness and depth to Gods truth’s that truth alone can not give.
Summary Point: Be good at truth but be great at grace.
2. Parent Between the Pillars of Time-outs and Time-Ins
As you start out parenting baby J will not have the capacity to control his own feelings, thoughts, and curiosities. You will be responsible for him not touching the stove, not crossing the street to pet the dog, etc. There will be time when you may have to discipline and do time-outs. As baby J passes through the middle years, you will have to help him learn to take control and process his own thoughts and feelings. This will be done by talking and processing thoughts and feelings together. You may have to ask him, “I hear your feeling frustrated? What is the thought behind that feeling?” Thoughts lead to feelings and feelings lead to behaviors. Be curious and ask ask more questions as he gets older … rather than just giving advice and relying on quick fixes! As Baby J matures you will have to transition away from time outs to time-ins where you spend time processing the thoughts and feelings of Baby J. The time-ins are the times you take to talk and help Baby J learn to process thoughts, feelings, and make sense and meaning of the world! Help him/her write his own story of life rather than re-write one of your stories.
Summary Point: Be good at time outs (discipline) but be great at time ins.
3. Parent between the Pillars of Emotional Safety and Curiosity
Even when discipline is necessary it will be important for him to feel emotionally safe. As a young child it will be necessary to discipline at times. But even discipline, when done right, will allow for the child to feel that home is emotionally safe. This emotionally safe attachment to a parent will allow your child to curiously explore the world and to grow into the child God intended him/her to be.
Summary Point: A child with a safe attachment to parents and home will result in a child that is emotionally safe and able to curiously explore the world without fear.
4. Parent between the Pillars of a Narrow Funnel and Wide Funnel
A narrow funnel represents being restrictive and a wide funnel represents giving freedom. As a young child it will be important to not allow him/her access to a hot stove, sharp objects, etc. Your funnel must be narrow and restrictive to make sure the child is safe. As a child matures its your responsibility to let them go and let them grow. Some parents make the mistake of being too restrictive for too long. Then when kids older they get rebellious. Others make the mistake of allowing too much freedom too young. Then when they are out of control they have to reign them in and make the wide funnel narrow and more restrictive. Making the funnel narrow once it has been wide is hard process for a parent. They have given too much freedom before the children had enough self control to handle those freedoms.
As your child grows it will be important to give age appropriate freedoms. You can give them those freedoms when they have the self control to handle those freedoms. The funnel moves from narrow to wide, age appropriately.
Summary Point: Be good at narrow funnel but be wise at wide funnel
5. Parent between the Pillars of Old School and New School
Today’s world has brought in a lot of new complexity. We had great parenting traditions in the past…. but there are things going on today that are completely different than what Mom and I had deal with in parenting you. For example, you are a part of the first generation that has been online and plugged in wherever they go. Cyber threats to children are real today. In the next few years you will be hearing more about things like facebook addictions, gaming addictions, online gambling addictions, porn addictions, and a gamut of new things that have not been named yet. I am going to encourage you to be on the front end of this and learn as much about it as you can before Baby J is born. It will be important for you to find strategic times to put the screens down for intentional and real relationship building. Josh Straub in his book recommends parents of the 21st century have an e-nuptual going into parenting, In other words agree on how you, as a family, handle screen time. Be intentional about moments to put the screens down and do uninterrupted relationship. Be realistic.
I actually have purchased you an e-Christmas present that you can view online. Here is a link to several short videos (5-10 min each) from Josh Straub on creating a screen balanced family. ( http://www.joshuastraub.com/the-screen-balanced-family-videos
: Access Code XXXXXXX ). Also his workbook can be downloaded here: No LINK. Josh is passionate about helping new parents parent in the 21st century.
Whatever e-nuptual you and Aaron agree on Mom and I plan on following suit at our home as well. So in in a way your e-nuptual will also be starting a new method of parenting for all the subsequent Spadino/Johnson kids, grand kids, and great grand kids to follow.
Summary Point: Screen time in today’s world can not be avoided, but we must have real relationship to flourish!
6. Parent with a divine and healthy priority system
This one might be the most important and difficult one to do!
Even though I believe in the goal of having a child that is safely attached to parents and emotionally safe…. that idea alone can lead to child centered parenting. As Baby J matures it will be easy for you to make Baby J the center of life and decision making. As time goes on it will be easy to lose sight of important aspects of your faith, marriage, .and no longer have time for spiritual and emotional self care. The speed of life takes over! It will be important at times to refocus and recenter your thinking around Christ and re-establish a divine and healthy priority system.
Christ is first, marriage, children third. I am going to encourage you to put children third on the list. In today’s world you need to beware of child-centered parenting where we place children at the center of the household. Children need to feel safe and like they are an important aspect of a family… not be the center of it.
Scripture also gives two greatest commandments: (1) Love God, and (2) Love others as you love yourself. Notice the word yourself. You are included toward the top of the list of people to love. So take time for self care and take care of yourself spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Find moments to make yourself a priority. Take time for emotional self-care. As you inevitably and at times let go of this priority system take some time and re-sync your marriage and re-establish spiritual and emotional priorities to stay healthy. Your children will thank you for it!
Summary Point: Beware of child centered parenting and making your children and marriage an idol! Establish and continuously re-establish the divine and healthy priority system of scripture in marriage and parenting. Christ, marriage (self included), children.
I love you guys, I know you both will make great parents!