For the first few years of motherhood I felt like I had no idea how to parent. Raising my kids was moment-to-moment, day-to-day guesswork. I didn’t know how to parent long-term, or even where to start. All my choices were based on a combination of my own instinct and copycatting what my friends were doing. But… was I doing it right?
Should we be doing more playdates? Sensory bins? Time outs? Chores charts?
What was the best way to deal with tantrums, sleep problems, and my sneaky toddler who really wanted to eat Old Spice deodorant?
What exactly was I supposed to do between now and empty-nesting that would get my littles where they needed to go???
The Missing “How to Parent” Puzzle Piece
It was while I was reading what felt like my hundredth parenting book (which also happens to have one of the most hideous covers I’ve ever seen!) that I saw the first pinprick of light.
I was partway through The Parenting Breakthrough, still kind of grimacing over the toilet-cleaning pictorial that had been chosen as the cover art, when I suddenly realized that (unfortunate cover or not) these parents were pretty genius. This particular “how to parent” book lays out a specific, detailed plan to teach your kids how to work hard, learn strong life skills like finances, cooking, and cleaning, and basically become independent.
But my biggest takeaway, the one that changed my perspective and empowered me in mothering, was simple:
I couldn’t nail down the day-to-day “right” things for my kids, because I hadn’t decided what I wanted to teach them long-term.
I hadn’t set any goals.
I know that might sound crazy–I had tiny children who couldn’t even be counted on to put on their own shoes–but something stirred in my heart when I recognized that motherhood wasn’t just about changing diapers and putting out (hopefully figurative) fires.
I could actually start aiming for something bigger than just the scraping by until bedtimes.
What Do You Want to Give Them?
For me, the missing piece of the “how to parent” puzzle wasn’t the step-by-step instructions I was seeking out in books. What I needed before the “how to” could make sense was the answer to a couple of “what” questions:
- What do I want for my children in the long-term?
- When they grow up and move out, what do I want them to have learned from me?
- What values, skills, and characteristics do I want to teach, nurture, and strengthen in my them?
I’ve learned that having my core values and goals for my kids nailed down makes figuring out my priorities in my role as “Mom” so much easier.
Whenever I question myself, I can go back to my list of values and compare that with my actions.
Is this activity/behavior/opportunity in line with the core values I am trying to teach my kids?
If yes, great! High-fives and chocolate chip cookies for me. If no, we can reevaluate, make any necessary changes, and move forward .
Choosing Your Values
For me, choosing the values I want to encourage in my kids was very much a gut thing. I knew in my soul the things I wanted for them. But until I pulled those things forward and mulled them over, I didn’t really have a solid goal set.
So while you’re here, let’s just do a super quick get-started-with-your-gut activity. Grab a post-it or scrap of paper, open an email or note in your phone, or scroll down to share in the comments, and jot down the things you desperately want to grow in your children.
Everyone’s list will be different, and that is good. Our different strengths and weaknesses allow us reasons to converse, connect, support, and ask for/offer help! So go with your gut, and make your own list. But if you’re curious or need a jumping off point, here is a list of the things I want to foster in my own children:
- independence (physical, social, financial, etc.)
- a sense of security and love in our family
- faith in God
- resilience / the ability to move through failures and push forward
- generosity / a desire to contribute
- courage and willingness to choose the moral right–even when it is harder
- appreciation for their relationships with each other, and the skills and humility to take ownership of those relationships
- a growth-oriented mindset (the ability to admit when they are wrong and learn to do better)
Remember: your values might overlap, or they might be totally different. Maybe you want to encourage creativity, encourage big-picture thinking, grow a reader, or raise strong leaders. My list is just a starting point. Your list will be beautifully customized to your own family.
Our “Right Things” Are Not Universal
Because our values and the ways we choose to teach them will all be different–and because we are all different as mothers, with our own unique needs–the “right things” for our children will not all be universal!
REJOICE!!! You don’t have to do it the way she does it to be “doing it right” for your kids! (And she doesn’t have to do it your way, either! Woo hoo!)
And when you start basing your day-to-day decisions on the why of mothering, on those values you are working toward, it will start to feel easier to make your own decisions regardless of what your friends are doing.
I wouldn’t jump on a plane with my bestie who was headed to Orlando if I was trying to get to a vacation in San Diego. And I wouldn’t feel bad for getting on my own “right” plane to get where I was going. But you can bet we would swap happy stories and travel woes, text each other way too many pictures, and be happy for each others’ time off.
Motherhood is like that, too, mama. You and the people you love can be working toward different goals in different ways and still share your struggles, swap ideas, and rejoice in each other’s triumphs.
The pressure to find the universal “right thing” is off–now you get to find your own two feet on your very own path. So tell me–what are the big, bright, heart-deep values you want to give your children?
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