I have an elderly neighbour who is married, but childless. We don’t see each other very often but whenever we do, she always admires my Bunnies and asks how I’m coping. When I was pregnant with Piglet, she commented on how “strong” I was to get pregnant again. I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant, so I muttered something about how some people pitied me for expecting a third child, even though we wanted one. She snorted, and said, “They won’t do that when they get to my age.”
Her reply made me step back. In a new way, I realised how precious children are. I asked myself how I might look back upon my life as a parent – what I’d be glad I did, what I’d wished I could change. All too often, I’ve heard parents of teenage kids say they wish they could turn back the clock and raise their children all over again.
So here is my list. I think I’ll be adding to it as time goes by.
1) Bless my Bunnies by giving them myself. Does this sound pompous! Please forgive me for thinking there is no substitute for my presence in their lives. I can see that my regular, consistent, emotional and physical presence means so much to my kids. Being attentive and giving one-on-one time are important at every stage of their lives.
Take the case of Lamb. His 2-year old attachment to me says it all. Should I simply give him a blanket and force him to drag it around like Linus? I grieve together with parents who tell me how they wish they’d spent more time with their kids, and teenagers who tell me how they wish their parents spent more time with them instead of thinking that money, extra tuition, branded clothing and video-games could substitute.
2) Laugh more. Sometimes, I need to lighten up. On some days, I can be a very wet blanket. I need to see humour in things. Piglet’s poo will happen when dictation is happening. We can work around things instead of trying to ram our heads against the wall. This shouldn’t mean abandoning appropriate boundaries or rules. Life would be much easier for me and the kids.
3) Accept my Bunnies the way they are. This is connected to No. 2. I think I struggle with the fact that children are so unpredictable. They change so quickly. The moment I think I’ve got their routine down to pat, developmental changes or some other who-knows-what-thing necessitates adjustment. As they grow, they’ll be making more evident choices on what kind of people they want to be and what kind of lives they want to lead.
It’ll help me (and them) to accept that kids are dynamic, little people, who don’t come neatly packed (think labour and childbirth!). They can’t be strictly categorised. (Neither can I!) And it’ll help me to love my children for who they are, rather than the way I wish they would be. They need to know that. They shouldn’t have to grow up thinking that they don’t measure up. They need me to believe in them and love them no matter what.
4) Be their greatest encourager. When I’m tired and don’t feel too encouraged myself, doing this can be tough. Am I communicating too much negativity? My Bunnies aren’t mind readers. They need me to make a better effort to pounce on myself before I become too critical. I need to catch them doing what is right, good, thoughtful and considerate, more often than what they do wrong. And they need me to point it out. Highlight it. “Hey, you did a great job.” “You handled that situation really well.” When they do something wrong, I’ll need to discipline but encouragement still pays. Say something like, “I know you can do better than this.”
5) Build a positive atmosphere at home. They haven’t left home for school yet, but when they do, will they look forward to coming home? I want to give them a beautiful home to look forward to. A HOME, not a house. Homes are filled with love, acceptance, warmth and laughter. Homes remind kids that no matter how bad the day is at school or with friends, they can always come home. They shouldn’t have to play out their disappointment or frustrations by getting involved in bad situations, especially dangerous ones.
6) Remind them of who they are. As they grow up, my Bunnies will, very likely, receive many false messages about their identity. In our intensely consumer-materialistic age, they will be told that their worth is based upon their academic record, their physical attractiveness, their charm, or their ability to make money. They need me to help them grow up with a sense of their true identity.
I worry how so many children are growing up these days with an over-emphasis on academic excellence. Sweet Man is a teacher, and he sees too many students hurting because they think they’re not good enough for their parents. Their pain is often expressed in troubled or negative behaviour. Sometimes, the sorrow is barely perceptible; thoughts of suicide hover below the surface. Doing well in school is of absolutely no value unless it is set in a healthy framework. Do I want to raise brilliant but broken people? I want our Bunnies to know that they are inherently of value. They’re special, just because they’re human.
7) Express emotions appropriately. Often, situations arise that evoke strong emotions. Some of them are negative – like feeling I want to throw a plate at the wall. Thankfully I haven’t done that yet! I’ve yelled and threatened the pits, though. And I’ve learned that these things aren’t helpful. (Humiliating the kids or loudly highlighting their mistakes in front of others aren’t better options. They don’t communicate value or respect.) If I don’t address these things now, they will only get worse. If I don’t pay for it now, I will definitely pay for it later. That’s the law of the universe.
There is no point for everyone to get upset. Particularly the parent, who is, after all, supposed to be the Parent. What will help is for me to check myself with “Would I want Puppy to copy what I’m going to do next?”. Often, this calms me down. Then focus on the consequences. As a result of her unacceptable behaviour, what is the consequence? “It makes Mama feel really sad to see you hit your brother. It makes Lamb angry too.” Then ask her, “What else could you have done instead of hitting?” Sometimes, she has a good answer. When she doesn’t, I suggest one. This kind of dispute resolution should happen more in our home! It’s difficult. It takes energy. But it’s critical.
There’s no need to feel I’m the worst parent in the world if I have strong emotions. Or that my Bunnies are the worst kids in the world if they have strong emotions. It’s important to acknowledge negative feelings and express them appropriately.
8) Deal with my own issues. Oh boy, this list reminds me that I’m the role model for my Bunnies! I’m not a perfect human being. Yet, if I don’t deal with my own issues (bad habits, wrongdoing, insecurities, feelings of inadequacy, etc), these will impact them directly.
My Bunnies are watching how I treat people. Right now, they’re watching how I relate to Sweet Man. What happens at home is significant! Am I gracious? Kind? Respectful? Loving? Patient? Faithful? Self-controlled when I’m angry? They’re learning values not from a textbook but from the lives of Mama and Papa.
9) Pray for them, and ourselves. It isn’t easy to be a kid, and it isn’t easy being a parent either (see No. 8). Rotten habits die hard. The best of my efforts are like filthy rags. Time has proven that. Sweet Man and I need to pray more for our Bunnies and ourselves. If we don’t each day, who will?
As I pray for our children, I’ll want to think about their day. Their character. And when they get older, I’ll want to think about the people they’ll be with. The choices they’ll make. There will be many things out of my control. How will they decide? Especially when they know I’m not watching?
And I pray that in some areas of my life, I’ll grow up … before our Bunnies do.