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When you’re raising little children, it can be difficult to find time for introspection. You can become so busy in a cloud of activity that it’s hard to lift your head above the fog. Advice that’s seasoned, timely, and respectful is a treasure trove, but who really has time to seek it? Exactly.
Luckily, I happened upon a parenting lecture that was helpful, and that I’m eager to share with you. The lecturer, Dr. Amy Flavin, is a mom of two grown children who has practiced family therapy for over twenty years. What I respect most about her is that she’s not someone who happens to parent, but someone who approaches parenthood with intentionality, or as I like to say, a vocation.
Parenting as a Competitive Sport
In her lecture, Dr. Flavin notes three pitfalls of modern parenting and includes suggestions on what to do about them. First, she is surprised by the prevalence of “parenting as a competitive sport.” Parents compare their children and activities with others, resulting in busier children and increasingly overloaded parents just trying to keep up. Yep. We all know it’s easy to get overloaded.
How do we fight this impulse? By being aware. If we want raise independent children, we must be willing to carve out our own path as parents too. This includes being willing to selectively schedule our children, regardless of what’s going on around us. It’s an art, but one that will certainly enable us to have happier and less hectic home lives.
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Numerous parents have written about the importance of removing ourselves from the flurry of modern parenting. I particularly enjoyed Catherine Pearlman’s article, “Is Your Kid Overscheduled?” which appeared in the Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog last year. Pearlman reflects on her family’s decision to take a one-month long vacation to Spain one summer. She writes:
Those 31 days were the most relaxed and enjoyable family time we had ever had. We didn’t merely get along – we learned to love being just us. We stopped all the mindless rushing, and instead casually played games and invented songs and raced Hot Wheels and played rocket from our enormous armchair. Without the commitments of school and play dates and classes, and without all of the distraction of our overscheduled lives, we found our family.
We can get off the approval-seeking, competitive parenting rollercoaster and maintain a semblance of that same energy too.
The Invasion of Technology
Second, Flavin sees a real invasion of technology in the fabric of our lives. Parents are well aware of this problem. I remember when I was a teenager, I had a really, really big cellphone that I could only use to call my parents in emergencies. Now, cellphones are small, easily concealed, and children use them to text each other in the back seat of a car so that parents cannot hear what they’re saying. Shoot.
Flavin has a couple of interesting solutions. She not only advocates for less screen time, but wants parents to replace screen time with activities that develop motor skills and use all the senses, particularly touch—like board games, playing ball, or imaginative play. These options provide a more diverse sensory experience.
In addition, Flavin bemoans the fact that there are televisions and iPod shuffles in cars today. She encourages parents to turn off the noise – however tempting it may be, Amen? – and use car rides as a time to connect with children before and after school. It’s precious time that’s commonly overlooked. By setting aside this time, children not only sense our care, but they benefit from our ability to model listening and conversation. Preschool teachers have remarked to Flavin that children today seem less skilled in the latter. Yikes.
Confusing Parenting and Friendship
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Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Flavin notes she frequently counsels parents who confuse parenting and friendship. It appears to be a particular struggle for parents today. Parents are too worried about whether their children like them and therefore too reluctant to discipline. This dynamic creates unnecessary anxiety on behalf of both parents AND children, she says.
Confusing parenting and friendship is troublesome, but it is avoidable. She encourages parents to be willing to say “No” to their children. If our primary concern as parents is always what our children want, we are sacrificing important teaching moments and not preparing them for the real world. It is okay if children are upset or disappointed; dealing with those feelings is an important life skill. In order to develop, “children need to know that the fence is strong,” she says. A fence is a metaphor for healthy and consistent boundaries or rules. Children are actually less anxious and more likely to feel loved in such environments. Of course, as children age, the fence changes appropriately.
Thanks to Flavin and the numerous parents who have gone before us, there is ample wisdom available to help us surmount any parenting pitfalls we face today. I’m learning that it’s valuable to slow down and seek that wisdom. Slowing down allows us to glean information from others but also listen to God ourselves. We can best honor the vocation of parenthood by prayerfully making decisions and setting goals. We’ll have to navigate the challenges Flavin noted, but those challenges rest upon larger questions. What do we want our family and faith life to look like? What do we want our children to get out of life, and how do we model it ourselves? What kind of qualities do we want our children to possess, and how do we want to build those qualities? We are one step ahead of the crowd when we take time for reflection, and the gravity – and blessing – of our task demands it.
You can read more about my desire to honor motherhood as a sacred task, or vocation, by visiting my blog.
Noelle Kirchner is a Presbyterian pastor, wife, and mother of two young boys who enjoys writing when her wrangling skills aren't needed! In addition to contributing here, she has been a featured guest author at (In)courage and maintains her blog, Vocational Mothering. She believes approaching motherhood as a vocation means that you recognize the gravity of your ministry as a mom. Her passion is using her training to encourage Christian women like you! You can also find Noelle on Twitter and Facebook.