Christian Parenting Tips from Mom of 5
Christian Parenting Advice
As the mom of five children who have done well in school and are generally considered well-behaved and considerate, I often have people assume that my husband and I are somehow particularly well suited to being parents. However, our parenting isn't just something random, we've had a lot of advice from books and friends that has stuck with us and has helped us along the way. Here are the top 12 tips that have guided me as I've been a mom:
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1. Let Sleep Needs Schedule the Day:
One of the best pieces of advice I had was from my friend Ann, who told me that I should be sure to schedule my day around the children's needs, especially their need to sleep. Actually, parents need to make sure they get enough sleep too (whenever possible!). Lack of sleep causes tempers to rise, children to become disobedient and grumpy and can lead to many family arguments that wouldn't happen if people weren't stressed by feeling too tired.
2. Let Kids Learn to Play by Themselves
Another friend, Krista, who was a mother of five when I was just starting on my first, told me that I should make sure my daughter learned to play by herself. Krista confessed that she had made the mistake of playing with her oldest all the time and now that child was always demanding more than her share of attention. In fact, since my husband and I had had been Sunday School teachers for her sweet but demanding little girl, I knew this was true! Consequently, I worked very hard to make my children spend some of each day playing alone or with one another. Sometimes, that meant I had to change some things about my house to make that happen. When my first refused to play alone in her room, I moved some of her toys into the living room where she could still be near me but play alone.
3. Focus on Knowing Your Child's Personality and Motives Better than Anyone Else
Two other beacons of advice came from books. One book said to spend time really getting to know your child. Another book told me that toddlers lack discrimination of levels of emotion. They are either mad or happy, nothing in between.
That became an essential piece of information as I dealt with my own emotions during tantrums. It helped me combat the natural desire to give in to the demands by making me realize that the emotions I saw were often not as strong as the child actually felt and helped me to be secure in "waiting out" the anger until the pendulum swung back on its own.
Paying attention to the way my children handled their emotions made me realize that I had to adjust my parenting and discipline for each child. I tended to leave my kids to "cry it out" during a tantrum and that worked for four of my children; however, one of my daughters could not stop crying on her own. She needed me to come in and help her to wind down from her emotions.
I learned that one type of discipline technique may not work for all children; consequently, I've learned to be careful to take advice and share it in a humble way. Many wonderful ideas are available through books, seminars and the advice of close friends, but don't assume that each of your children can be disciplined and trained exactly the same. Conversely, don't assume that what works for you will work for everyone you know!
4. Remember You are the Parent and They are the Child
Actually, this piece of advice from my friend Katie helped in this area of understanding how to deal with my own emotions. She said, "Never argue with a child, it makes them think they are on an equal playing field. You are the adult. You always win." I've often had to think about this carefully when tempted to get into a war of words with my kids.
What this has meant in part for me is to be very careful about what I do decide to make a non-negotiable. It has to be something important which involves safety, values or something of equal importance. That means that if we are in a conflict of preferences, I don't pull out punishments and "absolutes." I save those for the important issues, and make discussion and talking out the way we handle non-important issues.
5. Regular Home Routine
All of this advice was helpful, as was the fact that I was raised by loving parents and had been a teacher for twelve years before becoming a parent for the first time at 35. Still, I do wish I had read Susan Schaeffer Macaulay's book before I'd become a parent. Some of her astonishing insights are often so very commonsensical as to be almost laughable if it weren't for the fact that so many homes ignore them.
For instance, Maucaulay suggests that children and adults do better with a regular home routine. There should be time for work, rest, and play. Everyone should have enough time for activities like getting ready for work or school so that they are not rushed out the door or feeling harried or stressed. She insists that there should be plenty of time for spending time outdoors for a conversation with neighbors, for eating together at least once a day, and for reading together at night. In addition, she says that we should never neglect time for making our lives and homes beautiful by drawing a picture (if we can) or picking up an interesting piece of driftwood to display (if we can't).
6. Pay Attention to the Art of Homemaking
Yesterday, a friend of my daughter came over to visit for the first time and said, "This just feels like a happy home." That is not just an accident. I work hard to make my home a place of fun, rest, peace and happiness. Much of my inspiration come from Edith Schaefer who has written widely about homemaking, especially in her book The Hidden Art of Homemaking.
This book nothing to do with cleaning or anything of that sort, but has everything to do with making life beautiful through everyday acts of kindness and attention to loving details. Both mother and daughter tell the anecdote of how Edith would serve trays of food to Hobos passing by their house at the end of the Great Depression, being careful to always put in a small vase with a flower along with saying a prayer that God would reach the heart of that person.
Here in Central Texas, among the college-educated stay-at-home mothers who form my circle of friends, such advice sounds familiar. The cost of living is low here and we have a slower pace of life. Everywhere you go in town you meet people you know. We can have a routine and we don't have to be rushed. However, I think that often we choose hectic over serene, harried over artful. I know that in Southern California where my husband and I grew up, and where my family still lives, lives are much more at the mercy of a fast-paced, frenetic culture.
7. Enjoy the Season
My mother's best advice? Something she continues to need to share with me? Each season has its own challenges and joys—don’t worry about the ones to come or you might miss where you are. Don’t try to do so much that you miss where you are.
8. Don't Try to Prevent Suffering
Ordinary suffering, like being teased or making mistakes, molds us to be the people God wants us to be. Don’t seek to help your child avoid all suffering. Do seek to talk them through their experiences so they can learn from them and learn to emphasize with other people.
9. Envision What They Can Be
That means what God made them to be—seek to know their gifts, strengths, talents and positive personality traits and help them to see how they can be that person. Envision the good qualities hidden in the negative ones. Remember that bad behavioral traits are good ones misused. Seek to bring out the good ones. I learned that from a wonderful seminar, God's Pattern for Enriched Living by Verna Burke.
10. Don’t Discipline the Behavior, Mold the Heart
Do you sometimes discipline your children because you are worried other people will judge you if you don't? Ouch! Reading that comment in a parenting book really hit me. I was convinced to work hard to make the good of the child the point of my discipline decisions, not what other people think about me, or worry about what other people would think. Too often, I see parents disciplining their children in public harshly while the children pay no attention. I suspect that the parents are not disciplining for the sake of teaching the child, but so they look better in front of other parents.
Of course, I've fallen into this emotional trap myself many times. We don't want our kids to make us look like bad parents who don't discipline. However, we lose a lot when we don't discipline because the child needs it, and ignore the lessons we need to teach that particular child. Some of my children respond to strict boundaries, but one of my kids can just fall apart when corrected and not be at all able to "pull herself together" after a tantrum.
I gradually began to realize that this child (in spite of looking like she didn't care about her disobedience) was actually much more mortified and upset over her disobedience than my other children. She didn't need punishment because she was already punishing herself. She needed my reassurance that she was still loved and clear consequences which allowed her to make the situation better by restoring the situation (giving the child another toy, doing something to fix the broken book etc.).
Helps You Understand Your Child
11. Learn to Love Individually
When we do things that people want us to do they are more pleased. It is a pretty simple concept but we often forget that. Gary Chapman's books on the Five Love Languages are helpful here. People appreciate different sorts of things and what we do for each person is important. You will feel you accomplished something if you do something you know will please your husband and children, even if you don't get everything done on your list for the day (which of course is most days!).
12. Family Vacations are Important.
When we are tempted to skip a vacation, we try to remember that you can never have a vacation when your kids are the age they are now again. During vacations, the family is together for a longer amount of time than during normal days. That means we learn things together and have to entertain each other.
There are many deep conversations which happened just because there is time for it. Moreover, family vacations allow us to have shared experiences and memories that help us feel bonded together. Luckily, these memories can be built on both good and bad experiences, so having a perfect vacation isn't necessarily the goal. In fact, closeness in a family can happen sometimes even more deeply when those memories are negative ones, like a car breaking down or freezing at night in a tent.
As our children have grown older, we've made it a priority to do some longer and more interesting vacations that have made some amazing shared memories. When we talk about those experiences there is a unique bond that makes the cost, trouble of planning and time all worth it.
Do you have any great Christian parenting tips or good pieces of advice? Share them with us in the comments!
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