Tag Archives: intentional living

Your Parenting Goal

In college I was forced to take a class on leadership–I didn’t want to take it, I hated it while I was in it, and it has turned out to be the most useful class I took out of all 40-50 formal classes I was in during those four years. One thing I took away from that class is the importance of setting and meeting goals in all areas of life. Parenting is no exception!

Small child or international basketball superstar in training?

People have all sorts of goals for their children. For their child to have a certain career. For their child to reach certain achievements. For their child to have a safe and loving environment. For their child to have all the things they never had as a childhood. Some parents simply want to ensure their children have a childhood, instead of being forced into too many responsibilities too quickly.

My goal is a little different though. To be honest, I really had not thought about my goal as a parent until talking with some friends whose oldest child is going to college this fall. They said–and I’m paraphrasing here–their goal was to develop their children into self-sufficient, independent adults.

It’s such a simple thing really. Parenting philosophies abound today ranging from extremely regimented to extremely lax–or even creating a regimented system of lax ideas! But it seems obvious to me that childhood is by its very nature preparation for the rest of life, and I can’t believe I had never thought of it in such simple terms until that conversation.

In fact, I have adopted that as my own goal as well–I want Sam to be able to cook, wash his own laundry, clean up after himself, teach himself new things, think critically and make up his own mind on issues, work hard, and create a meaningful and happy life for himself. To be sure I want all those other things too–like a happy childhood–but I have an achievable end-goal in mind.

Don’t worry, Sam isn’t forced into cooking 5-course dinners for us!

I don’t know if it would be beneficial for everyone to think through their goal as a parent, but I think it has for me. It’s certainly shaping the way I think about Sam and what I should and should not be doing for him and with him. Have you thought about your parenting goals? If so, what are they, and have they been successful and/or helpful to you as a parent?

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Every New Day

I am filled with wonder at Sam. Of course there are the new skills he has developed over the past 9 months that amaze me as he crawls, holds his own bottle, feeds himself, pulls up (although for some reason his mouth is an important aspect of his pulling up ability), and walks along the edge of the couch or from chair to chair around the table. Those things still wow me when I think about the tiny thing he was not so long ago.

But it’s the little things he finds amazing that fill me with wonder. He loves to look out the window at our back yard. There’s nothing particularly special about our back yard, yet there is very little he finds more enjoyable than just looking at it for hours every day. I inevitably lose interest after a few minutes and do other things while he continues to look outside.

This seems to capture Sam’s thought process pretty well.

Every time my face suddenly appears through a doorway or around an obstacle, he still smiles and laughs. We’ve been playing peekaboo for his whole life, but he still finds this game incredibly fulfilling. Even just turning his head and seeing me across the room will plaster a huge smile on his face.

There’s something beautifully pure about childhood. We lose so much as we gain greater understanding and responsibility. I quickly decide that checking facebook or twitter is more interesting than seeking out the unique details of our back yard with Sammy. What do I gain from social media? Nothing really. But what could I gain from spending slow, quiet time contemplating the beauty of the natural world with Sam? What else deserves the type of intense attention to detail that Sam likes to give things?

Probably one thing that deserves that attention to detail is my cleaning ability, which I type as Sam finds yet another cheerio I somehow failed to sweep up off the floor and he immediately pops it into his mouth. In all seriousness though, I think we gain as much from our children as they gain from us. Here I have been given a perfect example of how to live in deeper connection to my surroundings. It’s a beautiful thing, and I’ll try to make the most of it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a window to look through with my son.

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The Tragedy of the Milestones

Early on in Samuel’s life, I couldn’t wait for him to reach a new milestone–holding his head up on his own, rolling over, sleeping through the night (oh, that was a blessed night indeed!), and many more. Those milestones even caused me some minor angst, when I felt like his mom and I were not giving him a stimulating enough environment, since many of those milestones were reached away from home.

Since then something has happened: mobility. Yes, Sam has been crawling for close to two months now, and I think crawling is in fact the biggest milestone of all. It’s the game changer. Lots of little milestones came together to help Sam transition from being an infant/newborn to a baby not only able to interact with other people, but a person who enjoys it; however, mobility itself is in many ways the first form of independence. It’s a great thing!

The thing that concerns me at this point though is that I find myself simultaneously looking forward to new milestones and dreading them at the same time. Crawling is fun, but won’t walking be better, since he will be further away from all the dirt and dust on the floor? On the other hand, he will just be that much faster. I already can’t keep up with him and do everything else I need and want to do! Won’t language skills be great? He’ll be able to tell me exactly what he needs/wants, instead of me having to guess! And he’ll be able to talk back, say “no”, and trick me into arguments where his logic will never lose.

Do I want him to continue growing and developing? Absolutely. Is it that I am trying to hold onto some perfect period in his life, where he is the most enjoyable? I don’t think so. I certainly don’t feel like this is a unique feeling either–I know billions of parents across time and space have had this mixed anticipation and trepidation.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that although I have been aware of the tension of parenthood’s balancing act between what a child wants and needs and what the parents do, I had not yet experienced this other tension. This slow-moving tragedy. The tension between a parent trying to hold onto his old life and the child reveling in discovery, excitement, exploration, and the inevitable changes he creates in the world around himself. The change in family and interpersonal dynamics forged by sheer force of child willpower.

Pondering my continued loss of control saddens me, but I think I may be missing the point. It’s not a tragedy at all. From the perspective of two and a half feet off the ground, it’s an adventure.

Who could dread that?

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The Importance of Reading to Children

You all know I am passionate about childhood literacy, so much so that I am helping to start Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in our home town. However, I want to talk a little today about why childhood literacy is so important.

Here are some frightening statistics for you: Two thirds of children who cannot read proficiently by the end of fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare. 37% of children enter Kindergarten without the skills necessary for lifetime learning. Or, the one that’s most disturbing to me, The US is the only nation out of 20 OECD free-market countries where the current generation is less well educated than the previous.

This is not acceptable. This is not how any nation in the world should be, and we need to take steps to reverse these trends. Fortunately, reading to young children, making books freely and easily available to them, and encouraging them to be life-long readers can make a huge difference in their lives!

Let’s look at some other studies too that show the value of reading to young children: A study of children aged 3-5 who were read to at least 3 times a week revealed that these children were two times more likely to recognize all letters, two times more likely to have word-sight recognition, and two times more likely to understand words in context. Creating a steady stream of new, age appropriate books has been shown to nearly triple interest in reading within months. The most successful way to improve the reading achievement of low-income children is to increase their access to print.

Of course, maybe the US Department of Education says it best:

If daily reading begins in infancy, by the time the child is 5 years old, he or she has been fed roughly 900 hours of brain food! Reduce that experience to just 30 minutes a week, and the child’s hungry mind loses 770 hours of nursery rhymes, fairy tales and stories. A kindergarten student who has not been read to could enter school with less than 60 hours of literacy nutrition. No teacher, no matter how talented, can make up for those lost hours of mental nourishment. (USDOE, 1999)

How can anyone make up for it? Read to your children. Support childhood literacy programs in your community. Make a difference in the lives of children today.

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Flow and parenting

Recently I talked about the importance of relaxation. However, today I want to talk about something that looks very different, but can frequently feel very similar: Flow.

If you’re unfamiliar with the idea of Flow, it can seem very foreign, but its really a very simple concept. Flow is when you’re doing something you are good at and that challenges you adequately, and you do it until you lose track of time and whatever other needs you might have. You’re “in the zone”, so to speak. Music, art, sports, exercise, even (and perhaps especially) playing a game are all ways people regularly experience Flow. Flow is the meeting of high challenge, high skill, regular feedback, and pure delight.

I think I’d like to add one more thing to that list of common Flow actions: Parenting. High challenge? Of course! Regular feedback? That kid is watching you all the time and letting you know how you’re doing through visual cues if not through sound. High skill? It may not always seem like it, but I think we’re probably better parents than we realize much of the time.

Whether you’re rolling a ball with your 18 month old, playing superheroes with your 4 year old, building a science fair model with your 8 year old, or discussing the finer points of why a Zulu warrior would beat a medieval knight in full armor (should this natural and obviously historical battle ever take place) with your 16 year old, Flow can quickly and easily come into play.

Of course, not all activities foster Flow. Those low skill and/or low challenge activities aren’t going to work. Take the time to develop interests in other areas and turn off the tv. Go out and experience Flow with your child today.

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Relaxation of childhood

This post was initially intended to go up last Friday. Frankly, I forgot to post it as the horrific news from Newtown Connecticut spread. However, I’m not sure there’s any better time to talk about enjoying the simple things in life and spending special time with your family than now, so here’s the original post.

Although there are many joys of parenthood and being a stay-at-home-dad in particular, one of the best is the ability to relax easily. I have to admit, this doesn’t always come easily for me. I have a tendency to push hard and actively do things, even if they are intended as a form of relaxation or entertainment.
In fact, it helps me to remind myself to take things slowly. One of the best things I can do as a parent is to take things slowly and let life develop at its own pace, or perhaps more accurately, Samuel’s pace.
It is good to relax. It is good to sit outside and watch the leaves fall–not that there are any left at this time of year. It is good to turn on the lights decorating the Christmas tree and just look at them and the ornaments on the tree. It’s good to sit and watch a ceiling fan. It’s good to just lie on the floor and play with each others fingers.
Of course, it’s good for children to play with toys and to challenge ourselves in new ways as well. But I think it’s easier to forget to relax than to forget to play, which is just plain too bad. Take some time to smell the flowers–literally or otherwise. Let life shape itself around you instead of trying to mold life or mold yourself into a certain way. I think you and your child will both be better off for it.

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You’re not a bachelor anymore

I did something dumb recently. I had trouble falling asleep and ended up being awake until after 3 AM working on projects. From a professional and productivity standpoint, that was a fairly good decision–I got a lot of work done and since I work from home, I could just sleep in.

From a parenting perspective, it was a nightmare. First of all, I’m not a teenager anymore, and I physically just can’t handle that as well as I used to. Staying up that late would not have been unusual for me in the past–I even went for a few weeks on just a couple hours of sleep a night due to a particularly busy semester in college–but I haven’t done that in years, and definitely not since Samuel was born.

Since Sam wakes up at 7 or so most mornings, this could have been a complete disaster, resulting in a grouchy daddy being a bad parent and a bad writer for the whole day. Fortunately, Sam slept in and our day rolled along pretty well. Even so, it reminded me of my new responsibilities in life.

It’s better for me to miss an opportunity than to miss my child. It’s better for me to fall behind in current events than it is for me to ignore my child in the pursuit of my own desires. It’s better for me to push away the laptop and pull up the picture book I’ve already read 5 times today for yet another few minutes of one-on-one time with Samuel.

It’s not always easy and I certainly continue to make those mistakes, in addition to the occasional evenings and weekends when I disappear for a bit to get some necessary work done. But it’s a worthwhile endeavor, and I’m going to keep working on it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I hear someone stirring in his crib. I have some life to live instead of just work to do.

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One of my first posts was on the need to slow down and enjoy life that is happening right in front of me, so on Sunday we went to a church picnic at a local farm. This was a small gathering–we attend a small church, and naturally not everyone came to the picnic–but I’m always amazed at how Sam responds to people outside of the family.
Sam is always happy to interact with other people. He loves to be held by new people, talk to them, smile at them, and play with them. I suspect he gets that from his mom, because that’s certainly not how I am! I typically stay very reserved around new people, or even not-so-new people, simply because that’s my personality.
In college I had several class discussions about the “nature vs. nurture” debate, in conjunction with Locke’s Tabula Rasa, John B. Watson’s theories, or even in a literature class when we discussed Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson. Throughout my life I have been a “nurture” devotee, but since Sam’s birth I can’t help but reconsider my beliefs.
Sam simply looks like an extrovert at 4 months old. Of course, personality changes over time and he might turn out to be completely different, but this seems like an inborn trait. I suppose this is just another example of the way our perspectives change as life goes on–maybe a bit of “nurturing” that modifies our own nature.
I don’t think this is a bad thing at all–I’m glad he loves to spend time with other people and that he’s as happy to spend time with non-family members as family members.
Of course, there was a lot more than just interpersonal interaction at the picnic–there was a farm full of animals as well! Samuel’s still a bit young for a petting zoo, but we still walked around to look at goats, sheep, ducks, chickens, rabbits, peacocks, and fish. I thought Samuel might enjoy watching them, based on how funny he finds our cat, but he was mostly uninterested.
Despite this lack of interest, I enjoyed seeing the animals, and watching the other young children at the farm reminded me of how much we still have to look forward to in the future. I have no doubt that within the next few years going to a farm like that will be incredibly fun for everyone, but most of all Samuel.
Samuel has so much more to discover in life, and I am so glad I get to be involved with the discovery process. After all, a front-row seat is nice, but being on the stage and engaged in the process is so much more fun than anything else.

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“Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Over the past week or so, PBS has been in the news a lot, mostly in regard to Mitt Romney’s statement that he would cut funding for the organization out of the federal budget. This brought to mind a fantastic speech given by Fred Rogers, one of my heroes, given at another time when PBS funding was under consideration by the federal government—if you’ve never heard this speech before, take a few minutes out of your day and watch it here: 

One of the things I most appreciate about Rogers is his constant (and consistently) calm and kind nature. In this speech he never grows angry about the idea of cutting funding for an organization he certainly had both professional and personal investment in—instead he quietly talks to the congressmen about what he does and why it is important, to great effect as you see at the end of the video. Of course, this is just how he was. I don’t have to tell you that, because if you’ve ever seen an episode of his classic tv show, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, you know that within moments of seeing him walk through the front door of the house, reaching children at their own level without ever becoming condescending.

My thoughts about Rogers’ nature also came into contact with Sonny Lemmons’ recent post, “The Eyes Have It”, also well worth your time. We live in a world that seems to grow more frenetic and less forgiving every day, and it is good for us to slow down our lives and make real connections. Put down your phone or tablet. Turn off the tv or computer. Make a real connection with people. Meet them on their level. Slow down and enjoy interacting with people, and make eye contact. It can be hard to do, particularly because we live so much of our lives in that fast-paced world, but it’s not only good for other people and your relationships with them, but it is good for yourself to take a step back and just spend an hour watching the birds. You’ll have another chance to do whatever was pulling you away from these other people, or you might find that it really didn’t matter anyway.

Slow down. Enjoy life. Let the day take you where it will take you. Love the people around you, slowly, kindly, and gently.

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