Parenting: It’s About YOUR Family Values

Parenting: It’s About YOUR Family Values.

Our baby group began in the hospital.

Four of us delivered beautiful babies within a couple days of each other, and met as we waddled down the corridors, pushing our babies in their clear bassinettes. We discovered that we lived close to each other, and decided to meet up. We each brought a friend to our first meeting, and continued to gather regularly to support, laugh and cry together.

We shared our problems with breastfeeding: some had no milk and some had too much. Some had sleep, others had little. We excitedly phoned each other when our babies cut their first teeth, and rolled over for the first time – Well everybody else phoned when their baby rolled over. Our baby rolled over off the side of the bed, landing on her head – with both of us watching. So our excited phone-call was to the doctor!

Then, the babies began to walk. From then on, they proceeded to ‘explore’ or ‘get into mischief’ – depending on which school of thought we came from. Out came the virtual daggers that ripped each other’s views of parenting into shreds. Some were in favour of smacking while others were opposed to it. Some had schedules for sleeping times, while others had baby-led regimes.

Out of our regard for each other, we celebrated a combined first birthday, and officially ended our group. We recognised that our views differed enough to become a barrier to our friendship if we continued to meet up under the same circumstances.

Our ‘babies’ are now well into their twenties. All of them are beautiful, healthy, loving young adults – despite their parents’ different approaches to parenting. Occasionally we bump into the other parents and we share what our young adults are up to. We are still friends – probably because we chose to focus on things other than the behaviour of each other’s children.

We all wanted to do our very best for our families. But unfortunately, that was often framed in a very black and white viewpoint – certainly one that was clouded by lack of sleep, childhood illnesses, current hypotheses on child-rearing and the different backgrounds and beliefs of each of our families.

That initial experience of parenting groups was enough to make me seek friendships and mentoring outside of a focus on children. Perhaps I subconsciously recognised that other parents of children the same age as mine were caught up in the same boat as me. So I maintained friendships with older, more experienced parents through craft groups and bible studies. Through informal discussions, I found their objective views were much more helpful. Perhaps the most encouraging message they gave me was that they had survived.

At one stage, a group of older members of our congregation organised a parenting course presented by Ross Campbell, author of ‘How to really love your child’ and Gary Chapman, author of ‘The Five Love Languages’. The course was great and the kids had a good time too. They were fed pizza and cared for while we learnt to enjoy our kids…and really love them in a way they could understand. These days, we try to encourage and mentor parents as we were encouraged and mentored.

We recognise that there is a whole world full of different parenting philosophies and practices today. Each family is different from every other family.  So we encourage families to note and treasure those differences.

Some families have found it useful to make their own Family Values Ladder. Parents each make a list of what is important to them such as: education, trust, sharing, honesty, God-loving. Then they share their ideas and together prioritise them according to what they believe to be most important to their family. It’s useful to involve the kids in this process.  Just a word of caution: Taking your teens to the local KFC to do this activity while their friends are working a shift behind the counter is not a good idea…Don’t ask me how I know that!

Family Values Ladders 

Together with your partner, work out which values you hold to most strongly, and write them on a ladder such as this.

‘Family Values Ladders’ help keep family ‘challenges’ in perspective. For example, if ‘kindness’ is high on the family value ladder, while ‘keeping up with fashion’ is further down the ladder, mum and dad might choose to focus on encouraging kindness in their family, rather than arguing with their children about which t-shirt they should wear.

These days I encourage all parents to attend courses, read books, watch dvds or television programmes that teach about child development and relationships. There are some words of caution I usually give:

  • Parenting courses, parenting groups and parenting advice that is useful should leave you with a feeling of ‘I can do that’, no matter how well (or not) you have been doing.
  • Good parenting courses should back-up other good parenting courses
  • If some advice you hear is contrary to what others are saying, check it out! Find out the evidence and the original source of the information and compare it.
  • If your heart is telling you that something is not right, ask yourself, “Is this showing love, and does it practice respect for all concerned?’
  • Ask questions! Don’t take any advice as ‘gospel’ without questioning it – and especially, check out the context of biblical references if they are quoted.

Perhaps the wisest words of advice we’ve ever received are from Ian Grant, author of ‘Growing Great Families!’ *

‘If you’re having fun being a parent you’re probably doing it about right!’

*http://www.theparentingplace.com

Sex: You need to talk about it with your kids – Julie Hahn

One of the mothers of our Year 7 class was teaching her daughter about sex. Every lunch time her daughter gave us a little bit more information.  We listened, snickered and stuck our noses up in the air, as Year 7 girls tend to do. We made remarks such as ‘That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Nobody would ever do that!’

I got the job of going home to ask my mother to validate the latest gory details. After all, my mum was a nurse for three months, so she must have known something about sex. So I’d go home, ask her direct questions and receive direct answers. And I’d report back to the girls.

Whether mum figured out that there was a whole class-full of girls clinging to her every word, I’m not sure. But I’m glad she was open enough to answer questions.

There were no books available to our family back then. Any book that might have been useful in the school-library had been coloured in by a censor. No wonder the kids of the day thought you had to be a doctor or nurse to know about sex.

When our own children were little, things were much different. The impending birth of our son when the kids were 5, 6 and 8 years old gave us a fantastic opportunity to give information in a matter-of-fact way.

We found some books that were helpful, especially our favourite called ‘Who made me?’ by Malcolm and Meryl Doney, and illustrated by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen. ‘Who made me?’ had simple language, cute pictures and analogies that the kids could relate to: bits that fitted together like jigsaw puzzle pieces, and fruit and vegetables that illustrated the size of the baby as it grew inside mum’s tummy.

Sex was described as the most fun game that mummies and daddies can play. This book spoke about sex as a beautiful gift within the context of marriage…Bonus! That gave us the opportunity to place a lock on our bedroom door – and explain to our kids that if the lock was in operation, we might be playing that game so, best for them to leave us alone.

We also had the opportunity to accompany our children to sex-ed nights at school. The guest speakers gave the audience the facts about anatomy and physiology.  Then they directed each child to ask their parent who was sitting next to them ‘In your family, what do you call this bit?’

These were informative nights that answered the questions that most children ask, and most parents get embarrassed about. We liked them – apart from the question-time at the end, where we would hope and pray that it was not our child who put up their hand to ask more questions that embarrassed parents.

Our youngest had a different up-bringing to his older siblings, largely because issues that the others were dealing with were often discussed quite freely around the dinner table. The girls were having a discussion about periods one night while I kept trying to change the subject. Acknowledging defeat I asked their little brother, as casually as I could, if he knew what periods were. His answer… ‘When girls get grumpy!’

In our church we have a resource library for parents, available to the whole community. One of the resources available is a cd called ‘The Big Weekend’. Produced by the parenting place.com it is specifically designed for parents and their child (aged about 11 years old) to play in the car’s cd drive while they go for a weekend trip.

‘The Big Weekend’ talks about sex and other issues that kids may face, such as self-esteem, bullying, sexuality and depression.

It’s really engaging and is presented in a way that is non-threatening for either parent or child and invites discussion through its use of humour. Chris took Noah on a ‘Big Weekend’ and they found it great. It enhanced their relationship and gave them some great memories that they can share together.

As our kids faced senior school, each of them came home with stories about class-mates who were pregnant. Too often, these young people were from devoutly religious homes. I’ve read books that tell Christian parents to use a flower as the way to teach their adult child about sex … and that’s it!  No other information offered!

If Christian parents can’t recognise that God has given us the gift of sex for our marriage relationship, and pass that on to our kids, who will?  If we feel too embarrassed to speak about sex with them, they will find out in other ways – and the results can be traumatic. Knowing about sex and practicing protective behaviours keeps our kids safer, and gives them the vocabulary to talk about it if ever necessary.

‘There’s no such thing as ‘values-free sex education’.

‘There’s no such thing as ‘values-free sex education’*. People usually learn the values that are associated with sex from the context in which they learn about sex. If people learn about sex behind the school shed; in the context of sexual abuse; in a marriage or relationship where sex is expected but not explained; from lobby groups who have their own agendas; or more than likely from television, movies and the internet, they will also take on board the values with which it is presented.

Is what the kids see on MTV the way we would like them to look at their sexuality?

If we as parents teach about sex, we earn the right to teach our values.

If we are too shy to speak about sex, do we have the right to expect our children to adhere to our values. Or do we think that they will know our values by a simple process of osmosis?

In the context of sexuality in our world, future generations will need to be able to communicate clearly and openly about sex among other issues. How can Christians ever be invited to take part in open, frank, respectful conversations about marriage, relationships and sexuality if they are perceived as never talking about sex?

The most powerful mechanism by which we can change that perception is by parents being open with their kids.  Parents need to intentionally pass on their values openly, frankly and respectfully, in word and through modelling behaviour.

As parents we have the privilege of being able to influence our children’s attitudes to sex. Whether we are embarrassed or shy doesn’t take away our responsibility to teach our children about sex and the values we have about it. After all, if we don’t, somebody else will.

 

Previously published as ‘Bye-Bye Birds and Bees’ in The Lutheran magazine, 2012.  

*The Parenting Place