What kind of parent do you want to be? For most parents the quick answer to this question is easy: a great one. Or at least hopefully that’s where most begin their journey. I think it is. But what happens next? What does it really mean to be a great parent? How will you navigate through the turbulent waters of parentinge?
How will you handle it when your kids don’t listen? Have you really thought about what it takes? I’m talking about more than just the effort you will put forth. I’m talking about your parenting philosophy, your core values, those things that will anchor you when the weather gets rough. Because it will.
The reality is this: we all want to be great parents, but the road to well adjusted young adults is a long one, it’s elusive, it’s fraught with unexpected pitfalls and challenges that didn’t exist yesterday. And around every corner? Parental exhaustion. It would be nice if when you left the hospital they handed you a road map to parenting success and that was all the guidance you needed, but that’s simply not possible. Destination unknown. Your journey will be unique. But with your core values serving as your north star, and a little luck, you’ll hopefully still get there. Just be sure to buckle up because at times it’s going to be bumpy!
The good news is there are an abundance of resources and opinions — professional and otherwise — to help you navigate your way. Some of these will certainly be helpful to you. The bad news is that sometimes this avalanche of information will overwhelm you and you’ll be lost within the noise. Furthermore, some parts of your journey will be solely unique. After all, those little bundles of joy you have are unique. One of a kind. And they’ll gift you with one of a kind challenges. Google all you want, read all you want, ask questions all you want, but how do you what’s right for your child? Figuring that out is the essence of parenting.
My wife and I are not immune to parental struggle. We are 100% committed to finding the right strategies to employ with our kids, but sometimes it’s hard to navigate all the choices. We start with the best intentions, but we end up arguing about the merits of one approach versus the merits of another. I don’t like it when my daughter calls me a “Dum Dum Daddy Poophead” (okay, it’s a little funny), but what is the right way to handle this? Laugh it off? Get angry? Discipline her in some way? There are a lot of choices. Ask 10 people and you very well could get 10 different strategies. And they all could be right. It depends on you and your child.
My wife and I agree on the merits of Positive Parenting and yet we still haven’t arrived at what I would call a full parenting game plan that we are both 100 percent on board with. I think it’s important to do so. I think it’s important for us to have a unified front. Without clarity and unity it becomes confusing for both the kids and the parents. Confusion doesn’t often lead to the best results. Yes, I’ve screamed at my kids (never a proud moment for a parent, but it happens to the best of us) and put them in a timeout even though my wife and I have read and agree with a lot of the arguments against using timeouts. I’ve threatened “no dessert!” or offered the bribe of dessert, even though bribing might be a bad strategy. So why do I do it then? Because parenting is hard! Because in the absence of a clear plan, amidst chaos and exhaustion, we can fall into bad habits. Desperately we reach for a lifeline. We struggle against the riptide instead of staying calm and navigating our way to calmer waters.
So what’s the answer then? How can we be great parents and help guide our kids on their journey? That’s obviously a tough question. It’s something we’ve clearly struggled with in our house and probably something most families struggle with at least to a degree. But I think the answer is this, build your road map, believe in it, and keep going.
Finally, I think my wife and have finally bought into a parenting philosophy we both really believe in. And one of the strategies might surprise you: let your kids choose their own punishments! Wait, what?!!!
My “Eureka!” moment came one morning when I was visiting the TED website for my monthly quota of technology, information, and design and I came across the talk Agile programming — for your family by Bruce Feiler. Finally someone was speaking my language.
Agile development is a methodology that is becoming increasingly popular in the business and IT world. The basic idea is that people divide into small teams that manage themselves and tackle the work load in small chunks — failing or succeeding quickly, then meeting back with larger groups, reassessing and setting new goals. This is the opposite of the more traditional waterfall model in which information flows in a one way direction from the top downward. The agile methodology attempts to reverse the waterfall by allowing ideas to flow from the bottom up and be adjusted in real time.
After spending years studying and learning from strategies employed by other happy families, Bruce Feiler found that agile principles played a vital role in their success. Taking this idea and expanding upon it Bruce has developed what he calls the Agile Parenting Manifesto.
The Agile Parenting Manifesto
Plank 1: Adapt all the time
Stay open minded and stay flexible. We live in a hectic ever changing world. Our kids are changing rapidly. Why should our parenting tactics and family life stay locked in a rigid structure? They shouldn’t. Old ideas may be stale. The best idea might just be the one you haven’t tried or even thought of yet. Don’t be afraid to change and adapt. What works best today might not be what works best tomorrow.
Plank 2: Empower your kids
The ultimately goal of parenting is to raise productive self sufficient members of society, yes? So if parenting is about slowly creating self sufficient individuals, then what are we waiting for? Empowering your kids is about actively engaging your kids in their own upbringing. One feature of the agile parenting model: kids pick their own punishments! This is all about reversing the waterfall and empowering the kids. As the parent you are still able to assert parental guidance as needed, but your kids will benefit greatly from having more control over their lives.
Plank 3: Tell Your Story
Plank 3 is about defining your core values with a Family Mission Statement that defines what values are important to your family. This is the foundation upon which everything else will be built. As Bruce says in his talk:
“Adaptability if fine, but we also need bedrock”
Another component of Plank 3 is telling your kids about where they came from. Tell them about their ancestors. Tell them about challenges they faced. Tell them about your childhood. Sharing stories may seem trivial, but a study at Emory University shows that is far from the case. Children who know where they come from experience higher levels of emotional well-being! According to Emory Researchers:
“Family stories provide a sense of identity through time, and help children understand who they are in the world.”
So, tell your story.
Is Agile Parenting right for you? That’s for you to decide. Spend some time figuring out what you believe in and develop your own plan. But Bruce ends his talk with a couple of great takeaways that I think apply to all families.
“Happiness is not something we find, it’s something we make.”
“What’s the secret to a happy family?. Try.”