Nothing can prepare you.
As social scientist William Doherty says, parenting is “a high-cost/high-reward activity.” There’s nothing like those wonderful giggles.
And there’s nothing like sleep deprivation.
(By the way, some researchers at Queen’s University say that sleep deprivation can, in some respects, hinder our judgment as much as being drunk!)
It’s safe to say that parenting today can be a bit nuts. There have been a tsunami of resources deluging us with advice about how it’s all about the right sleep habits or the right diet or the right kinds of self-affirmation.
In a book called All Joy And No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting (2014), Jennifer Senior chronicles the massive changes in how parenting has been approached since World War Two. Here are a few highlights:
Parents have more control over when to have kids; and they’re usually waiting longer to do so. Parents are generally older and are also “far more aware of the freedoms they’re giving up.”
2. The work situation is more complicated
Work has now pushed its way into the home, and women are more present in the labour market. “In 1975, 34 percent of women with children under the age of three were in the workforce, In 2010, that number jumped to 61 percent.”
This is a part of the new reality. The workforce hasn’t fully adapted; so the pressure is thrust back onto the family.
3. Childhood has been redefined
This, she argues, is the most significant change. Today we work to shield children from hardship (which doesn’t actually help them in the long run); and children don’t actively contribute as much to the running of the home. As Senior writes, “Children went from being our employees to our bosses.”
Add in an increasingly secular society with lessened faith and meaning-making structures, and you get an increasingly unstable and anxious climate.
Let’s just say that things have evolved.
So here are 5 high-value parenting habits from my parents’ generation that I think we can bring back… for the good of us all.
1. Encourage Unstructured Play
Kids need the space to play and dream and exercise and imagine. They can’t do this to the same degree if they are constantly programmed. Unstructured play time is good every single day.
I remember running around outside, making forts, and getting into other kinds of mischief. It is literal gold when it comes to a child’s well-being.
2. Eat Dinner Together
What happens at dinner time—or what doesn’t happen at dinner time—may be a metaphor for your life.
Growing up, dinner time was huge. It’s when you gather together, facing each other. You talk about your day, pray, tell jokes, and create bonds that last a lifetime.
Sure there were exceptions. But the rule was dinner together most nights. In fact, sitting around that old wooden table on those old wooden chairs taught me one of the most valuable lessons ever: These are my people.
3. Use Discipline
That’s a dirty word today. But I’m not talking about hitting our kids. I’m talking about clear, consistent and appropriate consequences for certain behaviours.
It helps your sanity, and theirs.
Growing up I remember knowing there were certain things you didn’t say or do. And I knew that my parents would deliver on consequences if I got out of line.
You know what that did? Yes, it made me develop a sense of right behaviour, but—and get this—it made me trust their word. They were consistent; and let me tell you, when you’re at a party and in trouble when you’re 15, you want to make a call to someone you trust.
Appropriate discipline isn’t about punishment, it’s about love. Proverbs 3: 12 comes to mind: “the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”
Serious guidance in character development is one of the most significant gifts we can give our children.
If you need help on this one I recommend you rent or buy “1-2-3 Magic” by Dr. Thomas Phelen. It’s for kids 2 to 12 years old and will seem like magic. Other parents will literally start asking you what you do to make your kids listen so well.
4. Assign Chores
Fewer parents today are giving their kids chores. Why?
I think it may have something to do with wanting our kids to like us. But kids need parents more than they need friends.
Growing up we had chores. And if your kids can speak, it may be time for them to have some too. At first, maybe it’s just putting dirty laundry away. But chores say to a child, ‘This family is a team, and we all have to contribute. We all have jobs to do, including you.’
5. Be present
They don’t want presents as much as they want your presence. (I think I heard that somewhere.)
I know this can be hard today, especially with shift work, double-income families, split-custody situations, around-the-clock travel and work requests, and screen addiction/distraction.
But the presence of a loving parent, even if you’re not “doing anything productive,” is about stability and confidence.
You have to work at it.
Sometimes you have to take a few steps back and reassess—especially in a confused age.
It will help our kids, and it will help us too. As Max Lucado writes, “The greatest gift you can give your children is not riches, but revealing to them their own.”
And I think bringing back some of these high-value habits from my parents’ generation will help us do just that.