Many months ago Bron from Maxabella Loves commented “I would love to hear more on your thoughts about the changing role of parenting as children grow older”.
We are so far from finishing this parenting journey, not that parenting will ever be finished, that I’ve been hesitant to answer, I certainly don’t want to sound as if ‘we know it all and have it all together’. Whilst considering how to answer I’ve come to realise I can only tell our story so far. How we parent may be different to how you parent and that’s okay, we each have our own journey to travel.
Our relationship with our older children doesn’t ‘magically change overnight’ it is more an encouragement of ‘big and little’ moments and a gradual recognition of changes as they slowly emerge into adulthood. Our way of recognising this change is rooted in our parenting approach, a melting pot of our parenting philosophies, our family culture and our Faith.
Our parenting philosophy could be described as conscious parenting, we have a vision for our children, which in turn influences much of our parenting. We so strongly desire for our children to love and be connected to our family, to be compassionate towards others and confident and independent individuals, to be contributing members of society. We also desire that they love God and their Faith with a passion, that He is their lodestone.
One key to our relationship with our children is communication; conversation and active listening is a big part of who we are. We explain the ‘why’ behind our decisions, at least we explain to our older children, it’s not always appropriate to do so with our younger children. Once they know our reasoning they are often happy with our choice, sometimes they don’t agree but are willing to abide by our decision, and other times they will argue a good case and we may change our position. This give and take means our teens/young adults know we are willing to be challenged, just as we challenge them to think of actions and consequences.
We encourage our children to bring up any topic for discussion, to share their thoughts, emotions and life happenings with us and in turn we reciprocate and share ourselves. Communication can’t be one sided, this give and take is important. Our teens/young adults need to know we are listening to them, that they have our support, sometimes they need our advice though we strive be judicious in giving this, sometimes they just need our steady silence as we listen.
Another key to our relationship is respect for our children as individuals. For children in a large family it is important for them to know we see them as individuals, not as a collective, to be assured of our encouragement and support for their independence whilst still being loved and valued members of a family unit.
Much of our lifestyle is counter culture in that our values are rooted in our Faith, the logistics of life within a large family on a single income and a desire to preserve our children’s childhood as long as possible. To live counter culture means that we sometimes we have to give firm “no’s”, to balance this we endeavour as much as possible to say “yes” where we can. We want the children to appreciate that whilst there are some firm absolutes there is plenty of room for lots of fun and joy.
Whilst our children are still young we are parenting with the ‘big picture’ of independence in mind. We strive to impart our values, teach life skills and ensure they have responsibilities, communicate openly, discuss and role play appropriate behaviour and strategies for various social situations, deliberately create opportunities for decision making and set little goals to foster independence. Our parenting is a continual venture towards nurturing independent adults for the future. I believe as a society we are not nurturing nor valuing healthy independence in our young people.
Dynamics shift and change as the children grow. At particular milestones we acknowledge their developing maturity, granting more privileges though along with this come more responsibilities. During our children’s pre-teen years, they begin to occasionally stay up a little later, join in more ‘adult’ conversations and are sometimes able to ‘tag along’ on outings with the older children. By thirteen and fourteen they have definitely transitioned to being ‘one of the big ones,’ this means they are regularly staying up later and are involved in all older children activities (wherever possible), receiving more of the privileges of being ‘older’, along with the responsibilities. Their fifteenth birthday sees a noticeable shift, our ‘children’ are now allowed to watch ‘older movies’ which in turns creates an opportunity for deeper discussions about life issues, a broader and deeper awareness of the wider world and further exploration of just who they are. To be part of their give and take in conversations as they struggle to find their identity and articulate during this transition is a beautiful and privileged place.
A major milestone in our home that heralds the biggest shift is when our ‘child’ receives their Learner’s license at sixteen. If a ‘child’ is old enough to be responsible for life and death behind a wheel, then the time has come to no longer treat him/her as a child, they are making judgements, imperative ones and we need to empower them as much as possible. Around this time our children have always sought casual/part time work, which foster many new skills sets and creates a major sense of independence. Interaction with a boss, fellow work peers and the public teaches many skills that can’t be underestimated.
Our children, teens & young adults are used to an open dialogue, used to being respected for their views & opinions. As they grow older and the dynamics subtly shift, our role changes to one of more a mentor/guide, our ‘children’ who have left home ring and share what is occurring in their lives, their experiences, opinions and dreams, we strive to actively listen, to ensure our ‘children’ know we always interested in their lives. We give advice when asked and sometimes even when not;-) (thought it’s important to restrain from nagging or browbeating), sometimes they ring and ask, “Mum/Dad what would you do?” and whilst we will advise them and be a sounding board, we challenge them to articulate the pros and cons of the choices available, we won’t make their decisions for them, they are the ones who have to live with the consequences of their decisions, not us. Their choices may not always the ones we would make, then again we have the the benefit of hard won wisdom;-) however it is their life not ours.
We strive to impress upon our children that sometimes we make mistakes, it is part of life and it’s okay to stumble, we simply encourage them to get up and have another go. As a parent it can be very hard to just sit by and watch, when they are little we can easily fix their ‘grazed knees’ with a cuddle, their hurts over life’s challenges are much more painful and whilst we may desire to rush in and fix it, it is from these challenges that they grow and become stronger and better people.
Parenting is not for the faint hearted but it is the greatest privilege we have been entrusted with, it is an honour and joy to be the parents of our children. We trust our children are confident in knowing that we love them, that we are praying for them and that we are proud of them.