Warning- if you don’t have children or aren’t actively planning to have children, it’s probably best to skip this post. Also, if you’re the kind of person that insists a blog should only cover one single topic, best to skip this one. It has nothing to do with barefoot running.
As if it is not obvious, Shelly and I are fans of the unorthodox. We don’t necessarily seek to break the “rules” of society. We just look for the most effective means of doing anything and everything. That often puts our actions at odds with the conventions of society.
For example- the very decision to quit our “secure” teaching jobs and travel full time when our peers are busily building their careers and paying their mortgages flies in the face of how people are supposed to act. Hell, even barefoot running can be used as an example of using unorthodox means to a more effective end.
This acceptance of the unorthodox extends to our children and our parenting style, too. Parenting is an interesting concept for a variety of reasons.
First, it’s hard. Non-parents really can’t appreciate this, but the things you experience as a parent make all your pre-children worries and concerns seem trivial. I’m sure all parents get a chuckle when their childless friends complain about having to go into work early or being stressed about the color of paint for their dining room ceiling.
Second, everyone has an opinion about parenting. In fact, this entire post is essentially a culmination of our opinions about parenting. Almost every parent I know has an opinion about some aspect of parenting. They also have a often-times unspoken fear that their opinions are wrong. After all, most parents’ greatest fear is they’re somehow screwing their kids up.
Third, we commit the fundamental attribution error ALL THE TIME. We dismiss the role of individual kids’ internal makeup when assessing their observable behaviors. Essentially, we blame other parents’ kids’ behavior on bad parenting. Parenting is a little bit like herding cats. If you’re lucky, you can guide the herd in one general direction. Controlling the herd is an act in futility, though. Unless you have really fat, lazy cats.
So… about our parenting. A few general ideas shape our parenting decisions. Think of these as our “guiding principles.” When we encounter a new situation, we use these principles to help make decisions. The principles are not etched in stone and are sometimes overridden, but they provide an adequate framework.
Principle One: We’re not raising kids. We’re raising adults. This profound idea came from Dr. Phil, which is somehow embarrassing to admit. Still, it’s profound. The goal of parenting is to raise an independent member of society, not create a person that will forever depend on us. Both of us see large numbers of people that have a “need to be needed”, and intentionally or unintentionally thwart their child’s development as an independent being. Note- this is sometimes confused with the idea of treating kids as miniature adults, which is not the case.
Principle Two: We let our kids make decisions. As long as the decision won’t result it irreparable harm, we tend to let our kids make age-appropriate decisions. The ability to critically examine a situation and weigh possible outcomes is critical. We foster these skills as soon as possible. A good example is clothing. Once our kids reach about four years of age, we let them pick out the clothes they wear. If you ever see our kids in horribly mismatched outfits, it’s safe to assume they dressed themselves. Or I dressed them.
Principle Three: We want to prepare our kids for tomorrow, not yesterday. The world is an ever-changing place. It’s impossible to predict the skills people will need to survive tomorrow. As such, we favor teaching broad skills like social interactions with culturally-diverse people, the ability to solve unique problems, and how to lead others. We tend to reject ideas like the necessity of the classroom atmosphere (sit still for long periods of time, always be subservient to authority, etc.) and the need to memorize a large number of facts.
Principle Four: We model love and affection. Shelly and I often place our relationship a priority above the occasional needs of our children. We have date nights (which usually involve running… we’re dorks), we have a dedicated “alone time” at night, we hug and kiss in from of our kids. In short, we value our relationship and want to model that for our children. We see too many “martyr moms” that spend all of their time and energy looking doting on their kids to the detriment of their relationship, which always results in a bitter, resentful spouse. We want to avoid that at all costs.
Principle Five: We’re honest. Kids ask a lot of questions. We go to great lengths to provide as accurate of answers as we can. If we don’t know the answer, we admit it and use it as an opportunity to teach them how to find answers. We see many parents giving their kids dumb answers. For example, if a kid asks where thunder comes from,
Principle Six: We let kids experience life and actively inhibit sheltering behaviors. As time passes, society is slowly embracing the idea of the need to protect and shelter kids from anything that could be even remotely dangerous. The result- kids never learn to discriminate between dangerous and safe situations, never learn to regulate behavior, and never learn about the nuances of social life. For example, we let our kids watch pretty much anything on TV. The lone exception is anything horror-related as it gives them nightmares. One of their favorite shows is ‘Family Guy.’ The show is filled with adult references. Our kids ask about those references. We give honest answers. The show contains adult language. We teach our kids why people swear (it’s fun) and when and where it is appropriate. We don’t unnecessarily shelter them from nudity, sex, or violence. There are no taboo topics.
Principle Seven: We always assume our kids understand everything. Most people seem to assume kids are idiots that are incapable of understanding even rudimentary ideas and concepts. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Kids are frequently aware of the world that surrounds them. Depending on age, their understanding varies… but they’re still aware. When talking to other adults, we always assume our eavesdropping kids understand exactly what we’re talking about.
Principle Eight: We give our kids ample solitude and time to play. “Play time’ for kids is really practice. It’s their opportunity to use their imagination to apply the lessons they’ve learned from the world around them. If you pay close attention to the dialogue they create when playing, this becomes obvious. As a society, we’re obsessed with teaching kids a ton of stuff, but we never give them the opportunity to apply that which they learn. Play time, whether alone or with others, is that missing opportunity.
Using these principles, we’re able to navigate the vast majority of parenting-related situations that arise. Obviously these principles won’t work for everyone for logistical, moral, or philosophical reasons… but they work very well for us. I know enough about my virtual friends to know many of you have somewhat similar parenting ideas.
What are your thoughts? If you were to boil your parenting down to a few principles, what would they be?