Monday, January 18, 2010

Intentional Parenting - An Introduction

**Word of warning: this post is long. I hope you'll think it worth your time.**

A few years ago a friend told me, “You are the most intentional parent I know.” At the time it knocked me off me feet. It was a true compliment, and I was honored to receive it, yet it humbled me somehow.

What did she mean by intentional? How did my parenting style differ from hers or that of our friends?

I have spent a lot of time thinking about that comment over the years and thought it might be helpful, both for me and for you, to explore what it means to be an intentional parent. As a result, I am going to do a series of posts called “Intentional Parenting” that I’ll put up here every-other Monday for a few weeks. I think this will help me clarify my thinking about this topic, and maybe you’ll catch a parenting idea or two that will be helpful for you.

Let me say right off the bat that for me to write about parenting is kind of like Sarah Palin calling herself an expert on Russia. Sure, she lives near Russia—rumor has it she can see Russia from her house—and as governor of Alaska she probably had some interaction with the country. But does she have a Ph.D. in Russian history or U.S./Russian relations? I don’t think so.

Same with me. I live with kids. I’ve been a parent for 18 years or so, so I’ve had a little experience. But an expert I am not. My degrees are in English, not Child Psychology. So please don’t think that I have all the answers.

Let me also say that I don’t have perfect kids. I used to think people who wrote about parenting must really have it all together and, more than that, they must especially have kids who never misbehave, who never talk back, and who never harbor bad attitudes. Their families probably have devotions every morning before school and then again every night at dinner.

That is so not us. I’ll just leave it at that.

All I have done is a lot of observing and a lot of thinking about parenting over the years, and I guess I’m just as qualified as anyone to have some opinions on the matter. To me, the issue of parenting is so important that it’s critical to never stop working at it and to never stop striving to get better and better.

So here we go.

What is intentional parenting? That’s the question I’ve asked myself so many times since my friend complimented me. What does that mean? I think I’ve come up with a few ideas.

Have a plan.

Intentional parents think about the results they’d like to see in their kids and then think about how to accomplish those results. Really, the “how” piece will look different for everyone. God has given us all different personalities and children with different personalities, so why would we assume that parenting by a formula would work the same for everyone?

Over the years, B and I have done a lot of thinking about what kind of people we’d like to see our children turn out to be and what we need to do, as parents, to help our kids become those people. For instance, we really thought it was important to develop a global perspective in our kids so that they would understand God’s love for all the people of the world. Along with that, we wanted them to be aware of what missionaries do and how they live. So when our girls were very young, we decided that travel would be an important part of our family life. And we made it a goal to visit missionaries around the world whenever we could.

We started saving Frequent Flier miles when our girls were very young, hoping that some day we would have enough miles to visit our friends who are missionaries in Brazil. Finally, in 2004, we had accumulated enough miles for three tickets and we had saved enough money to purchase the other two. We obtained passports for everyone in the family, and we finally realized our long-held goal to take our kids to visit some missionaries.

That trip changed us all. It gave us a different perspective of the world, and it gave us a much greater understanding of what missionaries do and how they live. It was, simply put, amazing, and we still talk about it today.

Intentional parenting means that we focus on why we do what we do rather than how we do what we do.

Why did B and I think it was important to take our girls to Brazil? It wasn’t just a “let’s see the world” trip for fun. We wanted them to see people who were different from them, people who lived in much different circumstances from us, so that they could see that God loves all of His children and that the people of Brazil need a Savior just as much as the people of Chicago.

We also wanted them to see the greater needs of the world so that they would begin to develop a heart for the poor. In Brazil, our friends took us to visit a family who lived in a favela, which is basically a slum area. The homes are made of cinder block, stacked one on top of another up the side of a mountain. These people have no heat, no running water, no indoor plumbing. The conditions are deplorable, yet the family we met was so happy to welcome us to their home. They smiled broadly as we sat on the sides of their bed (the only place to sit in the home), learning more about them and their culture.

It might be difficult to take your children into such a situation to see people living in such awful conditions unless you first talked about why you were doing this. How you get there is easy—it’s the “why” piece that is important.

Intentional parents are proactive, not reactive.

By this, I mean that intentional parents look ahead at what’s coming. They think about how a situation might affect their child and develop a response before it comes up.

Not that I’d know anything about this, but curfew might be a problem in some families with teenagers. Once a kid gets her driver’s license she might want to stay out later with her friends, pushing her parents’ resolve to get their daughter home safely at a decent hour.

Intentional parents decide long before the “curfew talk” comes up what time they want their child home and . . . here’s the important part . . . why. In our house, our daughter’s curfew is a little earlier than her friends’ curfew. We simply shrug our shoulders and tell her that nothing good happens after midnight and because we want her home safely she needs to be home when we tell her. It’s for her safety.

Could things escalate into a huge argument? Sure. But the chances of that happening are much greater if a kid senses his parent waffling, unsure of what they should do. Intentional parents have thought through the issue and are proactive, not reactive when stuff like this comes up.

Over the next several weeks I’m going to share some of the areas that B and I have thought it important to be intentional about. Some of these might really resonate with you; others might not. As parents, you have to decide for your family and for your children what you deem important enough to be intentional about. Just as personalities are different, families are too, so what might be important to my family might be entirely different to yours.

Whatever the case, I’d encourage you to start thinking through some of the areas you think are important enough for you to be intentional about as a parent. And if you’d share these in the comments I’d be especially grateful. I’d love to know what you’re thinking!


  1. This is a fantastic post. Have you considered developing this into a, oh, I don't know...BOOK? I think your voice is an easy one to receive from and your 18 years of experience as well as your admission of your non-expert status could be a really great combo.

  2. This is great. I can't wait for the rest of these posts.

    And I expect you are more of an expert on parenting than Sarah Palin is on Russia. ;-)

  3. This is WONderful insight and advice! My husband reminds me often about setting expectations. He is a VERY intentional parent. I'm always needing to grow in this area. Thank YOU!

  4. I am so glad you're doing this, Shelly! And I think Emily's idea is a good one...I'd buy your book in a heartbeat!

  5. Hey, Shelly. I absolutely love this topic and look forward to more posts. I forget if I've told you this, but in my long journey in the direction of blogging (still not there, but closer . . . I think it will happen someday), I've thought that my blog name should be something about living intentionally. "Life on purpose" is my latest rendition, though that already exists. Living (and especially parenting) on purpose is so important to me, so I'm looking forward to learning more about what that means for you. I've always known there was a connection between us. I think this topic is at the core of that connection.

  6. Yes! It the proactive thing that so many people don't get. I have that way of thinking only because of thirteen years of classroom teaching. All it takes is a moment to prevent the problem, meet the need, make a plan and communicate. (Although my little one here is telling me that I don't do those things but that is because I am typing this instead of getting him a snack. Off to meet his needs!)

  7. Love this post! We completely agree with this concept of "intentional parenting." I look forward to reading your future posts.

  8. Wow!! Already so many great comments and thoughts. I'd love to know how YOU are intentional about parenting and what you think is important to be intentional about. Thanks!

  9. I am constantly thinking about how my parenting today is going to effect the teenagers my kids will be ten years from now. Having loving children who obey and want to obey God's laws will not happen by accident. We have to be intentional with our parenting. Can't wait for the rest of this series!

  10. You, Shelly, resonate with me! What a wonderful idea for a blog series. I'm so glad you're doing this. While I'm almost at the end of my hands on parenting years, I can still always use another person's perspective and a few reminders. Actually I think you and your husband and me and mine are very much on the same page. I'm just glad to find a like-minded parent out there. But I'm so glad you're voicing this stuff. Great advice and perspective so far. Hip, hip, hooray for intentional parenting!

  11. Great post and topic, Shelly! Although my daughter is almost 19 (yikes!) and off at college, I still feel the importance of intentional parenting...sometimes even more now that she's older and not a little one. I think it just never ends! Keep up the good work!

  12. Love it! Thank-you for sharing your wisdom.

  13. I was praying this morning about my kids and how I feel like I'm entering a stage of parenting of which I know very little.

    And I felt God telling me that I needed to be proactive and not reactive. I can't just "hope" that what we are doing will produce great kids. I have to intentially and prayerfully anticipate what they will face, and then be prepared to respond.

    This is total confirmation of what God said to me. So thanks.

    I'm all ears. Working my way through the series. I may not get through all of it today, but you will see me moving through this week.


  14. Shelly, Thanks for telling me about your series. I so agree and love it that I can recommend this to friends.

    My mom always said, "You are never done being a parent." I love parenting still at this stage where I am more a mentor to our girls.

    Can't wait to read the rest.