Monday, March 29, 2010

Intentional Parenting - An Introduction

I'm out of town this week, so for those of you who might be new to my blog, I thought I'd re-run the introduction to this parenting series I'm currently running. I'd love to read your thoughts about it in the comments section.


**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!

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