5 Nov 2015

You are the best parents for your child(ren): how to love to bits and build character

Very often, we see building character and loving our children as being at odds. Character building somehow has this boot camp dimension to it. 'Toughen them up' is the mantra; especially for fathers {pl read this guys!}. 

Ok let's unpack this and get it clear in our hearts and heads.

The foundation for all character formation is RELATIONSHIP. This simply means that the quality of our relationship with our children determines everything else. And the nature of the relationship between a parent and child? L-O-V-E of course.

It would seem a no-brainer. Of course we love our children to bits! {then why don't they appreciate it and behave better?}

Ah, but I found that there are two things that get in the way of our love and, in the end, it gets in the way of their character formation too.

Number 1: when the child doesn't feel it.

One of the first and most helpful parenting books I read is titled How To Really Love Your Child ! That set me thinking...what does love feel and look like to a child? What does it look like to a certain personality, through certain seasons, and in specific situations?

And the answer isn't difficult - if - we take the time to see and feel from their perspective. How does a young child or a teen feel? Not that differently from you!

Like you and I, they want to be noticed, to be cheered on, to feel safe to share their struggles and not be judged, to be supported, to have someone say, "I understand"...

But as life is really choices x time; we need to really ask if we make the time and what choices we make with those times.This video which many mothers took offense at was rather poignant: do you really know your child? {click to watch video}

My son was a near perfect baby. He was easy to care for, coos sweetly to himself and soaks up the wonder of the world. He never cries when he awakes; he babbles. He was enthu about everything (okay, except eating. I did say he was near-perfect!). But as he grew, things began to surface. He was much more afraid of new challenges that his sister ever was. He wasn't going to just leap into your arms, be placed on a swing, or attempt to read. He resisted being tested and hated being taunted. He was sensitive to a fault about how others talked to him and handled his things. Naturally, it made for many socially uncomfortable, and even painful experiences. Add to that, he was hyperactive. Teachers were unhappy. Friends got upset. Even church wasn't a positive experience.
I could not love my son the way I loved my daughter. He would feel abject neglect and be a mess. He needed more, and different. He needed me to spend time almost everyday making sense of the world that he felt was cramming him; a world that was hard to survive in and navigate. To be honest, the journey was very painful at times. I had to absorb alot of misunderstanding. I had to let go of my expectations. I had to forgive him, myself and others because when a child cannot walk the straight line, he stumbles and steps on toes; and that's always painful.

Love for my son meant heartfelt listening, prayer, reading up on his personality and profile, a lot of perseverance to help him keep going, not give up, overcome hurdles... It is easy for a child like him to grow with anger, resentment and fear. 

I cannot be grateful enough for my choice to care deeply for my children. Our home life has a sweetness and together-ness that is so precious.

And recently, I read about 5 keys to helping children build character*.

The first key:
children need to feel genuinely cared for.


The triumph of character formation comes when I see him get back in and tries again. He told us that this term in school is his best ever because he has 'converted his enemies to become his friends'. Recently over dinner when I asked what I could pray for them, he said easily that he needed to be able to keep forgiving those who hurt him.

It's not easy to find that line between acknowledging his hurt is real and helping him toughen up and there are days I mess up! But I get back into the ring and fight my fears and grow my muscles. He is going to have to flex his own muscles soon; but it would not happen if he did not feel mine when he needed them most.

Where are you being the strength for your child?
How do you give them hope?
Does your child feel really cared for?

Number 2: when we cruise
The second thing that sabotages our love is our tendency to take things for granted. 

We all take things for granted. Every holiday, festivity, memorial we chant the same thing: "it's so easy to take each other for granted". I have said it. I am sure you have to. Sometimes with a deep tinge of loss even.

At work, it is certainly easy to feel taken for granted. Often everyone wants the credit but won't really share the hardwork! You can do good, sincere work that goes unnoticed and unrewarded. Then alas, we can come home and as parents, we can sure feel like we are being taken for granted! 

More than once, I had to re-teach my children the difference between request and demand! Familiar I am sure:
child: I want chicken rice for dinner
me: say, please may I have chicken rice for dinner.

And of course with a mighty teen, a convivial conversation can turn a sudden corner into a power tussle!

It's a hard calling this parenting thing. We have to dig deep to hit the Spring that never runs dry, because we have to keep showing up and loving while we may be feeling like it's all draining away and we are bone-weary, dry and brittle ourselves. 

Downtime is so important.

But, sometimes, we let go of the wheel and cruise.

School, meals, activities...can all become so routinized. Add to that the manic presence of the little gadget that immediately diverts you away from where you are and who you are with to friends and strangers whose images and ideas are so much more appealing... Yes, attention, care, warmth and understanding quotient nose dives easily rapidly! {if you need some help putting that device away, perhaps watch this: pay attention la .

So if we want to build character in our children, we need to watch for how we lapse into cruise; because it invalidates our love for them. We need to care for them in a way which they feel and experience as meaningful.

Here are all the 5 aspects of character development:

  1. Express Care: Show that you like me and want the best for me.
  2. Challenge Growth: Insist that I try to continuously improve.
  3. Provide Support: Help me complete tasks and achieve goals.
  4. Share Power: Hear my voice and let me share in making decisions.
  5. Expand Possibility: Expand my horizons and connect me to opportunities.
Which of these speak to you?

* from The Search Institute's Newest Study of Developmental Relationships compiled in the book, Don't Forget the Families: The Missing Piece in America's Effort to Help All Children Succeed (Kent Pekel, Ed.D., Eugene C. Roehlkepartain, Ph.D., Amy K. Syvertsen, Ph.D., and Peter C. Scales, Ph.D.) says there are 5 keys to building character in children.

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