I am writing a parent ed piece for my daughter's preschool newsletter so before I send it out I am going to submit it to my "reading public" for review. Please, please, please post your comments, questions, criticism.
Here it is...
Hours of uninterrupted play. Playing tag in the dark with all the neighborhood kids. Building a dam in the ditch with my dad. Camping and playing in the river. All five of us piled in mom and dad's bed on Saturday morning. Girl outings with my mom and aunt Linda...
The list could go on and on. These are my memories of childhood. When I look back I see rich meaningful experiences. Becoming a parent made me think a lot about my own childhood, it made me look critically at how my experiences shaped the person I am today. When I had Olivia I was faced with every day decisions that I had no idea how to make. I had always been a "planner" as far as making lists and setting goals but I wanted a broader picture. I wanted to make decisions about my family life while keeping in mind that I wanted my child to fully be a child, to have such fond memories that I did.
Then one day I read a line in an article that inspired me to form a "family vision". The article said, "Parents have the responsibility for providing a structure for the family and having a big picture view of what we want family life to be and where this family is going. Many decisions about family life are unnecessary to negotiate because they are embedded in the structure that you provide." I thought, "That's it! If I have a big picture view then I can make these decisions! I can consciously make decisions for my family rather than just letting things happen."
Each family has different experiences, values and traditions that help shape the vision for your family. You may look back on your childhood and think, " I don't want anything from my life to be a part of my family now" You may look at my memories and vision for my family and think, "That's not for us". There is no right or wrong in forming a big picture view. There are key things to think about and decide on but there is no one size fits all. A family vision is not a static set of rules but rather a large framework to make decisions around. Everyone has ideas about how they want their children to be as adults and forming a family vision will help you articulate the structure of your family life on a daily basis.
My hope in sharing my family vision is that it will encourage you to think about what you value, your larger goals for your family and how those things shape the decisions you make everyday.
I know that some of you may be thinking, "I have 2 kids, 3 dogs, a full time job and a leaky faucet. I can hardly go potty alone! I don't have time to agonize over whether hot dogs for lunch fits into my family vision!" The intention is not to create more work for you. In fact you may find that it creates less work, less commitments and less stress.
I think that a great way to start is to think about how you want your family life to look like on a day to day basis. Do you want to be busy? Fun? Quiet? Then, think about what it actually looks like? Nothing like you envision? Close but not quite? Then think of some words to describe your family life. Think of how you are and how you want to be. My words were: Relaxed, meaningful, simple, grateful, adventurous, and learning. I also thought about how other beliefs, values and knowledge that I had about children in general and my children in particular came into play. For example, I believe that children thrive on comfort and reliability but that a sense of adventure and spontaneity are very important to me. I value social intelligence. I believe that parents are better able to parent when they have value outside of being a mom or dad. Children's experiences should take into account who they are and how they think about things. Jamie hates a crowd. Olivia is a watcher. Jamie is active but with a brief attention span. Olivia loves to accomplish. Jamie likes a sensory experience.
All these things are tidbits of what I know, think, believe and value. All these things (plus a lot more things) helped shape the vision.
Then, I wrote it down. Simple as that. Write it down. Share it. Mull it over. Sleep on it. Getting your ideas out in the open is the most important step to getting it done. I want to share an experience that highlights the value of writing it down and then sharing it.
I had a casual conversation a while back with Buffy about Halloween. I told her something like this, "I just don't want my life to look like that. I don't want my kids to be rushed and hurried because it's what you are supposed to do. Go to every friend and relatives house within a 100 mile radius, run in, snatch some candy, pose for a picture, rush off to the next house. Do you think those kids will remember how much fun it was to help their mom gather stuff for their costumes? No, they'll remember how stressed out their dad was trying to be super man and whip out cute little matching costumes. Will they remember how fun it was to see their friends and check out each other's load of candy? No, they will remember their mom yelling 'hurry up and get in the car we have to go to grandma's house before it gets too late'. They will remember the frantic pace of their lives all the time. And for what? That one photo of them all smiling perfectly in the kitchen of those people they don't even remember? So their mom and dad could feel like they did as much stuff for their kids that they possibly could? I want my kids to remember having real fun, not forced." The conversation continued and I shared my vision for my family with Buffy. It was the start of a time when the strength of my vision was seriously tested. I got a big 'ol chance to put my money where my mouth was in my commitment to stay on track of the vision. Several months later I was faced with a pretty weighty decision that would have placed a huge time commitment on my plate but it was very appealing because I had a chance to make my husband and my dad happy (if only temporarily) and possibly make some money for my family (a serious pride issue for me sometimes). There was a lot weighing on the decision so of course I had to mull it over with Buffy. (I always do) She listened to all I had to say and then said, "But what about the vision for your family?" Hmmmm. I walked away thinking about all the ways that it could work with my vision. I came back to her with, "Well, what about this?" and she said, "What about your vision for your family?" Hmmmm. Time went on, some things happened and all along I kept wondering how I was going to make this work. Well, it just didn't work. It was contrary to my vision in so many ways that I knew it would never work. But, had I not had the reminder of writing it down and sharing it I would have made the wrong decision. It looked good all around in the short term but it would have completely derailed the vision. I needed the reminder.
Your vision should also help you in the small things. For example, My friend asked me if I wanted to join her and some other friends in signing our kids up for soccer. Sounds fun. My kids might like it. It's only two days a week. But...team sports aren't high on my list of priorities (yes, I know all the benefits), my daughter is only two and that could be seriously un-fun, two days a week means every Tuesday and Saturday. I could spend that time doing things with my kids that are a priority. My kids probably won't remember any of it and it might add too much to our schedule and then all they will remember is how crazy their mom was trying to get all the soccer gear ready on Saturday morning. Naw, I think I'll pass but thanks for the invite! Well, guess what happened next? I spent Saturday morning puttering around the back yard while the kids played on the swing set, we ran a few errands (because life is not all fun) had lunch, the kids took a nap while my husband and I did a few things that we needed to do (tee hee) and then I called my friend and asked her how soccer was..."Susy wandered around and complained about how cold it was, Justin cried the whole time and Aaron was really the only one that had fun but he is four so maybe that's why." And you know what the shocking thing is?? They went back week after week with the same results! WHY? Because it was just happening to them they weren't choosing it!
At this point I want to put in a disclaimer: This is my family vision. It may be similar to yours or polar opposite. The point is this: Don't let things just happen to your family. Don't do things because everyone else does, because your preschool teacher told you to or your mom did it. Have confidence in your parenting, your values, your skills, your voice, your ability to say no that is not right for my family.
I know that life is not all fun. Some days my kids will remember how crazy their mom was. They will remember being stuck in the car an entire day while their mom and dad ran errands and snipped at each other over stupid stuff. They will remember that one time that mom thought something would be really fun but it was not! They will be regular kids with a regular life but when all is said and done (realizing that kids will grow up and make their own decisions) if I am successful my kids will say this,
"I was fully allowed to be a child. My parents were attentive, caring and laid-back. They didn't put too much emphasis on things that would not matter in 10 years. They knew what they wanted for their family and did not lose sight of it. We grew up knowing how to love, how to be kind and generous. We treat other people with compassion. We know the value and especially the limitations of a dollar. We speak our minds. We are assertive. We are not judgemental. We are unique, intelligent and beautiful."
Ta-da! What do you think? Keep in mind that the people who will be reading this are parents at my daughters pre-school. Do I sound judgemental? Does it make sense? What did you get from it? BE HONEST! I can always take criticism.