ABCs of Engaged Families in the 21st Century

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The sheer bombardment of information about parenting and raising a family is intimidating, particularly for those who are looking for a simple answer to what they feel is a simple question. How can schools, school councils, school boards, community agencies, or even other families help families to weed through all this stuff in a way that does not imply judgment, influence, interference, or thinking that we know best? Sharing an ABCs of families, or getting families to construct their own, might be a great place to start.

A Note to School

I was looking for an answer to a question, a tidbit of advice. I went to the Internet. I went to the bookstore. I encountered so many different perspectives: parenting naturally, free parenting, transformational parenting, positive parenting, parenting in the 21st century, parenting in the age of entitlement, parenting in the age of social media, parenting in the age of plenty, just to name a few.

And now, I’m overwhelmed. Where do I begin? And what is right for me and for my family?

An ‘overwhelmed with information’ parent

No matter where you turn today, someone has advice for families; there are countless resources about parenting and families, including books, magazines, websites, videos, blogs – too plentiful to even cite a few for fear that I might miss one.

  • How can we support families as they seek to explore questions and seek answers?
  • How can we sift through the vast amounts of information we have at our fingertips?
  • What are the absolute essentials of raising a family and parenting in today’s generation?

Today’s post takes a philosophical stance toward action, a way to get families thinking of what it ultimately means to engage and parent in today’s generation. Family engagement is much greater than supervising homework, attending school functions, and reading report cards. Engagement is a lifelong task that begins when parents first hold their little one and continues for a lifetime.

Strategies this week are framed using the basics of the ABCs. I’m not a perfect parent, and it is certainly not as easy as it looks on paper… but over the years, these are the lessons I’ve learned about raising a family with my kids, with my parents, and with the families and children with whom I’ve worked and encountered. Feel free to make them your own by revising, adding, deleting, or rewriting! Hayden (my grandson), at five, quite simply stated, “Family is… being together!”

Engage your families – children and youth included – in a creative exploration of what it means to be an engaged

A Admire. Talk to children, especially youth, about people who make a difference in your life and why you admire and look up to these people; encourage them to do the same. Tell stories about family members or friends who have shown courage, kindness, humour, or determination in their lives.

B –Boundaries. We all need them. Be a role model, and have high expectations for behaviour. Be the best that you can be everyday, and encourage your children to do the same.

C – Change. Be who you need to be for your children and for your family. Discuss areas that need to change, perhaps things you’re not overly proud of (as an individual and a family), and find the courage to change. Families are not static entities; they are organic and ever-changing, always striving to be stronger today than they were yesterday.

D – Diversity. There are so many different people in this world, so many different thoughts and ideas. It is important that we recognize each individual’s and each family’s right to be unique and celebrate difference. Just because they don’t do things the same way we do does not make it wrong, just different. And… the greatest similarity we share is that we are all different!

E – Empathy. Not everyone in this world is as privileged as we are. Talk about the rights, roles, and responsibilities of being a citizen in the world. Discuss and contribute to local and global charities where feasible. Read books such as For Every Child: The UN Convention of the Rights of the Child in Words and Pictures; and Our Rights: How Kids are Changing the World by Janet Wilson.

F – Fairness. Children need to learn that it’s not all about getting exactly the same as everyone else (particularly their siblings). It is about being treated with fairness and getting exactly what they need to succeed. That is the ultimate fairness.

G – Gifts. Every child is special and should be celebrated for their uniqueness. Help them to see their gifts and how to share them to make the world a better place. Read books like The Twelve Gifts of Birth by Charlene Costanza.

H –Hope. Be optimistic. Be hopeful. Look toward the future. Dream with your child. Set goals and work toward them. Never, ever give up on your child. View Let’s raise kids to be entrepreneurs where Cameron Herold makes the case for parenting and education that helps would-be entrepreneurs flourish — as kids and as adults.

parentig learningI – Information. Inform but don’t overwhelm yourself. Choose the most useful resources, the ones with messages that are easy to implement. Seek advice from those you know share similar thoughts, ideas, and values. Do not set yourself the impossible task of being perfect. Seek information with the intent of  strengthening your family not perfecting it.

J – Joy. Kids grow up so fast. See the joy in all you do! Young kids can help us unplug from the busyness of our day-to-day lives and live in the moment. Kids say and do the most amazing things. They love you unconditionally and hug you unexpectedly. Young or youth will fascinate (and intimidate) you with their awareness of technology or the world. Give thanks for these moments of joy.

K – Kids. As I raised my children, I was guided quite simply by Barbara Coloroso’s guidelines in Kids Are Worth It! Raising Resilient, Responsible, Compassionate Kids. While not always easy, in the face of decisions my children made, I learned with her guidance to ask, “Is it illegal, immoral, or unhealthy?” I also learned how important it was for children to hear these six critical life messages: I believe in you. I trust in you. I know you can handle it. You are listened to. You are cared for. You are very important to me.

L – Laughter. Laugh often. There is no day that cannot be made better by laughter. Try to start your day with laughter, try to finish it with laughter no matter how tough. Children are funny and sometimes, we just have to laugh with them. Listen when they say, even in moments of sadness, “It’s okay mom, you can laugh. We really are that funny!”

M – Mistakes. The greatest one you can make is not trying! Allow yourself to make mistakes. We are not perfect. Our children are not perfect. Our schools are not perfect. Look for the learning inherent in each mistake – it is there, even if buried under layers of frustration and angst. Allow your children to make mistakes – they will indeed have a car accident, they will overspend on their VISA. Don’t solve the problem for them, hold them accountable but not shameful, and show them how to deal appropriately and efficiently with mistakes so that they are well prepared for the future. Be sure to apologize if and when necessary.maslow

N – Needs. Every child and family have different needs; fundamentally, these include food, water, shelter, safety, security, belonging, and self-esteem, all with the goals of becoming the very best that we can be. Families meet the needs of their children in many different ways. One high school principal I knew told his families at high school orientation told attending families, “You send them to us well-rested, well-fed, and well-loved, and we’ll take care of the rest.”

O – Opportunity. Your children will be with you for a very short time. Instead of asking, “How much longer do I need to put up with this, ask, “How much longer will I have the opportunity to do this?” It’s not always easy, but making enjoyment a critical aspect of daily living sets us on the right path. Be open to life as it unfolds – some days will be easier than others.

hensonP – Parent. Who are you as a parent? Do you treat your children as you want to be treated? Do you negotiate the negotiables? Do you provide choices? Do you consider things from their perspective? Do you live as you want them to learn (see Children Learn What They Live)? Parent collaboratively and supportively, and recognize that it often takes a village to raise a child.

Q – Question. Ask, don’t tell. Ask children for help or ideas, rather than telling them what you believe: “What do you think about that? How do you think we could handle that?” And don’t take everything at face value… just because it’s on a website, just because someone said it in conversation, just because it’s posted as a top ten in parenting doesn’t make it right for your family. Question and interrogate in order to make sense of it all, and teach your children to do the same.

R – Respect. Respect yourself, respect your children, respect your family, respect your school, respect this earth. Respect others in all the forms this takes. Do not judge why or why not they do things, but instead recognize your right to be who you are as a family.

S – Support. Support your child, support the school, support your family. This does not man that you do everything. Support comes in many different ways and some of the most powerful support is in word and attitude. Let your child do the work, but be a guide on the side. Send in a book that responds to a topic in class. Be there when needed.

T – Time. Try not to schedule your life so tightly that you don’t have time to enjoy it! In our generation of plenty, we often feel that a highly stimulated and scheduled child and family is a healthy family. Sometimes, we need to schedule time to do almost nothing – to relax, to find peace in chaos, to stop and smell the flowers, and time to just be family. Try an online calendar that hooks the entire family up – youth included (e.g., Google Calendar or Cozi).

great parenting grafittiU – Unconditional love. No matter what, no matter when, no matter why, let your children know that  you will always love them. You might not always like the choices they make or the way they behave, but that will never take away your love.

V – Values. Teaching values takes time but begins with modelling and discussion from the very beginning. Talking about little moral conundrums when they are young sets the scene for more in depth discussions as they get older. Use personal and everyday experiences and media (text, video, internet, blog) as springboards for conversations.

W – Why. Sometimes we need to ask, “Why? Why didn’t you…?” We might be surprised by the response, “Why did. But then again, there are times when it is safer not to ask, “Why didn’t you…?” Or “Why don’t you…?” particularly if you are unprepared for the response (I recall hearing, “Do you really want to know the answer to that question?”) or if you feel that the conversation might take you into uncomfortable places.

X – Examine. Assumptions and preconceived notions can be dangerous things. Commit to identifying, examining, and letting go of preconceived notions and assumptions about others, parenting, the way you think things should be, what it means to be the perfect parent, how you think others view you. Find what is right for you and for your family. Don’t impose your views and assumptions on others and don’t let them to impose theirs on you.

Y – Yes. Say yes, when you can, and no when you can’t. Maybe later, not now, perhaps tomorrow. But be careful not to make promises. You are the parent and sometimes this means making tough decisions. You might have to say no despite the fact that she tells you that everyone else is going or no those shoes will not make you jump higher or no technology through the night. Although your child might feel that the world is falling apart, likely it will still be in tact tomorrow.

Z – Zzzzzz. Sleep! You’ll need it. When they are little, sleep when they sleep. Power nap if you can. You’ll need that huge store of sleep for when they are older and staying up later than you do. My mom always said she never slept until we were all in. Now I believe her and I give thanks that my night owls no longer live in the same house that I do!

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What woud you revise, add, delete, or rewrite to make relevant to your family?

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One Response to ABCs of Engaged Families in the 21st Century

  1. Heather says:

    Good post!!! Great advice!