Parenting Can Be Puzzling
Over the holidays, with the kids out of school,
one of the activities that we enjoyed as a family was making puzzles. We would have one 1000-piece puzzle out on the table for days at a time. At times, the whole family would work on it while at other times only one or two members of the family would sit down to see if they could fit in a few additional pieces. It was a lot of fun and led to a lot of time just relaxing and conversing with one another.
It occurred to me that parenting and raising children can be a lot like a puzzle. Every day there are different situations to deal with. At each stage of development there are lessons to be taught. Parents play a crucial role in the type of person their children grow up to be and yet, on a daily basis, it is sometimes hard to see how the small interactions we have with our children play into the end result.
Get the Big Picture
I think that one thing that is very important for parents is to have a vision for their children. To me, this is more about the type of people I want them to grow up to be: the character traits that I want them to develop.
For example, I want my children to develop a strong work ethic and to be honest, compassionate and charitable. I want them to develop a strong faith that will sustain them through life’s trials.
For some parents, it may include specific objectives like wanting to ensure they attend college or directing them to a lucrative profession. To me, those type of goals would be secondary, but I see nothing wrong with them provided they are not to the exclusion of developing their character and making the parent-child relationship a priority.
In either case, having a vision for your child/children serves as a reference point when faced with the small, seemingly insignificant interactions you have on a daily basis. Lack of a vision is like trying to piece together a puzzle without ever looking at the picture on the box. Do you have a vision for your family and your children? None of us knows what the future holds, but by establishing a vision of our desired outcome we can more easily make decisions on a daily basis that will guide our children and get them closer to those goals.
Having a broader vision also helps us to deal with, and put into perspective, the inevitable mistakes, missteps and obstacles along the way. As parents, we will make mistakes and our children will too. Learning to give each other grace as we work together toward a common goal will strengthen our family bonds.
Establish the Framework
I don’t know if you build puzzles the same way that my family and I do, but we generally start by turning all of the pieces right-side-up and separating out all of the ones with flat edges. Then we work on the outer edges (frame) of the puzzle. Generally, the frame is relatively easy to piece together and it provides context for the rest of the pieces. Individuals can go off and work on specific aspects of the puzzle, but eventually you will want to place it inside the frame at its approximate location and ultimately anchor it to the frame.
In a similar fashion, I think it is important for a family to lay a framework that gives all members of the family context. Context leads to security and trust and understanding of what’s expected. This framework should be comprised of guiding principles.
Some examples of some such “framework” principles might include:
- We will always love you
- We’re a team
- We all work together and help each other
- We forgive each other and don’t hold grudges
- You can talk to us about anything
There are many more examples that can be given. There will be expectations that you have of your children involving obedience and chores, etc. These specific expectations may change over time based on the child’s age and level of maturity. However, when considering the framework by which to anchor your family, you should consider what the highest priority, bedrock principles are that you want your family to live by. These should be principles that foster a sense of trust, unity and security.
Parents should reiterate these principles to their children regularly, perhaps posting them in a prominent place within the home. Parents should also ensure that they are practicing these principles with each other. Lastly, parents should have the humility to listen to their children and ask forgiveness if they fail to live up to these guidelines.
Establishing such a framework is vital to the trust within the family unit and the sense of security that your children feel when they go out into an uncertain world. Make home a place of warmth, love, acceptance and security.
Details are Important
Laying out a vision and establishing a framework are very important, but we all know that each day presents its share of challenges. There is no manual that I’m aware of which addresses all of the specific situations that you and I will face on a day-to-day basis as parents. We need to be willing to dive into the details of our children’s lives and support them in sorting things out. We may not have all of the answers and we will surely make mistakes, but by keeping our vision in sight and adhering to our core framework, we can help our children build their lives and their character. As a family, we can emerge stronger.
In the words of a favorite Michael Card song, “there is a joy in the journey”. Often, it is the struggles that we work through with our children which deepen our relationships the most and which will demonstrate most strongly to them our love and support.
Recognize that each child is unique (just like each piece of a puzzle). Learn to appreciate and work with their uniqueness. Don’t compare your other children to each other and, if you have only one child, be careful not to compare him/her to other people’s children. Embrace your child’s uniqueness, learn their love language, discover how they learn best and develop a rich, personal bond with them.
I’m sure you can think of many other analogies between your family and puzzles. I’d love to get your feedback in the “Comment” section below.
May you continue to build up your family, one piece at a time, throughout this new year and appreciate the beauty that emerges as the pieces begin coming together.
-Patrick @ Family Staples