The SPARK Parenting Philosophy
Values: Cultivating Character
Life Skills: Preparing Kids to Succeed
Memories: Weaving Joy Into the Family Culture
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by Lisa Beach
If you’re like most busy parents, you zip through the day handling the crisis du jour (forgotten homework, bickering kids, broken bicycle, sick dog), reactively dealing with life as you and your kids jump from one activity to the next (school, job, chores, errands, Scout meeting, music lesson). By the end of your demanding day, your whole family might feel tired, disconnected and a little overwhelmed. And when you’re tired, you lack the energy to focus on meaningful family activities that draw you closer together. Instead, family members might do their own thing or “plug in” to their favorite media, be it an iPod, the TV, cell phone or computer.
It’s easy to get so caught up in the day-to-day rush of life that you lose sight of the big picture. That’s when you need to step back, gain perspective and ask yourself some really important questions.
- Is this how I dreamed my family would be?
- Am I enjoying being a parent as much as I thought I would?
- Are my kids turning out the way I had hoped?
- Is my family life as happy and fulfilling as I envisioned years ago, before my first child was even born?
When I became pregnant with my first child, I envisioned cuddly story times on the couch, baking cookies together, playing games in the backyard and going for family bike rides. What I didn’t foresee was the sibling squabbles, pressing PTA commitments, homework battles, video game addiction, whining, overflowing toy boxes, fundraisers, mountains of school papers, competitive youth sport leagues, clutter, and every Saturday booked with soccer games, playdates and birthday parties. At some point, my husband and I finally screamed, “ENOUGH! This is not what we signed up for!” I wondered how my idyllic family life had deteriorated into such busyness – activities, stuff, commitments – that had little to do with what I envisioned for my family.
When you finally sense this huge disconnect between what you dreamed your family would be and what it has become, how can you close the gap between the two? The key lies in purposeful parenting. Rather than reactively flying by the seat of your pants, you proactively take a more intentional approach in how you raise your kids in spite of external pressure.
While you can’t change our overscheduled, media-rich, time-starved, multi-tasking, pressure-filled, express-lane, instant-gratification, commercialized culture, you can either follow mainstream American or choose your own path in life. By keeping your eye on the big picture, you can decide to focus on what’s important to you and your family and begin to live a life that reflects your priorities.
If you want to transform your family life into something more meaningful, follow these four steps to more purposeful parenting:
- Determine what’s important to you and your family. To be more intentional in your parenting, you must first identify your destination and then figure out the best path to get there. This requires some soul-searching, so set aside a few hours on a slow weekend (either alone, if you’re single, or with your partner or spouse) to pinpoint the specific values and life skills you’d like to teach your kids. Do you value honesty, determination and respect above all else? Do you want to ensure your kids know how to resolve conflicts peacefully, manage their time effectively and make good decisions? With a clear picture of which values and life skills to focus on, you can begin providing your kids with many opportunities to learn these things. In addition, you’ll want to gather your whole family together to identify which high-priority issues top the list of what really matters. Does your family value education? The environment? Political activism? Animal welfare? Community service? When you figure out together what you value, you can intentionally design your future so that your daily life better reflects what really matters.
- Create a vision for your family. Remember, your past does not equal your future. In other words, regardless of your previous mistakes or your present situation, you can change your future. Start by opening up your mind to the possibility of a different reality – see the big picture and imagine a better life for your family. Envision in great detail what you want your family life to be like. Do you see your two daughters laughing and playing together like best friends? Do you picture your whole family eating dinner together in a relaxed atmosphere, enjoying each other’s company? Do you visualize a quiet Saturday morning, where the only thing on the agenda is a family walk to the neighborhood park? Do you see yourselves volunteering together at a homeless shelter? Once you can imagine what you want, you can make changes – however small – to move you in the right direction. But you have to see it in your mind first and believe it’s possible.
- Set family goals. Once you’ve determined what’s important to your family and you’ve created a vision of a better future, it’s time to craft a plan. Setting goals will drive you to take action, transforming your vision into reality. (SPARK Parenting offers a free tip sheet to help you set family goals, including tips to walk you through the process and a goal-setting worksheet. Click here to download your free copy.) By thoughtfully creating family goals, you’re carving out time in your schedule to focus on what you’ve already agreed together matters most.
- Take action. The final step simply involves bringing it all together by taking action. You took time for self-reflection, you visualized a better family life, and you set goals. (Keep in mind that all relationships are a work-in-progress. As your family grows and changes, your needs and priorities might change, requiring new goals.) As you work toward your goals, you’re now taking an intentional approach to your parenting. You’re living an authentic life by honoring your vision and goals through action. You’re cultivating a life of integrity by living in sync with your values and priorities. Rather than succumbing to a life on autopilot, you’re living consciously, making thoughtful choices that better reflect a life of significance.
Without purposeful parenting at the helm, your family will simply drift along, sometimes being pulled along into a sea of opportunities, sometimes being sucked into dangerous undercurrents. Either way, you’re not in control – you’re simply a passenger in life. However, with an intentional parenting approach, you see the destination, plot your path and purposefully steer your family in the right direction in spite of all the obstacles and distractions you face along the way.
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