Do Not Eat the Kipper Biscuit Planets and Other Secrets to Messy Parenting
Posted on May 22, 2013
What’s most extraordinary about the handwritten notice on our basement door is not that it is there at all, but that it took me a few days to notice it. We have a full basement, where the children play, we grown ups watch Doctor Who, Poirot, and Jane Austen films, and where I sing and my husband writes icons. I go down that stairwell several times on an average day. But I was in the middle of writing, you see, and the children and I had a book reading project in progress. By the time I noticed the sign, another household object was standing in for planets. My concern, therefore, was to find out why one must not eat the Kipper biscuit planets, not why someone wrote on the door.
Warning: If you are of the persuasion that walls and doorways are not meant to be scribbled upon, you will have to breathe into a paper bag to finish reading this post.
A friend asked that I write about my parenting style, which I’ll call Messy Parenting. So, I will do so a bit, but with a big caveat: There are lots and lots of ways to be a good parent. I have no interest in guilting anyone! That said, here are a few points in my parenting philosophy:
MESSY PARENTING GUIDELINES:
1. Grown ups have got to be themselves. Maybe because my whole family is deeply empathic, maybe because all kids can smell b.s. from a mile away, but the parents in our household have got to be real about what matters to us. We don’t parent in order to conform, and we don’t parent in order to force obedience. We also don’t emphasize the things we don’t care about. We absolutely make time for the things we love to do. Andrew must have iconography time. I must have time to sing and write.
2. Be messy. Marketers like to categorize people, things, and what they call “lifestyles,” because they want to sell us things. Pshah, I say. It’s okay to mix it up. Let children explore and be themselves, regardless of market forces. Recognize that girl/boy toys, clothing, parenting trends, cleaning products, and media are not morally authoritative. You can decide in your family what you really value, and make decisions based on those values. (We value reading, universal kindness and compassion, creativity, self expression, prayer, study, liturgy, and community building. We try to act accordingly.)
3. Be MESSY! If children are going to learn, they often learn best with their whole persons. That means dirt, science experiments, cooking experiments, water play, art supplies, building projects, tents, wall art, floor paint spatters, wet towels in strange rooms. (I try to keep up with the mess. Well, no, I don’t really. I try to manage it. But the point is, if that’s part of what you care about, go ahead and clean up right after. I value doing other things in my limited time, so I do.)
4. Maintain family rituals. We happen to be religiously pious, so we have family customs surrounding our devotion. But we also take tea together, allowing the children to practice hospitality and have their turns pouring. Turtle hunting is another ritual. The children explore the garden looking for turtles when I go out to weed. It’s always the same, though we rarely find a turtle.
4a. A good eater is a child who can make conversation at the dinner table. Such a one does not usually materialize till age 6 or later. Train your child in the way you would have him or her behave at the table, not just to eat what’s put before him in record time.
4b. Let your child’s sleep habits follow your family’s ideal patterns, not the disembodied advice of someone trying to make a name for his/her method. Our children go to sleep after we sing them Compline. That makes them “good sleepers” in our context. Find what works for yours.
5. Don’t brag. Love the snot out of your partner and children and yourself, but don’t dirty that love by acting like it’s earned instead of given. You can share the cool things that happen, sure. But the whole, my kid is so smart because I did this thing right or you did that thing wrong, is actually not true or loving or good. So maybe develop a new habit instead. Look for the good in your family and for the good in others, and rejoice whenever you see good!
6. Laugh. Laugh with them, not at them.
7. Turn off the TV. Yes, I watch some shows online. But you know what’s always going to be there? Shows. What’s not always going to be there? Them. The ones you love. So love them now, and if you survive them, I guarantee you that all of the Real Housewives episodes will be there for you in your grief. Not that you’ll care.
8. Turn down the pressure. Your first born is going to overachieve anyway. Stop taking so much credit. They will all learn to read eventually unless there’s something else going on with them, in which case, calming down is not going to hurt them. Read to your littles, but don’t make them learn to read before you’ll take them on a family vacation. Teach them about the world, but don’t punish and judge them based on their skills. Let them have one place in the world to learn and grow without the reward/punishment system our society mistakenly thinks makes for better characters. Our minds are always capable of expanding, not just when we’re little. Give them time to play and grow at their own pace, and take the long view.
9. Respect human dignity. Well, respect the dignity of all life, but especially fellow humans. We don’t make our children talk to strangers or show affection they are uncomfortable showing. We let them follow their personal comfort zones with others. But they are not allowed to shun or be rude to others. They must acknowledge that other people are there, to greet them and see them, because we believe that humans have worth. (In our family, we talk about how all humans are in the image of God.)
10. Emphasize repentance and forgiveness, not perfection and grudges. Be okay with change, but change together.
Alright, those are the broad lines of my parenting philosophy, Messy Parenting. I hope you enjoyed reading!
(And don’t forget! Even messily parented children have to go to college one day. Please consider purchasing my novel, Can’t Buy Me Love, available now in print and coming soon to an ereader near you!)