This week we completed a pilot of "The Parenting Children Course", with a group of friends/fellow parents. Over these five weeks we have covered a huge amount of ground, as the headings for each session (above) reveal. As we suspected, the course has provoked our thinking and encouraged us to both make some changes to some family routines, as well as persist with some of the things we are getting right, but which are tiring and could be all to easy to give up!
Week five of the course is entitled, "Our Long Term Aim" - and encourages us to draw back from the frenetic day-to-day of managing a busy house, and busy children - in order to think about the 'big-picture'. Sometimes a course like this is surprising and provides new insights; but more often I find that (as with the Marriage Course) the greatest benefits come not from new information, but from the structure of the course. We had known, for example, that we needed to weight our discipline more towards reward, and less around sanction for some time. However, actually making these changes, didn't happen until we did the course, talked the issues through in the 'homework' and then implemented it. Actually a similar thing was true for us with The Marriage Course. We identified that a key need in our marriage was to spend time together as a couple on a regular basis when at a marriage seminar in 2001! However we didn't actually start having such "Marriage Time", until we did The Marriage Course in 2006, as it presented us with an allotted discussion time to actually think it through, plan it and organise it. Some people mock the 'course' format; but for me, it imposes the structure that my thinking requires, enables awkward or touchy subjects to be raised not postponed - and creates the stimulus to get on with required action.
In week five of "The Parenting Children Course", authors/presenters Nicky & Sila Lee (who have raised four children, themselves) steered us through two areas: Encouraging Responsibility, and Passing on Beliefs and Values. While discipline can correct a child's behaviour, the long-term plan must be to help children to develop the kind of character which will enable them to make good choices themselves, with increasing freedom as they grow older.
Firstly the issue of freedom is explored. Parents were encouraged to allow age-appropriate freedom to their children in order to begin the transfer of responsibility for planning and conduct from parent to child early on. Micro-management, over-competitiveness, over-busyness, and over-protectiveness are identified as barriers to this process of allowing children to make judgements themselves. Usefully for us, they pointed out that it is not always helpful to protect children from making mistakes - as having the freedom to make mistakes is a vital tool for children to discover the laws of actions and consequences for themselves! Micro-managing and over-protecting parents run the risk of not allowing their children to have learned these skills until they have really big decisions to make. The course DVD's contain interviews with parents and children (as well as experts) and some of the parents gave great example of ways in which they had let their kids face the consequences of their actions, as life-learning tools. Along with this, parents were encouraged to talk realistically with their children about the use of drugs/alcohol, the internet and electronic games; as well as engage with their questions about sex - and helping them prepare for puberty.
The last of the ten segments on the DVD, is the one in which the Christian faith of the authors/presenters is most apparent. While all parents try to inculcate a sense of morality in their children, the Lee's speak about the fact that for their four children this was done from a specifically Christian perspective. Much of what is discussed here could be used effectively by anyone parenting with secular views as the wisdom is widely applicable: its the values you live-out in the long term, not the words you say that have the most effect, for example (This lesson is especially focused on in a little section about money - where what we actually believe about its value/importance/use will be clear to our kids!) The home in which values are most effectively communicated is a happy, loving on in which loving solid discipline is practised, is another such insight.
The section on 'praying for our children' is possibly the one exclusively Christian-themed part of the course. While it should stimulate Christian parents, others might be a bit alienated by this. However, it is a very small part of the course overall, and (as with the Marriage Course), people coming from outside the church, to a church-hosted event, are usually expecting a Christian flavour to the proceedings.
The final element (before discussion questions for the parents) was a neat little section on the value of family traditions. Daily, weekly and annual routines - can be the basis of the formation of security, and very happy memories for children as they grow up. One of the most important things for children is a bank of happy, and significant memories to take into adulthood. The discussion time was entertaining too - as some of the parents talked about some of the funny or daft traditions their families treasure, unique to them!
The Parenting Children Course, has taken us on a whistle-stop five week tour through the key areas of parenting. It has given us a huge amount to think about, and we have started to make some significant changes (for the better!) in the way we run our home. We hope that like with The Marriage Course, many of these changes will not be temporary experiments - but will become the stuff of everyday life. Next week we will all meet again to evaluate the resources, see what we have learnt and decide what we should recommend to the church about if/how we should use them.