Make the most of your time, for it is short. Way shorter than you think.
Some of my friends think of their children's lives in terms of thirds. Each third has 6 years in it, for a total of 18 years. By the time that child is a sophomore in high school, they are in the middle to end of the last third of the time the parents have to invest in that child while they are living under the same roof. It's rather sobering to think of our time with our children in this way, but it is so helpful to make sure we don't squander the time we have left.
In the first third of life with our child, we go from newborn to age six. A lot happens in this time. Memorization is easy for your young child, so spend time investing in their memory of poems, scripture, pithy sayings. new languages. Exposure to lots of options is key here. When our oldest child, Cliff, was 1-5 years old we lived in married student housing at University of Rochester in NY. Our neighbors came from all over the world and one of Cliff's best friends was a little boy from Korea named Andrew. One day as I was visiting Andrew's mom, Cliff started saying something that sounded like Korean to me, but I wasn't sure. Andrew's mom started laughing and said he was telling her son to go to bed so he could play with his toys. I was embarrassed at how rude my son was but my friend was excited that he understood Korean. I came to find out my son was speaking the native languages of all his little international friends. As I already found out he was speaking Korean at the Korean household, but he was also speaking French at the apartment of our friends from Canada, Russian with our next door neighbors and Icelandic with our neighbors from Reykjavik. It was a small window when he did this, from about age 1-3. Habits are established during these first years, good or bad, including how your child will use their time, types of food that are preferred, bedtimes, routines, chores. Attitudes are also established during the first six years. It's never too late to start the habit of making memories...great memories...as a family. Go on trips, plan fun things with extended family or friends. Visit museums, especially hands-on museums and out door events. Use these events and trips to maintain good communication with your child. Communication is the key to success in parenting.
During the second third of our time with our child, ages 6-12, the habits and routines that were established during the first 6 years are reinforced. Children this age question everything and they love to make decisions. I am a firm believer in giving my kids ample opportunity to make decisions, and make mistakes, before those mistakes will affect the rest of their lives. Small controlled mistakes can help your child realize they don't know everything. They can learn they might need help with things and should ask for help. Continue your habit of travel and begin taking your kids out of the country. We had so many kids, over such a long stretch, we only took family vacations where we could drive. But we would travel up and down the East coast and visit historic places and learn history. One year we took our family vacation to Williamsburg and spent one week going on all the guided tours. We studied Williamsburg and the founding of the nation before going and the kids were able to ask deep reflective questions of the guides. Expose your children at this age to as many career and interest options as possible. See what clicks. Start music lessons at age 6 or 7. We make music, specifically piano, a non-negotiable. Every one of our 8 kids took at least 6 years of piano. Ask around for a good teacher. We make sure they get to draw, throw clay, sew clothing, cook meals, change the oil in the car, mow the lawn, prepare the soil for a garden, then plant, water, weed and harvest the fruit and veggies. We process some of our home-grown food by canning...mostly jellies and apple sauce. I also start each child out around this age with a bank account. If they save their money from chores or gifts, we double it in their account. Only caveat is if they want to withdraw the money, we have to approve of the purchase or they have to give us the same amount they want to withdraw. That provides a sort of forced savings for us that goes directly to each child as they choose to save their money. It's win-win because the kids like us to double their investments so they are more apt to save, and it gives us a way to put money away for our kids education. When our kids pay for college, the money was half saved by them. Huge incentive for them for life.
To get ideas to help your children develop their interests, check out the Boy Scouts of America merit badge requirements. If you Google "merit badge" you will find the sites. Each merit badge covers knowledge in a different area. They range from Auto Mechanics to Zoology, dentistry, architecture, personal finance...there are 141 merit badges currently. They give wonderful overview of the topic and great questions and research ideas to give your child a solid understanding if the topic is of interest to them or not. Keep the lines of communication open. Do not force your child to do things they really do not want to do. Unless it's one of your non-negotiables...like piano for us. Pick your fights wisely. But have them look at the merit badge list and see if anything sparks an interest. Start this before puberty. Investing in your child can become harder after puberty unless you make communication your priority. Communication is the key to success in parenting.
The last third of your child's 18 years at home need to be spent gaining skills in multiple areas of interest. Jobs are offered based on experience not book work. Of course it is also good to excel at school and be involved in multiple extracurricular activities. But from ages 12-18 your child will finish junior high school and high school and apply to college or follow a career path. Having a strong sense of direction, or a strong interest, is very helpful. Have them volunteer to gain experience. And get jobs as early as possible so they get a good sense of real life. Managing their time, making money, keeping up with school and interests. Talk about everything. Keep communicating! Know your child better than anyone else. Give them freedom to talk about anything. Be their greatest advocate. Let them know you will not judge them. You can be disappointed in choices they make but never hold them to a higher standard than you hold yourself. Love them well. Remember birthdays, and special events. Always cheer them on! Be involved. Your years of deeply investing in your child are ending soon. Make the most of the time you have left. Redeem the time.
How do you make the most of the time you have with your children? Please post in the comment section below. Thanks!
Article by Ruth Grunstra
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Hi I'm Ruth
What is the biggest challenge you are facing with your child? My husband and I had the first of our 8 children in 1984 and our youngest in 2002. We've been married since 1980 and we are always learning new ways to engage our children. We would love to hear from you. Contact us and let us know what you have found that works and what doesn't, or ask me a question.
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