“No matter what you’ve done for yourself or for humanity, if you can’t look back on having given love and attention to your own family, what have you really accomplished?” Elbert Hubbard
Growing your family is as simple as growing a sunflower and as complex as operating a zoo. Growing a family in this modern world is no mean feat. Society pulls us this way, family pulls us that way. Parents never seem to get the right balance. Perhaps that has always been the case. Often you hear older generations bemoaning the actions of their parents on them when they were growing up. I strongly suspect that growing a family is an inexact science.
Are there magic ingredients for growing a family? In my short experience as a parent, it seems there are the ‘fundamental’ ingredients and then there are the ‘hit and miss’ ingredients. I think the latter is what children in each generation tend to remember. In my own mind, at least, I am determined that my children will remember the good stuff and not me being a grumpy mum.
My ‘fundamental’ ingredients for growing a family are love, acceptance, safety and security, trust, respect, food, water, shelter, a sense of belonging and providing an environment that creates a positive self-image.
Some of the things I do to help my family grow include:
- Allowing everyone in our family to have a role and be a team player
- Spending time together and going on adventures
- Respecting each other through our (flexible) house rules
- Saying sorry when it counts and admitting mistakes
- Reminding myself that work can wait, my family can’t
- Understanding that a family that plays together stays together
- Teaching my children that I am on their side at the same time as letting them have room to be independent and grow
- Being consistent in my approach, especially where tidying up is concerned
- When I get angry, telling them why and not holding it against them
- Encouraging open and honest communication
- Encouraging family members to be grateful for even the smallest things
- Remembering to smile and laugh
- Presenting a united front with my significant other
- Remembering to set my expectations appropriately for their ages and stages
- Protecting my children from age-inappropriate material
- Encouraging everyone to voice their thoughts, feelings and opinions
- Remembering me and the person who is my significant other.
To help us parents have more hits and less misses, a whole range of child rearing gurus has sprung up over the past few decades. The result is that now many parents feel inadequate and confused by conflicting ways of child rearing. Many of these gurus tend to typecast parenting and child rearing. To make it worse, many of those gurus appear to be perfect parents themselves and say to us ‘if you would just parent this way’ … ‘or that way…’.
In striving to be the very best parent I can be to my growing family, I have learnt a few things. I strongly suspect this learning is only the beginning of things to come. Firstly, I have learnt that, try as I might; I am not the perfect parent and will never be. Secondly, I have learnt that my parental instinct – the one that all us parents naturally have in us – is alive and well and I would do well listen to it. Thirdly, I may not always like what my kids do, but it is my job to love them unconditionally. Lastly, as a parent I am never going to get it completely right in my children’s eyes.
In most cases children will grow up and turn out all right. I think us parents would be better placed to relax a bit more and enjoy the ride that is our growing families. Do I relax and enjoy the ride? In a word – ‘no’; but the theory is good and it is something I strive for.
Things I’ve learnt about being a parent
- I am not the perfect parent (and my children are not perfect either). Between the parenting gurus and the antenatal groups, parents are continually reminded that they should be striving for parental perfection.
Were you in a competitive antenatal group? Did little Charlie walk/write/dance/eat or toilet train himself at six months? NO? I suffered from the competitiveness of these well-intended groups. I walked away, head held high, knowing that I was doing the best I could for my growing family and I could not keep up with the competition.
- Trusting my parental instinct. You have a choice to ignore unsolicited advice, smile and nod (even if you want to yell at the advice giver) and walk away knowing you are being the best parent you can be for your child(ren). Remember that the advice-giver doesn’t know you and definitely doesn’t know your circumstances.
If you think there is something wrong in your family and no one is taking notice of you, you have the right and the choice to get advice. If you don’t like that advice, you have the right to get a second opinion.
I am continually surprised to come across health professionals who remind me to trust my motherly instincts, as they are usually right. And, so far, those instincts have been pretty accurate. Your child is unique and you have been with them from day one. Your job is to continue being your child(ren)’s biggest advocate.
- Unconditional love and forgiveness. I tell my children on a daily basis that I love them – even when I am so mad at them I could list them on TradeMe.
When I ask my children to describe my love in amounts – “How much do I love them?”, my child’s mouth lifts up at the corners and their hands go wide “Big much” is their reply. Even if I am mad with them, it is a wonderful thing for me hear and it has a calming effect on me. It also helps my children to feel good about themselves particularly before bedtime.
I often remind my children that no matter what they do and how much I hate it, I will always love them. It is my hope that this love will help them grow into adults with a good sense of who they are.
- I will never get it right all the time. I remind myself that I am part of the first generation of parents to not think smacking is OK – no broken wooden spoons over backsides in my household. As parents, we congratulate ourselves often for finding alternative ways to discipline our children when needed.
When the road of growing your family gets bumpy or tough, as it inevitably does, you may need a hand or some guidance. I know I have. It doesn’t always feel the best to ask, but it has been helpful to do so. Some parents may get support and guidance from extended family or from friends. For others, support and guidance can come from reading a book or from an organisation that is dedicated to supporting you to raise your growing family.
If you do need help, guidance and/or support for your growing family, New Zealand has a plethora of services, which are available to you in your local town or city including:
Citizens Advice Bureau: www.cab.org.nz/
Single Parents: www.singleparents.org.nz/
Child, Youth and Family: www.cyf.govt.nz/
Grandparents Raising Grandchildren: www.grg.org.nz/
Health and Disability Advocacy: www.hdc.org.nz/
Human Rights: www.hrc.co.nz/
Kids line: www.kidsline.org.nz/
Supporting children: www.lifeeducation.org.nz/
Strengthening families: www.strengtheningfamilies.govt.nz/
Salvation Army: www.salvationarmy.org.nz/
Tough Love: www.toughlove.org.nz/
Families with health and disability needs: www.parent2parent.org.nz/
Victim Support: www.victimsupport.org.nz/
Work and Income: www.workandincome.govt.nz/
And, church denominational groups, your General Practitioner and cultural affiliation groups are great sources of support and guidance for families.
I have learnt that I am not so bad at growing my family and neither will you be. When something doesn’t go according to the textbooks or is out-of-line with other parental approaches, do what I do – take a breath and take a moment to remind yourself to have faith in your ability to be the best parent you can be for growing family.