Children

Shortly after Bonnie and I were first married, people began asking us if we wanted kids, and our answer was always the same: “Well, we really want grandkids…”

As I was only 27 years old when Bonnie and I first started dating and Bonnie was only 24, I figured we had plenty of time before we had to start thinking about having kids. Besides, we were young and focused on each other.

Growing up, I always thought that I wanted a big family. But as time went on and I grew more self-aware, I discovered how selfish and self-centered I truly was. I knew that type of personality wasn’t going to do well with kids, so I began to think less and less about having a big family.

After a couple of years of marriage that consisted of us traveling internationally and carrying little to no responsibility, Bonnie started hinting at the idea of having kids. By this time, she was 28 years old and I was 31. Though neither of us were completely sure about having kids, we both understood that if we did want to have a big family, we were going to have to start sooner than later.

At the beginning of each new calendar year, Bonnie and I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions necessarily, instead we set goals that we would like to accomplish over the next twelve months. So, in January of 2011, we decided to have a more serious talk about the future of our family and what we wanted for the coming year. Unfortunately, I was still completely on the fence about having kids. Yes, I still wanted grandkids and yes, I liked the idea of having a big family, but I was still way too selfish. So, I did the only thing I knew I could rely on and I took to prayer.

“God, if it is your will for Bonnie and me to have kids, then I need you to soften my heart. Right now, I don’t think I’m ready for that responsibility, but I know that all things are possible through you. If it be your will…”

And we left it at that.

The year of 2011 was a pretty tight year, financially speaking. I was still getting my feet under me with my new teaching career, and my freelance business was pulling in just enough to keep us afloat. In my mind, this meant that we had absolutely no debt, but no savings either. Seeing this made me nervous about trying to provide for children when we were barely able to take care of ourselves, but I believed, wholeheartedly, that God Always Provides as I had been witness to his provision over and over again in my life. From my parents raising nine kids off of blue collar wages and all of us working in migrant fields, to simply always having more than enough despite a complete lack of fiscal responsibility, I knew that if God blessed us with children that he would do all that was necessary to provide for them as well.

Even so, I had my doubts. So, I went back to the words of my Mother:

“When it came to having children, I simply prayed to God and told Him that if he were to bless me with a child that I would do my best to take care of them.”

Stepping Out in Faith

It was a Sunday evening in October of 2011 when Bonnie mentioned that she had to run to the pharmacy as she had just run out of her birth control pills.

“So, I’ve been thinking…” I started out casually. “Maybe it’s best if you not fill that prescription.”

“Seriously?” she responded.

“I don’t know.” I said. “It’s just that, I think that we’ve been controlling that part of our lives for a long time now and I feel like we’re supposed to surrender it to God. It’s not that I’m dying to have kids, and who even knows if we can have kids. The thing is, I asked God to soften my heart about this and apparently he has.”

I was honestly shocked to hear these words coming out of my mouth.

“So, you want me to stop taking my pill?” she asked as if to confirm the crazy talk I had been spewing.

“Yeah, I guess so. I mean, we talk all day about wanting to follow God, and trust God, and surrender to God, and then we try to take very specific control of this situation. Like I said before, I’m not 100% sure about anything, but I think we need to trust Him with this. Who knows… Maybe He’ll give us kids and maybe He won’t. I just think we should be open to the opportunity. I’m pretty positive He can be trusted and that He knows what He’s doing.”

To which she agreed. It turned out that she had been praying for God to change my heart for the past year and this was actually an answer to her prayers.

The next January, just a few months after this conversation, I had just gotten out of the shower and was getting ready for work when I walked out of the bathroom to find Bonnie sitting on the bed with a bit of a blank stare on her face.

“I’m pregnant!” she said with a slightly sarcastic tone and a nervous smile.

“Hold on, what?! That’s awesome!” I responded in a surprised and nervous tone.

At that moment, nothing else mattered anymore.

When I was younger, I really wanted to have boys as I was clueless about girls. But the second Bonnie uttered the words “I’m pregnant,” my only desire was for a happy healthy baby and mama. Boy or girl, it didn’t matter. God was blessing us with a child, and we were going to love them with everything we had, no matter what.

100% Natural, Unmedicated Childbirth

Years before we even thought about having kids, Bonnie and I had watched a documentary called The Business of Being Born. It explored how childbirth was handled by the medical industry in the United States and compared it to how it was handled in other developed countries. Through the documentary, we were shocked to find out how differently things were done in the U.S. and that there were arguably much better ways available for both the mother and child. Not being pregnant at the time, we promised that we were going to do our research and make well educated decisions, should Bonnie ever get pregnant.

Thank goodness for that documentary as it jump-started our educational journey about pregnancy where we learned that labor inducements, epidurals, episiotomies, and elective C- sections were definitely not for us. On the contrary, Bonnie led the way and eventually became a powerful advocate for the benefits of a 100% natural and unmedicated birth plan. Fortunately for us, we were just a short drive from one of the best birthing centers in the nation (Breath of Life in Largo, FL) and were blessed to have the most amazing midwives care for us and help us implement the birth plan that was best for us.

It is said that hardships, trials, and challenges build character, but our experience has been that they reveal and amplify a person’s character more than they build it, and we have found that the same can be said for pregnancies. If you were a drama queen before, you’re going to be a hot mess when you’re pregnant. But, if you were strong before, you’re going to become a super hero through your pregnancy. Bonnie, of course, is my Wonder Woman.

Through the entirety of that first pregnancy, she was absolutely amazing. She was running four-milers up until she was eight months pregnant and she never complained about anything, not even about being my designated driver for an entire nine months! But it wasn’t until she gave Lexi a 100% natural, unmedicated, underwater birth without any interventions that I truly recognized her strength. She was composed, determined, focused, and unwavering throughout the entire experience.

And all I could do was just stand by her side and watch.

Sure, I applied counter-pressure to her lower back during back-labor and I brushed the hair out of her face in between contractions. I even tried to give her a sip of the “labor-aide” that she had prepared, but it was right as she was starting another contraction, so all I got was her patented “stink-face” expression. In other words, my job was primarily of moral support and physical presence. This was the “Bonnie Show” and I was simply a fan on the sidelines.

After about four hours of active labor, at 12:34 PM EST on September 18, 2012, Alexis Isabella Bravo was born, and our lives were immediately changed forever.

As Bonnie reached down and lifted Lexi out of the water, I was simply in awe. Lexi sat in Bonnie’s lap in the tub, wide-eyed and looking around. Not crying or whimpering, just looking around and taking it all in. My eyes welled up with tears as Bonnie looked down at Lexi and Lexi stared up at Bonnie. Then, after waiting for the cord-blood to finish pumping, I cut the umbilical cord and Lexi was officially free.

Immediately, the midwives had me take off my shirt and quickly put Lexi on my chest for the skin-to-skin bonding while Bonnie went into the shower to deliver the placenta.

Lexi was still purple and covered with vernix as she laid on my chest and looked up at me. We sat in the rocking chair and just stared at each other for what felt like nothing more than a couple minutes when Bonnie emerged from the bathroom. The midwives immediately took Lexi from me and placed her on Bonnie’s chest so she could do the “breast crawl” and begin nursing. At that point, my job was pretty much complete. I took a little nap while Bonnie nursed Lexi and we headed home just a few hours later, in time to have dinner on the couch.

Fatherhood: Rookie Year

Over the next few days and weeks, Lexi really had no need for me. She needed her mother’s milk, and she wanted to hear her mother’s heartbeat and her mother’s voice. I could help change diapers, but aside from that, my job was simply to go to work and keep the lights on.

Again, I could help cook and clean and take care of Bonnie, but that was more about my job as a good husband, not my role as a father. With regards to my responsibility as a father, there really wasn’t much for me to do early on. Lexi didn’t “need” me. She needed Bonnie. In actuality, Lexi didn’t even know me, much less need me. Whereas Bonnie and Lexi had spent the past nine months together, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in the most intimate relationship possible, Lexi and I had only known each other for a few days. That’s not to say I didn’t love her wholeheartedly, but I can understand her preference for Bonnie. We were still strangers to each other.

As Lexi got older, things started to change. When she was about four months old, Bonnie started teaching classes a couple nights a week at an after-school program, leaving me and Lexi to fend for ourselves. Though she was only gone for about three hours, they were a long three hours. Not that Lexi was bad, but if I didn’t keep her entertained, she would focus on the fact that Bonnie was gone. So as to not let that happen, I would strap her into the Baby Bjorn (baby carrier) and we would go for a nice four mile walk around the lake. I suppose it could have been easier to put her in the stroller as opposed to wearing her, except for the fact that she hated the stroller and would scream bloody murder the second I would set her down in it.

Either way, three hours at a time, Lexi and I started to develop a relationship. After our walks, she would often times want to nurse. Unfortunately, I’m just not equipped for that. I would try to give her a bottle of the breast milk that Bonnie would pump, but Lexi wanted nothing to do with the imitation nipple. So, more often than not, Lexi would get frustrated with me and just cry. This was really tough for me during those first few weeks, but Lexi continued to grow and understand that though Bonnie left, she always came back. The more she understood this, the more comfortable she became with me.

It wasn’t until Lexi was about a year old that we really, really started to bond. I would put her in the WeeRide on the front of my mountain bike and we would go for rides to the park down by the water. She would wear this enormous Winnie-the-Pooh bike helmet and every time we would pass by someone (which was constantly) I would whisper in her ear to say “hi” to them.

I could see the expression on each person’s face as we approached. They would see her giant helmet and smile and then comment about how cool the WeeRide was. Then, when she would actually say “hi” to them with her tiny one-year-old voice, their faces would completely light up! Though it had nothing to do with me, I had a blast seeing this little girl spread joy all over the downtown area.

Halfway through our ride, we would stop at this awesome little park that was right on the bay and next to a small municipal airport. We’d watch the planes take off and land and Lexi would climb up and down the slides. By the time we would get home, Lexi would be tired enough to actually nap and when Bonnie arrived, she would find both of us asleep on the couch.

Since then, our relationship has only continued to grow stronger. Not because we spend more time together, but because of the quality of time we spend together. As I work outside of the home for 40 hours/week and Bonnie works as a stay at home mom 168 hours/week, there is no way for me to have the same type of relationship with Lex that she does. It’s just not possible, and I don’t work long hours. I only do two things in life: 1) Go to work and 2) Come home and play with kids. I’m home every day by 4pm and my work never takes me out of town. Even so, I still only get to see the kids for about three and a half hours a day before they have to go to bed.

This isn’t much time, so I have to be intentional about how we spend our time, making sure that it’s quality time. Whether we’re out for a bike ride to the park, playing in the backyard, taking a walk, going for ice cream, wrestling in the living room, having a dance party in the kitchen, reading books, or playing Legos… Our time has to be focused.

Unfortunately, being a Papa isn’t all fun and games. Though my roles include Provider, Protector, and Leader, also included is the role of Disciplinarian. Yes, Bonnie is strict and does a fantastic job of keeping the kids in line, but her voice is nowhere near as deep or as loud as mine, and because she spends so much time with the kids, it’s almost impossible for her to be the “bad cop.” So, by default, when necessary, it’s my job to put the foot down.

This is a tough role, but it has to be done. It’s tough because my time with the kids is already limited, and I hate to spend the little time I do have correcting them, but the fact remains that it has to be done. As much as I’d like to be their best friends, that’s not my job. My job is to teach them to love God and their neighbor through my words and actions, and when they aren’t behaving in that loving manner, they have to be corrected. Either, I do it now, or the local law enforcement officers will do it later.

That said, my job as a father is a balance, much of it behind the scenes. I go to work to provide for the family, and I mow the lawn and take out the trash, so we have a clean place to live and play. I lead by example, I sacrifice regularly, and I raise my voice when I have to. This grants me the honor of dances in the kitchen, wrestling matches in the living room, bike rides through the park, and the big piece of chicken at dinner.

And I’ve never been happier.

The Experts Say

Like any new parents, we did our best to read the books and take the online classes about how to care for your new baby. We learned all about the methods and strategies to get your child to sleep through the night from day one, walk by six-months, and potty-train themselves in the first year. These methods just didn’t work for our kids. Instead, our first three kids didn’t start sleeping through the night until they were each 18-month old. Since Bonnie was breast feeding, this means that she went five straight years without a full night’s sleep.

Candidly, Lexi was a super tough baby for us. Though she is very athletic, ridiculously smart, and has an enormous aptitude for verbal communication now, she ran us ragged as a baby. We couldn’t ever put her down, she would freak out if we ever tried to sit down while carrying her, and she would cry incessantly every time we put her in the car. While all the other parents would talk about how their kids immediately fell asleep in their car seat, Bonnie and I were inspecting Lexi’s car seat for anything that might be pinching or stabbing her.

After two months of Lexi wailing every time we got in the car, it was time to make the nine-hour road trip to Bonnie’s parents’ house for Thanksgiving. Never having driven more than thirty minutes with Lexi in the car, we weren’t sure how she was going to handle the ride. We figured she might cry for the first forty-five minutes or so, but then assumed she would tire out and fall asleep. Boy, were we wrong.

I’m not sure how she did it, I didn’t think it was humanly possible, but Lexi cried for nine hours straight. Ok, so she took a small twenty-minute nap somewhere in South Georgia and a few pit-stops so Bonnie could feed her. Other than that, she was wailing at the top of her iron lungs.

Having just recently had our fourth child, we’ve come to accept that each child is different and what works for one family doesn’t necessarily work for another. While some parents have their babies in their own separate apartment after three months, our babies sleep in between us in our bed for at least the first three months. After that, we’ll move them to a crib that sits right next to our bed, but they’ll inevitably end up back in our bed at some point in the middle of the night. Once they’re a year old, we try to move them into their own big-kid bed in their own room, but since our kids start walking at nine months, they still end up in our bed by morning.

Seriously though, what’s so wrong or bad about babies and toddlers wanting to snuggle with their parents?

As sweet as this sentiment is, we did have to draw the line. When it was just Lexi, it was easy. But once we had two toddlers and a baby trying to snuggle with us in our queen size bed, the sweetness was over. As if being woken up by a crying baby wasn’t challenging enough, getting repeatedly kicked in the ribs, head, and back by a wiggly toddler all night will drive a man to drink. But rather than banish the kids from our room entirely, we came up with a happy medium that seems to work for all of us.

Every night before I go to sleep, I lay out a big fluffy comforter on the floor next to my bed. Then, sometime during the night, either one, two, or all three of my daughters will wander into our room carrying their favorite blanket and pillow and set up shop on the floor without waking us up. This has worked out wonderfully for the past two years as everyone gets a comfortable night of rest and we can maintain an open-door policy for the kids to come in whenever they want. They get to be close by and I don’t get kicked in the face all night. This is what I now call a parenting win-win.

Before getting married and having kids, I believed in the idea that you could have kids and still be an independent adult with a job and a life outside of your family. Having been married for over a decade and raising four kids, I no longer believe that. My entire life basically consists of two things: Going to work and bouncing babies. Though there are many different expert methods that we could follow, being completely devoted to growing our little tribe is exactly what Bonnie and I have consciously chosen to do.

I get that our method doesn’t work for everyone, but understanding that you really only get about ten years with your kids before they move on with their own lives filled with friends and activities, we’ve decided that we want make the most of every moment.

With all due respect to the experts, it works for us.

Unsolicited Advice

Over the past six years, since Lexi’s birth, Bonnie and I have learned a ton about being parents. One of the first things we learned was that as soon as someone finds out you’re pregnant, be them relatives or complete strangers, they will feel uncontrollably compelled to tell you two things: First is the worst labor horror story they have ever heard, and second is their best parenting advice.

Why anyone would find it appropriate to tell a labor horror story to a pregnant woman, I’ll never understand. But I can see how someone would think the parenting advice might be appreciated, even if it was completely unsolicited. The problem here is that the folks most willing to give out free parenting advice are often the least qualified to do so. Whether it is because they themselves don’t have children or because their kids are a complete mess, Bonnie and I are very skeptical about anyone who volunteers their two cents on parenting. In fact, the best advice we’ve ever actually received was a tip not to take anyone’s unsolicited advice, but instead, to think of the most wonderful people we knew and go ask their parents for advice.

As such, the majority of our parenting knowledge has come primarily through trial and error where we have experienced both failures and successes in our constantly evolving methods. Through a never-ending series of bribes and threats, we have learned what motivates each of our three children along with what has no effect on them whatsoever.

“If you finish your dinner, you can have a popsicle!”
“No? Then finish your dinner right now or else you’re going straight to bed!”

“If you hurry and clean your room, we’ll have popcorn during the movie!”
“No? Clean your room right now or you’re not even going to the movie!”

“When you wake up from your nap, we can ride bikes to the park!”
“No? Go to sleep now before I pinch you!”

Over and over again, we rotate through our repertoire of bribes and threats, seeing which one will work on this day with this particular child. Just like adults, they aren’t always motivated in the same way by the same things. Their tastes evolve and they’re constantly outgrowing their desires. What worked yesterday may or may not work today, depending simply on how rested they are and when they last ate.

In other words, we have yet to find the secret playbook by which all great parents raise their well-adjusted children. But we have discovered a few foundational principles that have worked for us, so far…

Raising Adults

From the very beginning, Bonnie and I decided that we weren’t going to “raise children”, we were going to “raise adults”. Having repeatedly witnessed the prolonged adolescence of many young folks that were remaining dependent on their parents well into their twenties, we were convinced that the best way to produce productive members of society was by teaching them how to be one. Rather than allowing a child to have no responsibilities, we believe that a child should be allowed and expected to have as much responsibility as they can handle, appropriate for their age and ability.

Through experimentation, we have learned that a one-year- old is capable of putting all of their toys away and choosing to go to their room to cry or control their emotions and stay at the dinner table. We’ve learned that a shy four-year-old can be brave enough to speak to the waiter and order for herself at a restaurant and that a six-year-old can definitely drag the empty trash cans from the curb to the backyard, even if they are taller than she is.

While some might think that we are asking too much of our children, they each choose their own actions and understand the consequences for them. Each time we give them an order, they themselves repeat our mantra of “More Responsibilities, More Privileges,” as they appreciate the benefits that come with their duties.

From my perspective, our kids are absolutely spoiled! Not spoiled rotten, but they have more love, more support, and more privileges than any other kid I know. Being blessed with such a nurturing environment, I believe they should be grateful, happy, healthy, respectful, and kind little kids who always do their best. I understand that this is a lofty expectation for such young kids, but “to whom much is given, much shall be required,” and my kids are being given the world. So no, I don’t feel bad that Bonnie and I are strict parents that don’t let our kids get away with anything. On the contrary, I am confident that the lessons they are learning at home are going to be a tremendous benefit to their lives both now and later.

One lesson I am constantly teaching my kids is how to deal with rejection. On a regular basis, I say no to their requests. Not because their requests are unreasonable, or I am unable to fulfill their request, but because it isn’t good for a child to get everything they ask for, even if it is a simple request.

“Can I have a chip?”
“No.”
“Why not?”
“Because you didn’t say ‘please.’”
“Can I please have a chip?” “Nope.”
“I said ‘please’…?”
“And I appreciate you asking nicely. Now move along”
“Can I please play on the iPad?”
“No.”
“Can I please watch a show?”
“No.”
“Can I please go next door and play with the dog?”
“No.”
“Why not?”

Because it is important for children to understand that they are not entitled to everything they desire. If a child is raised to believe that they can get anything they want simply by asking nicely and “saying please,” they are being set up for crushing disappointment as the real world doesn’t work that way. My job as a parent isn’t just to protect my children and care for them, it is also to teach them how to protect and care for themselves, because I’m not always going to be around. That is why our girls are required to clean their rooms, make their beds, sort all of the laundry, empty the trash cans, and take out the recycling for their chores. That is why they are always required to respond to Bonnie and me with a “Yes, Mama” and “Yes, Papa,” each time we address them. And that is why they are required to be for each other at all times.

When Lexi was a toddler, we would sit on our bed before I went to work and talk about what each of our jobs were.

“What’s Papa’s job?”
“To take care of Mama, Lexi, Lili, and Andi.”
“What’s Mama’s job?”
“To take care of Papa, Lexi, Lili, and Andi.”
“What’s Lexi’s job?”
“To take care of Papa, Mama, Lili, and Andi.”
“What’s Lili’s job?”
“To take care of Papa, Mama, Lexi, and Andi.”
“What’s Andi’s job?”
“To take care of Papa, Mama, Lexi, and Lili.”

From that very young age, we began instilling in each of our children that in our family, it wasn’t each person for themselves. Rather, we were a team and each of us was expected to care deeply for everyone else. So, when the girls aren’t playing nice with each other, I can regularly be heard telling them (with bass in my voice, of course) to “be for each other,” “love each other,” and “do your job.”

“Papa does his job and Mama does her job. That means you need to do your jobs.”

Kindness Over Calculus

As much as I desire for my kids to be smart and excel in their academics, I am far more concerned that they be caring and compassionate toward others. With today’s inflated GPAs, 4.0 students are a dime a dozen and every kid is attending college with plans to found the next billion dollar tech startup. But, what the overwhelming majority of today’s youth are missing are effective communication skills and the ability to see things from a different perspective.

Thanks in large part to video game consoles, social media platforms, internet pornography, and messaging apps, young folks are no longer participating in the necessary social interactions that adult life requires. Rather than calling a schoolmate crush and actually carrying on an interesting and engaging conversation, today’s digital natives hide behind their screens and keyboards, attempting to create connections through superficial means. While some may say that times have changed and we should let go of the past, what hasn’t changed is the value of actual human interaction. No thumbs up emoji will ever replace a physical high-five or pat on the back and no chatroom could ever replace a crowded house party. Likewise, no LinkedIn connection can replace the confidence of a firm handshake while looking someone in the eye, and no amount of porn could ever replace the beauty of an intimate physical relationship.

Seriously, have you ever been impressed with an introduction of someone who gave you the limp-noodle-jellyfish-handshake while mumbling their name and staring at the ground?

As these social skills become more rare, they also become infinitely more valuable. This means that while everyone is going to know how to develop custom apps in the future, not everyone will know how to effectively interact with other people. Because of this outlook, Bonnie and I have strategically decided to put more emphasis on our children’s ability to play well with others and be the type of person that cares about the greater good, more than their ability to score well on a standardized test. Being smart is great, but being able to work through conflicts in the sandbox is equally important, as is the ability and desire to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to be included in the game.

Fight Every Battle

Being a fully engaged parent takes an infinite amount of energy and patience as every interaction with your children is an opportunity for them to learn something new. Unfortunately, only saints have unlimited patience and only children have unlimited energy. This means that the temptation to pick and choose the battles you fight with your children can be incredibly strong, especially after a long day at work, or when you and your partner aren’t always on the same page. Yet, in order for children to develop into the well-adjusted and disciplined adults we want them to be, they need to be consistently held accountable to a high standard.

Just like adults, children will bend every rule and get away with as much as they possibly can, whenever they can. Left unchecked, they will take full advantage of any and every situation to the fullest extent. In these situations, their actions are not malicious and they are not bad kids. They are simply testing the limits of their environments to see what is acceptable and what is not. For this reason, Bonnie and I have decided that it is mandatory for us to fight every single battle with our children so that they can learn where their boundaries lay.

From the time that they are old enough to sit up in a high chair, we tell them that they are not allowed to throw food. Then, comes the no spitting, no biting, and no hitting rules. Then, comes the no whining, no screaming, and no talking back rules. Eventually, we’ll get to the no sex, no drinking, and no drugs rules, but unless we establish a foundation of enforcement and consequences from the very beginning, what our kids are going to learn is how to call our bluffs. So rather than make empty threats that they learn to simply ignore, we have to back up every single statement we make with concrete action.

For example, if my toddler ignores me when I tell her to pick up her toys, I can’t just let that slide. I must have the patience to repeat myself (with bass in my voice) to ensure that she both heard me and understood what I was instructing her to do. Then, if I’m sure she heard and understood me, and is simply being disobedient, I must be willing to stop whatever it is I’m doing and make her pick up her toys. Whether that means that I have to stand in front of her while she cleans up or I actually have to grab her little hand and force her to pick up each toy, she must be taught that obeying her parents is not optional.

By no means is this part of parenting fun, but for the best of our family it is absolutely necessary. If a parent can’t control their toddler, what chance do they have of keeping their teenager on the right track? To think that a child will moderate their boundaries on their own is the same as expecting a dog not to drink out of a toilet with no lid. We are all instinctually wired for self-preservation and survival of the fittest, which can easily be seen in our greed and narcissism. Without external altruistic forces influencing and restraining our behavior, we would live like a pack of wolves.

So, in an effort to hopefully lessen our later battles with our children, we have decided to teach them that we love them so much, we are willing to stand behind our words and fight every single battle with them now. We’ve actually had conversations with Lexi (our 6-year-old) about how we know we are strict parents and that she is welcome to blame us anytime she needs to justify why she can’t join her friends in their misbehavior.

“Sorry guys, but my parents are super strict, and this isn’t worth losing my privileges.”

No Matter What

Regardless of how strict we are, or how hard we try to teach our kids right from wrong, we know they’re still going to make poor decisions from time to time. To ensure that they can always trust us, we have made it extremely clear that just because they make bad decisions doesn’t mean that we see them as bad people.

When Lexi was just two years old, she was being disobedient and wasn’t listening to her Mom, so I had to put her in timeout. After her timeout, she followed our standard protocol by apologizing to each of us and giving us each a big hug. It was at this time that I sat her down and explained to her that “no matter what, whether you are being good or bad, I will always, always love you. No matter what.”

For the entire next day, everywhere we went, Lexi wouldn’t stop telling everybody “Did you know that my Papa loves me, no matter what! Even if I’m good or bad, he loves me no matter what!” Since that day, we made “no matter what” into a mantra that we will regularly say to each other (and the rest of our family) as a reminder that even though we all make mistakes, our love is unconditional.

Like Seatbelts on a Rollercoaster

Though we are strict, our goal isn’t to hold our children back from reaching their full potential. Instead, our discipline and rules are meant to be like seatbelts on a rollercoaster. Rather than stopping our kids from having fun, we want our rules to empower them to have more fun, accomplish more goals, and help more people.

When I demand that they respond with “Yes, Mama/Yes, Papa” and use fully formed sentences when speaking to us, it is because I know that teaching them to use proper manners and effective communication is a small price to pay for benefits it will grant them in the long run. Likewise, when they prove that they are capable of handling the little responsibilities we give them, we quickly loosen their reigns and give them as much responsibility as they are willing to take on. Sometimes these challenges come in the form of slicing vegetables with a decently sharp knife, going out to get the mail by themselves, or trying out some small ski jumps at the terrain park.

When Lexi was just eighteen months old, she taught me that if I wasn’t going to let her try things that made me uncomfortable, I was going to severely hinder her from reaching her full potential. She did this not with words, but through her actions. She and I were at the park and she was toddling around the playground, climbing up ladders and going down slides. Not wanting to hold her back from exploring new things and at the same time wanting to keep her safe, I followed her everywhere she went and made sure that I was always in a position to catch her should she fall.

As she was still so little, there were many times that I wanted to tell her that something was too big for her to climb or too high for her to cross, but rather than hold her back, I chose to dismiss my personal anxiety and simply let her try. Time and time again, she was able to do things that I neither thought she could do, nor did I want to even let her attempt to do. Time and time again, she proved to me that she was far more capable than I gave her credit for and that if I wasn’t careful, I was going to stifle her growth.

Ever since then, I do my best to provide our kids with a safety net in the event of an accident, but I dedicate just as much effort to simply getting out of their way so they can figure out for themselves what their limits are.

Knuckles and Chuckles

Every evening at dinner, Bonnie and I play a game with the kids called “Knuckles and Chuckles” where we tell each other about something good that happened that day (knuckles, symbolizing a congratulatory fist-bump) and something that made us laugh or smile (chuckles). Through this practice, we not only get to hear about their favorite parts of the day from their perspective, but we get to instill in them the consistent practice of gratitude as well.

Getting a structured recap of the day that I missed out on while I was at work is great, but nothing beats hearing the kids cite their “knuckles” and “chuckles” in real time. Like when four-year-old Lili does a silly dance and two-year-old Andi busts up laughing and shouts “That’s my chuckles!” Or when six-year- old Lexi and I finish a killer run on ski slopes, and she says “That’s my knuckles” with a smile of contentment.

Perhaps the most important benefit of this game is that it conditions the kids to be on the lookout for good in their day. Because you’re sure to find whatever it is that you look for.

Go Outside

Over the past six and a half years Bonnie and I have been parents, we have come to the conclusion that there isn’t anything we’d rather do. Yes, parenting is the most challenging adventure we have ever been on, but it is also the most rewarding, and we’re just getting started.

While some folks complain about the terrible twos, teenage hormones, and girl drama, we focus on the good things: Like the laughter we hear coming from the playroom when all three of them are deeply involved in building a fort out of sofa cushions, the whispering that happens in the back of the minivan when they are scheming, and the look on their faces when we surprise them with a detour to the frozen yogurt shop. Running through the sprinklers, playing on the tire swing, visiting national parks, throwing frisbees, riding bikes, camping at the lake, and having breakfast for dinner are equally amazing. Though sharing our favorite movies (like Toy Story and The Princess Bride) with them during our weekly movie night is great too, the overwhelming majority of our best times are spent outside.

Don’t get me wrong, we have a great house! But no matter how great our house is, our kids need more room to explore and grow than just the space inside. From the local community center and the children’s museum, to the zoo and the playground at the park, we do everything we can to expose them to all that our city has to offer. Not just to enrich their understanding of the world and give them a greater perspective of society, but even more so in an attempt to wear them out.

Kids have so much natural energy! As such, we do our best to strictly limit the amount of sugar they consume by forbidding soda, energy drinks, and fruit juices along with only allowing candy in very small doses. Our methodology here isn’t to be mean or make the kids’ lives less enjoyable, but to be fair to them and us. Nothing is more unfair than allowing a kid to get hopped up on caffeine and sugar, then asking them to behave themselves and punishing them when they can’t even sit still. Even worse is when a child has sugar puffs for breakfast with a tall glass of sugar filled orange juice and then gets diagnosed with ADHD and put on medication because they can’t focus at school. Talk about being unfair to a child. So to be fair, in addition to restricting their sugar and caffeine intake, we give them as many opportunities as possible to run and jump and play and climb and yell, and always before we ask them to sit still and be quiet.

As every parent knows, there are days when your kids drive you crazy. Overwhelmingly, this happens when the kids have been cooped up in the house all day and they get “bored”. While some parents think the remedy to boredom is a new toy or a new video game, our experience has been that the cure to boredom is fresh air and a stick or a ball to play with. Even when it’s cold outside, we get our kids bundled up and they head to the backyard to build a snowman or a fort. Likewise, since Bonnie has been a stay-at-home Mom for the past six years, she has learned that if she doesn’t take the kids out of the house on some sort of adventure, be it to the grocery store or on a playdate to the park, they will drive her insane. So, she packs most every morning with an outing to run errands, go to the gym, and do something fun, such that all three kids are ready for a healthy lunch and a nap when they get home. This affords Bonnie the opportunity to have a little personal time of her own where she can either rest or spend some uninterrupted time doing something she enjoys, though she usually spends it cleaning or doing laundry.

Either way, we have found that the key to keeping our kids from driving us nuts is to get outside as much as possible and wear them out. Candidly, it is the difference between surviving parenthood and thriving in parenthood.

No Regrets

I recently heard an interview with a woman who was a very successful CEO of a major corporation. When asked if she had any regrets in life, she said she didn’t, but that if she were to do it all over that she would have had more kids.

“I have two daughters and they are the most wonderful, most kind, and most interesting people that I have ever known. In a world that is in desperate need of more love, I’m positive that having more people like them would be a very good thing.”

From this same perspective, Bonnie and I are open to having more children as we believe that our kids are amazing and that something has to be done to balance out the “crazy” in our world. Since all of the negative, hateful, close-minded folks seem to have kids by the litter, we feel like it is both our honor and duty to raise as many positive, loving, and open-minded citizens as we can. For at the end of our lives, our titles, degrees, and account balances won’t matter.

It is our children that will be our greatest contribution to the world. It is our children that will be our legacy, just as we are the legacy of our parents.

Posifocus Mantra #10

We’re Raising Adults, Not Tall Children.

Reflection

What needs do the children in your life/community have that isn’t being met? Since it takes a village to raise a child, is there anything you can do to meet this need?

Challenge

Step out of your comfort zone and help a child or parent in need. Donate to an organization that focuses on children, make friends with a military wife whose husband is deployed, or volunteer as a mentor at a local school. Every effort counts.

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Join the Posifocus Group and share your thoughts and experiences with the Posifocus Community! Use the hashtag #children.

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