As a young expecting mother, I devoured books and parenting magazines in a quest to find “instructions” for taking care of my baby. As soon as I found out I was expecting, my husband and I tried to prepare ourselves for the arrival of our son as much as possible.
Our pregnancy was a miracle, and we were awed with the responsibility we had been blessed with. Now how were we going to live up to it?
We felt like such novices—neither one of us even knew how to change a diaper.
The first time our not yet one-day-old got the hiccups, my husband buzzed the nurse, who reassured us that babies do get hiccups, and he would be fine! Were they really going to let us take this child home with us? What if we didn’t know what to do when he cried?
We both soon learned that we could trust our instincts to parent our baby in a way that worked best for us. Yes, we made mistakes (many of them) and have had moments of frustration and exhaustion when he wouldn’t sleep through the night, but by figuring out our parenting style and developing a strong bond with our son, we relaxed a bit and began to build a connection as a family.
Forging Bonds that will Last Into the Teen Years
If I had to define our parenting style, I would call it attachment parenting, which is based on knowing your child, helping your child feel right, and enjoying parenting. This is achieved through developing a strong bond with your child, while establishing a basis of love, trust, and being there for him for a lifetime. We bonded by “connecting” early on and appropriately responding to our son’s cues. This does not mean “spoiling” (the key word is “appropriately”), and boundaries are important to maintain.
Taking the time to know our child meant not only attending to his physical needs, such as hunger, need of a diaper change, or sleepiness, but also tuning in to how he was feeling emotionally. This leads to a more confident and independent child. Our oldest son was terrified of the vacuum cleaner, so I would often carry him in the baby sling while I vacuumed. (I actually hardly put him down for the first several months, but that was just how we liked it.) If he needed to be held and snuggled just to feel better, then that was reason enough to pick him up. Believe me, the day came too quickly when he grew too big to hold.
Now that our son has entered his teen years, we can truly say we have enjoyed being his parents.
With God’s guidance, we have cultivated a relationship with him that has paved the way for a smooth transition into young adulthood as we have maintained the bond that we began building when he was little. Homeschooling, which became a natural extension of our attachment parenting lifestyle, has led to more parental influence and less peer influence, which in turn has helped us equip all of our children spiritually, physically, and emotionally for life.
The high school years are daunting enough (Algebra, anyone?) but my husband and I are still accessible, available, and attentive. Once a bond is severed, it is virtually impossible to get it back. It makes me sad to hear parents say that they argue with their teens all the time, that their relationships are strained, or that they cannot wait for their teen to leave home. We recently ran into an acquaintance we hadn’t seen in several years, and the best thing she had to say about her son was, “At least he’s not out there smoking pot and drinking.”
Too many homeschooling parents are also throwing in the towel when their teens reach high school, thinking that subjects are too hard to teach or that their teens need to be “socialized” more. More than ever, parents need to be the ones to help guide their teens as they set out on their own, and not leave it up to their peers to determine their future.
Ways to nurture your teen:
- Listen to them and let them talk. Look your teen in the eye and really pay attention to what he is saying. Let him know that he can talk to you about anything or ask you anything, and mean it.
- Spend one-on-one time together without siblings tagging along. Go out for a meal, attend a play, or just take them along for errands. My son and I have some great conversations at the grocery store. He has been playing the guitar for eight years, and he and his dad built a guitar from scratch last year. They also connect by going on long runs together or taking their golf clubs to the driving range.
- Take an interest in their interests and encourage them. My son is passionate about filmmaking. Our whole family gets involved in his projects, and we have started a homeschool film club.
- Don’t just know who their friends are, but know their friends. Another perk of homeschooling is that we have a strong support group of other homeschooling families. The parents are all invested and involved in our teen’s lives, and we keep each other “in the loop.”
- Plan group events, such as miniature golf, a field trip to a museum, or a movie day at your house just for teens.
- Trust them with responsibilities and give them some freedom to make decisions and make mistakes.
- Keep firm with boundaries. Set limits and stick to them. Teens still need parental protection and discipline, and they need to know you are looking out for their best interests, as well as their safety.
- Tell them you love them every day, and hug them while you can (just not in front of their friends).
- Pray for them, and pray with them.
…we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done (Psalm 78:4).
If we could teach our child to talk and tie his shoes, to read and do multiplication, surely we can figure out high school courses and driver’s education. More importantly, maintaining a line of communication and staying tuned in involves more than just “checking in” once in a while. It is all still a learning process, and our son’s brothers will reap many benefits from his being the “guinea pig.” We are blessed and proud of the funny, smart, and responsible young adult our son is becoming. Now, he will even vacuum the house himself, but he would still rather stay up all night. At least we no longer panic when he gets the hiccups!
Resources I have found helpful:
- Clay Clarkson with Sally Clarkson, Educating the WholeHearted Child.
- Ellyn Davis, I Carved the Angel From the Marble (Unconventional Homeschooling Guides Book 3).
- Diana Johnson, High School at Home (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2007).
- William Sears, M. D., and Martha Sears, R. N., The Baby Book, Revised Edition: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby from Birth to Age Two (Sears Parenting Library).
What is attachment parenting?
The words attachment parenting may cause some people to squirm, because there are many misconceptions about what it is and what it isn’t. The goal of attachment parenting is to achieve a secure parent-child relationship, no matter what you call it or what methods you use, and that is really what every parent wants, isn’t it?
Attachment parenting is:
- not child-centered, but family-centered. It is about parenting from the heart and building strong family ties among all members of the family.
- not a set of rules or all-or-nothing, and it is not one size fits all. When your child is a baby, your goal is to appropriately respond to his developmental needs, whether that means using a baby sling or a baby swing. As your child reaches young adulthood, and his developmental needs change, parents can still be nurturing, affectionate, and available. Attachment parenting is about relationships, not methods, and parenting is not a competition.
- not spoiling, permissive parenting, or about giving up parental authority. Parents have the responsibility to establish safe and healthy boundaries and consequences, while being supportive and talking and listening honestly.
- not about controlling your children or “helicopter parenting.” It is about mutual respect and unconditional love. The desired result is not dependency, but confident, independent, self-disciplined, and resilient children.
- not only for babies. Don’t we all want healthy attachments? Some parents prefer to establish an emotional distance from their teens as they mature, and they become less involved in their lives. As children mature, they especially need parents to stay “tuned in” to what is going on with them. It is more than just checking in once in a while. Remember when your toddler would say, “Look, Mommy!” or “Watch me!”? Teens still want you to be excited and interested in what they are doing, and celebrate their achievements, too.
This article originally appeared in Home Educating Family Magazine 2013, Issue 1.
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