As you may know, my parents recently adopted three young children, and although they were great parents to start with, they had to learn and adapt a lot to raise two girls and a boy - all under the age of five - who had come from a background that they had no experience with. We love them dearly, and are devoted to raising them well, but it has been a struggle to define exactly what that is. Although each family is different, each child is different, and each situation is different, I believe that I've put together a list of seven principles we live by, and hope that they might benefit anyone who has children, who is thinking about having children, or even works with children on a regular basis.
1. God's Word is Truth - In order to have a logical standard for morality, for the origin of the universe, for our relationship with others, for how we view the nature of humanity, for how we order our day, and for how we grow, one needs a standard for TRUTH. We believe that the Truth is found in the inspired Word of God, the Bible. We encourage prayer, and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, but our part is to live out our own relationship with Jesus, and teach them the truth, and hope they choose to do the same.
2. Family is Forever - Even though they may grow up and someday start a family of their own somewhere else, we are still their family. There is nothing they can do to make us leave them, or not be their family anymore. Because my new siblings were adopted, their understanding of "family" is no doubt different than mine. To make a distinction between what "family" they came from, and what family they are in now, (in a gentle and simple way) we say that we are their "Forever Family;" we love them, keep them safe, and will always be there for them.
3. Emotions are okay to have, but they should not control you - Everyone has emotions - happiness, sadness, anger, etc. - and that's perfectly alright. It's what we do when we have those feelings that matters. Trying to give the children a healthy way to process what they're feeling, we often give them a simple response, and some coping skills, when they, for example, make a fist and say they're mad: "It's okay to be mad, sweetheart. What are you going to do?" When they feel like hitting, we encourage them to clap their hands. When they feel like shouting, we ask that they "bbbbbrrrrrr" with their lips until they can talk about it. If they can learn to take control of their actions and process what they're feeling, they will be free of countless limitations most people feel incapable of breaking free from.
4. Real Strength is having self-control and helping others - Lack of control is hard for children with tough backgrounds. Wanting to prove themselves, and exerting their power over other children is prevalent, and makes them feel like they have that control. But that kind of "strength" is only giving into their wants, and doing what they feel like, which is easy to do. Real strength is doing the right thing, even when it's the hardest thing to do. The Bible teaches that the strong have a moral obligation to help those who are weaker. We want to instill in them that their strengths are a gift to be used in the right way.
5. "I love you the same, even when you're behavior makes me sad" - Even though raucous
6. Rules keep us safe - If you've ever been around children (or anyone, for that matter,) you've heard that one word over and over again: "Why?" While most of the time simply inquisitive, people don't like being told what to do, and challenge that. Sometimes with an indignant "why" and sometimes with a bold "no." We often respond with "because I love you," and "because I want to keep you safe." We all know that [good] rules are made to keep us within the boundaries of safety.
7. Real life, real consequences - One does not need to be creative to come up with an appropriate punishment for disobedience. One must only be logical. If the child has a hard time listening to Mommy during the day, he/she won't be able to take a bike ride with Daddy after supper, because "it is very important to listen right away and all the time when riding bikes, because we cross streets. I need to make sure you are going to be safe! If you show Mom tomorrow that you are a good listener, then you might be able to come." If a child is too rough with his/her toys, then perhaps their brother and sister will get a new toy, but not them. If they have a problem with hitting and kicking, perhaps Mom has to cancel their play-date with their friend, in order to "keep their friend safe." It is really very simple! This will prepare them for real life, when the scenarios go from "if I'm unkind to that person, they won't want to be kind to me," to "if I spend this money on wants rather than needs, I might go hungry," or "if I disrespect my boss, I'll lose my job."
I'm sure there are many basic principles of good child-rearing, and more that we do practice, but these are just seven that I put together that I think are pretty important. Remember that God blesses those who bless the life of a child!