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  • Writer's pictureErica Tatum-Sheade, LCSW

Building A Parenting House

We aren’t *just* parenting, we are building a house…

One of my fondest memories of growing up was doing the drive from my parents’ house in Michigan to visit my grandmother in Ohio. This was before the days of iPhones and satellite radio when most of those long family drives were spent reading books or looking out the window creating your own stories. The one thing I always marveled at, looking out the window at vast stretches of farmland, was the houses. Some of the houses had been standing for well over a hundred years. I always wondered about the families that lived there, the stories that were told, the lives that began and ended there. But I mostly wondered, in my younger mind, how they built them so strong to withstand the harsh Midwest winters, years of storms, and the ever-changing landscape.

When I became a parent, those old farmhouses took on new meaning for me. I realized why old houses had always held a special place in my heart. When purchasing a home in which to raise our children, my husband and I both emailed each other with the EXACT same thought, “What do you think about that second one we looked at? I just feel like it has good bones.” It wasn’t the biggest house in the neighborhood, or the most updated, but it was solid and had good bones. And that’s when I realized that parenting is like building a house: we want to build a structure with “good bones” that can withstand the storm and last for generations.

Building A Parenting House

When building our parenting house, we need three things:

1) A Foundation: Every stable structure starts with a strong foundation. As parents, we start building the foundation even before our children enter our lives. The foundation is where our values and expectations are formed, they are what guide us on our parenting journey and inform the choices we make.

Having a strong, stable foundation allows us to have a place to always get back to when we are struggling. Our foundation may (and probably will) be different from that of our partner, and it's our job to work together to establish a solid foundation that has room for both. If there are cracks in the foundation, our house will collapse when faced with challenges.

2) Walls and Framing: No matter the size of our house, the walls are the second important part. The walls represent our boundaries and rules. The best way I’ve found to explain why boundaries are important is the story of the three little pigs.

The first little pig built his house with straw, which provided no stable structure. It’s no wonder that the first challenge he faced, his house collapsed! Permissive parenting, with no boundaries or rules, does not lead to long-lasting success.

The second little pig built his house out of sticks – a little bit more stable, but there were still cracks that lead to his house collapsing as well when faced with difficulty. Although his house stood up longer than his brother’s, it still didn’t have enough stability to withstand the storm. Parenting that is sometimes permissive and then sometimes boundaried will look like this – can withstand a bit more, but ultimately will also collapse under pressure.

The third little pig built his house out of bricks, and it was able to withstand all that was thrown at it. This is a perfect building strategy if we want our children to never leave home! Exceedingly firm boundaries will keep our children in line, but it does not allow for growth.

When establishing boundaries for our children, we need to consider firm but flexible boundaries. The tallest buildings in the world are built to have a sway to them in heavy winds, some up to 7 feet at the very top! Having this flexibility built into the structure of the building helps it to withstand the storm without compromising the integrity of its structure. When we are implementing boundaries for our children, we need to ensure we are establishing firm boundaries and expectations, but ones that are flexible enough to consider the child, the family, the circumstances, and many other factors. As our children grow and change, our boundaries will naturally flex and change with them and what they need at different stages of their development.

3) A Roof: If we want to be protected from the storm, every parenting house requires a roof. The roof represents covering our children in empathy and compassion – our children need to know that we hear them and we see them. Parenting with empathy means that, as a parent, I take the time to feel what my child feels and I will sit with them in their pain, their joy, their sadness, and everything in between until they are ready to get up. Having compassion means I’m present and available to them and providing the support they need, even if I don’t always understand their choices. I trust my child, and I know the foundation that I have laid from day one will guide them. I know the walls that kept them safe have provided them the direction they will need. The love, empathy, and compassion I cover them in aids in their growth and independence.

I will continue to marvel at old houses on road trips and I will continue to wonder about the families that have lived in those houses. I now find myself wondering, “What was their foundation? How did they establish their rules and boundaries? How much love filled this home?”

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