Raising tiny people is exhausting and overwhelming work most days. It’s easy to get caught up in all the different parenting styles and desired outcomes. At the end of the day, my number one parenting goal is to raise happy and healthy children who become happy and healthy adults. Beyond that, however, I want to raise good humans; humans who care about the people and places around them and work to protect them. While there can be many ways to impart these lessons, at this stage, I’m teaching my kids that we all have a voice and we can all make an impact.

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Family is Our First Society

Family is our first society. Teaching them how to function within our micro-society gives them a safe place in which to practice these habits.

My kiddos are six and nine years old this summer. We’ve been working on these ideas for years now, but this felt like a good season to be more intentional and articulate with them. Parents know their children best, of course, so maybe this looks different for other families. For us, I’m teaching these lessons in two ways: family choices and family contributions. Family is our first society. Teaching them how to function within our micro-society gives them a safe place in which to practice these habits. My hope is that they will take these lessons with them and apply them in the real world as they grow and spend more time outside of our home.

Family Choices

First and foremost, I want my daughters to grow up knowing they have a voice and how to use it. I want them to know their perspectives are important and that they have a say in how our family operates. This is not a dictatorship (as much as I’d like it to be when it’s time to clean up and go to bed). I hope my girls grow up confident in their ability to speak up for themselves and for others. So we’re practicing how to use our voices this summer.

In our home, this looks like planning our days together. In years past, I would brainstorm our summer activities and take my kids along for the ride. Now they are coming up with ideas. It’s a work in progress. I’ve had to veto some ideas (like a backyard campout with 11 friends!), but they’re catching on.Two young sisters wear aprons over their pajamas to make food in the kitchen.

Here are some of the ways my kids are practicing using their voices:

  • They help out with meal planning, flipping through cookbooks, and choosing what we’ll have for dinner a few nights a week.
  • We take turns picking movies for our weekly pizza and movie night.
  • We plan activities and adventures together, compromising to meet each other’s needs and wants.

Family Contributions

I want them to see that both what they do and what they don’t do has an impact on the people and environment around them.

The second lesson I’m teaching my kids is that we can all make an impact—and not just with our words, with our actions too. We’re starting at home, naturally, and focusing on how they can make a big difference in our lives by helping out around the house. I want them to see that both what they do and what they don’t do has an impact on the people and environment around them. We talk a lot about cleaning up your messes after yourself and how it affects the rest of the family when we don’t take care of our things and spaces.

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Two young girls hold up signs on a street corner that say "more nurses" and "be nice to your teachers."

Yes, this is slower. A lot slower right now. It would be so much easier to do it myself rather than teach a six-year-old how to clean the dried and crusty strawberry-flavored toothpaste off of her bathroom sink. But then she’s not seeing how her actions impact the rest of us (her sister has to share a dirty sink, her mom has to clean up her mess) and she misses out on the pride and sense of accomplishment that comes with mastering a new skill.

Here’s how we practice making an impact in our home:

  • We work on chores together so no one has to do all the cleaning.
  • We clean up our messes and leave spaces tidy for the next person.
  • We take care of tools and supplies and return them to their places when we’re done using them so everyone can find them when needed (because if I have to go searching for my masking tape one more time….)

Playing the Long Game

None of this is easy or quick. Teaching my daughters these lessons adds a lot of time (and often frustration) to my days. To be totally honest, there are days when I am a dictator and lay down the law about what’s happening and who’s eating what. There are times when I rage clean through the house just tidying everything in my way regardless of who left it there because my mental health says it just needs to be done right now and it’s not worth an argument or a slow teachable moment. I try to have more teaching days than not because I know this isn’t all about right now. I’m playing the long game here. If I’m doing things right, my kids have decades of life ahead of them using these skills as good humans.

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