Excerpt: Safe House
Below is an excerpt from Safe House, by Joshua Straub (WaterBrook Press 2015)
The Beauty in Being Safe
I had a few shocking revelations when I first became a parent. First, as ill-prepared as we were for the chaos about to invade our home, I couldn’t believe my wife, Christi, and I were allowed to walk out of the hospital with a living, breathing, screaming, hungry, sleepless, restless, 100-percent-dependent-upon-us human being. Second, I was overwhelmed by all the books written on sleeping techniques, discipline strategies, parenting styles, and on and on, many of them contradicting one another. Last, I was amazed that no matter what kind of parent someone was or how successfully they raised their own kids, everybody, including those who never tried it, had an opinion.
One day, after receiving unsolicited advice from a woman whose kids were either in jail or having affairs, I asked my mother-in-law what the deal was with all of the advice.
She said, “Well, it’s the one thing nearly everybody has actually done. So they believe their way was the best way, even if it wasn’t.”
I guess that’s one of the side effects of free speech.
As I continued to read and research techniques and consider everyone’s advice, I needed a filter. It was becoming all too complicated for me. I’m sure you can relate.
Parenting in the twenty-first century is filled with choices. I counsel with and talk to parents all the time who are trying to negotiate different points of view about raising kids.
· “Should our baby sleep in bed with us?”
· “Should we let our baby cry it out?”
· “Should we spank our kids, and if so, when?”
· “How do I respond to a temper tantrum?”
· “Should I stay home with the kids or put them in day care?”
· “Should we home school or send our kids to a private or public school?” · “How much screen time do I let my kids have?”
How many of these questions have you wrestled with? If you’re like us, probably most of them. That’s because parenting in the real world is about the countless choices we make to give our kids the best chance to develop and grow.
But there’s a problem.
We live in a culture where the latest sermon, data, research results, and trends present themselves as the way (and often the only way, if you really love your kids) to raise them right. As guilt-prone parents who genuinely want what’s best for our kids, it’s easy to fall prey to the latest marketing ploys, product biases, and contradicting messages that cloud our journey to finding the beauty in our parenting story.
Add to this the pressure of the choices we see our parenting friends make. A quick glance at Facebook or Pinterest, and you see their picture-perfect kids, DIY family activities, unrealistically joyful vacations, and gluten-free gourmet dinners. No wonder parenting insecurity is at an all-time high.
There’s absolutely no beauty in striving for perfection or keeping up with the Joneses.
Let me encourage you, we don’t have to struggle over all of these choices. What we need is an approach to parenting that’s much less complicated and passes the test of trusted research.
Thankfully, in spite of all of the other parenting debates, there is one primary factor across all the domains of research (psychology, sociology, neuroscience) necessary for raising kids who thrive: emotional safety.
We’re all very aware that physical safety is important for kids. But have you considered the importance of emotional safety?
If you’re like a lot of parents, that’s probably not a term you’ve even heard before.
It’s not hard to see why: physical safety is a multibillion-dollar industry that can be resolved with products. In media and advertising we see an exorbitant focus on the physical safety of our children: electrical outlet plugs, childproof locks, stairway gates, BPA-free products, child safety seats, “no-touch” playground rules, green cleaning products, organic food diets, and all-natural toys. Emotional safety, on the other hand, is more elusive and requires just one thing: parents. No product on a shelf can create emotional safety in a child the way we—as her parents—can. Perhaps that’s why the industry remains quiet on it. Though I appreciate the reasoning behind all of the physical safety measures, the time and attention spent on them is out of balance.
Emotional safety is related to outcomes in the following areas:
· children’s academic scores · behaviors
· brain development
· social skills
· problem-solving skills
· relationship formation
· adult-relationship satisfaction
· healthy identity formation
· athletic and extracurricular success · a sense of morality
· established values
You won’t find either the breadth or depth of outcome research for kids in any other parenting philosophy or strategy. Simply put, emotional safety is the key to raising kids who thrive in all areas of life.
That’s because emotionally safe homes are the breeding ground for kids who live, love, and lead well. Emotional safety becomes the filter for all other parenting decisions. If there’s any one phrase you take away from this book, remember this: It is the posture from which
we parent, not the technique, that matters most.
It really is that simple.
Do You Really Have What It Takes to Be a Parent?
Parenting in the twenty-first century is ripe with challenges, many the result of the happiness culture we find ourselves in. If you question this idea of happiness in our culture, just listen to Pharrell Williams’s hit song “Happy”: a message proclaiming “happiness is the truth.” Chances are you’re singing it right now in your head. I am.
I love to be happy. We actually hold little family dance parties some evenings in our living room with our kiddos dancing around to this song. But when we allow happiness to be placed as the highest order of truth in a culture, and it becomes our ultimate pursuit, what happens when we’re not happy? The marketplace capitalizes on it. For parents, the formula works something like this: create more choices for parents to enhance their quality of parenting and raise happy kids. When the natural frustrations that come along with parenting turn to exhaustion, and the initial offering of choices overwhelms them all the more, offer more products to help them feel less overwhelmed by the choices they already have. As journalist Eric Sevareid wrote in 1964, “The biggest big business in America is not steel, automobiles or television. It is the manufacture, refinement and distribution of anxiety.”
Nowhere is this more true than in the marketplace of modern-day parenting.
If our pursuit of happiness or our children’s pursuit of happiness is our highest truth, we will not raise kids who live, love, and lead well. Happiness is a shallow truth that defies the most basic parenting principle: sacrifice. Caring about our child’s life story means there are times (though not all of the time) we sacrifice happiness. If we don’t, we’ll sacrifice our kids’ ability to live, love, and lead well.
That’s because on the other side of sacrifice is joy, and joy is a much higher level of truth than happiness.
In fact, if we, as parents, focus on character, then higher achievement and happiness will follow. And there’s nothing more powerful in instilling these values than your loving and safe presence. Especially your spending time with your children in face-to-face eye contact (particularly infants and preschoolers under the age of five). Will it be easy? Not always.
That’s why it’s important to remind ourselves that we have what it takes.
Research shows you build the brain and character of your children more than any electronic device or educational video on the market by simply
· reading to your kids (and infants)
· singing to and with your kids (and infants)
· talking to your kids about their day
· laughing and joking with your kids (creating a positive environment has an amazing
impact on brain development)
· playing outside in the dirt with your kids
· eating dinner regularly with your kids
· roughhousing with your kids (especially dads)
Do we want our kids to get good grades? Of course we do. Do we want them to be happy? I most definitely do.
But I also realize that true happiness and joy stem not from personal success or feeling good but from the sacrifice of loving and caring for other people.
And the most powerful way for that to grow in our kids is to simply be with them. Mom and Dad, stop exhausting yourself trying to give your kids an advantage. You are the advantage.
Excerpted from Safe House by Joshua Straub Copyright © 2015 by Joshua Straub. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Penguin Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Read Brain Child’s Q&A with Joshua.