When I was young and before I got married, I worked at Focus in the Family.  I worked there for five years and one of my responsibilities was to listen to the broadcast and write a summary for our phone staff.  I also read all of Dr. Dobson’s books and articles to make sure our phone staff had all the info they needed to be able to answer the phones. That’s a lot of Dr. Dobson.  Sometimes, I tease that I don’t know if I have an original thought regarding parenting or marriage or it’s just that Dr. Dobson is fully programmed in my head.  One of the things Dr. Dobson always said was, “Be a student of your spouse and your children.”. What he meant was that we are to study and know those loved ones.  Not just spend time with them or even spend time teaching them, but to spend time watching them, learning their nuances, their love languages, their personalities, their likes and dislikes.  In studying them we begin to know them at a deeper level, we are able to help them, support them and even do a better job teaching them.  

We have had a fall break and drove to Seattle, WA for a family wedding.  I personally think a road trip is one of the better times for this type of study. Musical tastes, topics of conversation, how they handle stress or exhaustion are all telling.  Even a morning at a beach reveals traits. Collin looks for the perfect skipping rock and analyzes and rejects stones until he finds one that is suitable.  After he throws the rock, he analyzes his throw, the trajectory and determines how to make the next throw better.  He is continually thinking strategically and is planning on how to makes things, schedules and situations better. Caileigh is infinitely curious. She looks for new and interesting things and then wants to show someone her findings.  She and her Dad zigzag slowly across the beach stopping frequently for something noteworthy or beautiful. She searches continually and then wants to know why or how it works.  She is the one who also has facts about almost anything biological at her fingertips.  

I usually fall back and watch my kids.  I note their interests, what grabs their attention, and I file the info to think about later.  I use this information to help tailor curriculum, to help direct them into activities and ultimately to help my kids as they chose colleges, majors and careers.  It’s funny how often I still help Connor in some of these.  He wants me to talk through some of the tracks and internship opportunities he has. Generally, I just repeat the things he has told me about his classes or how certain things he enjoyed and others he hasn’t.  We talk through his God given personality traits and where he needs to stretch a bit. None of what I say is earth shattering, it’s just that I have studied, noted and spent time analyzing my kids and then I can use that to help better support them.

Even with little ones this is effective.  It’s how we decided what to buy for Christmas.  Scott and I would take them to a toy store and let them play and watch what they gravitated to. We didn’t necessarily buy anything but we spent time watching. They may say they want that ‘cool’ new toy but if they spend only a minute or two looking at it and then they spent 20 minutes rebuilding the wooden train set, there was no way I was going to buy the ‘cool’ toy.  

This type of study is also useful is discipline and correction.  Personally, I think a negative consequence is far more useful if it’s meaningful to the child.  Losing technology was brutal for Connor, Caileigh hated isolation and Collin dislike losing the freedom to do what he wanted. I also used this strategy in developing positive consequences for each child.  If Caileigh stayed focused during school and worked hard, we would do an art project. Connor could have an equal amount of computer time each day as the amount of time he spent in piano practice and foreign language. Collin could watch Stars Wars or play video games with Daddy on Friday if he did all of his chores. One size does not fit all. Our expectations and rules were all the same but how we achieved them were not, they were tailored to meet each child’s needs. 

Dr. Dobson is completely right.  To be the parents ( and spouses) that God wants us to be we must be students of our loved ones. 

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