Books Family Life Parents Resources — 08 January 2012
The Encouraging Parent

Based on his popular workshops, which have trained more than 100,000 parents, Dr. Kennedy’s book: The Encouraging Parent, How to Stop Yelling at Your Kids and Start Teaching Them Confidence, Self-Discipline, and Joy, contains a wealth of practical information on how to teach kids self-discipline.

This warm, empathetic, and practical guide will help you nurture your child’s positive development and create the loving, supportive atmosphere all kids need to thrive.

Excerpt: Encouraging our Children

Chapter 1: Becoming the Encourager

Welcome to The Encouraging Parent-a book designed to encourage parents in every kind of family. I want to help you become better parents. And I’m in a position to help because my five children have reached the state of blessedness-they’re grown and gone. Encouragement is the most basic parenting inclination. We start out as encouragers. To encourage means to build up, to seek good, to put courage in a child’s heart, to be positive, to motivate, to persuade, to inspire, to enlighten, and to help. Because I seek to be an “encourager” in the lives of my children, I think of my parenting in personal, relationship-building ways. Parents today don’t need more guilt or stress. They need strength. With encouragement, we can build hope in the hearts of our children. Parents need to know that encouragement has far more potential to help develop emotionally healthy children than punitive measures like spanking.

The Encouraging Parent

Author: Dr. Rod Wallace Kennedy, Ph.D. ISBN 0-8129-3313-3

Each year I speak to more than 30,000 parents. They share their dreams and their frustrations with me. I do 150 to 200 workshops for parents every year all across the United States. What I have learned from thousands of interviews, conversations, question and answer sessions, and surveys is that there is no “typical” American family. But behind the different kinds of families there remains the parental longing to raise children in safety, security, and wholeness. I spend the majority of my time helping parents solve the very real and practical problems of raising children. My academic background is in communication and I have a Ph.D. in speech communication. The Encouraging Parent is designed to combine the communication theory I’ve learned and researched in the anecdotal experiences of parenting drawn from my own family and what I’ve learned from families in my workshops.

An Expanded Definition of Family

There is no one particular definition of family that every family has to fit. While proponents of “the traditional family” insist that there is only one acceptable way to raise children, I don’t concur. In my experience as the parent of five children it isn’t whether Mom stays home with them or works that’s the deciding factor. What matter are the quality and consistency of care that our children receive. Contemporary families often bear little resemblance to traditional definitions. There are a variety of viable family paradigms in our culture. The world has changed and the family paradigm of the 1940s has shifted. Single parents and dual-career families aren’t going to suddenly disappear. After all, the mom-at-home model is an isolated trend in parenting, not the historical norm.

We need a broader and more acceptable definition of family-a definition that doesn’t imply guilt and shame for people living in nontraditional families. I will define family as an organized group of people living together, sharing together, and building relationships together over an extended period of time. Whether your family is a “traditional family” or not has little bearing on the matter. I have written this book to encourage single parents, dual-career parents, divorced parents, stepfamily parents, and grandparents raising their grandchildren. It’s how you parent, not the composition of your family, that counts.

A Word of Encouragement for Nontraditional Families

While a number of parenting experts insist that Mom stay home with the children, this isn’t necessarily right for everyone. The appeal to religious authority in this matter doesn’t prove that women have to stay home rather than engage in meaningful careers. The options are multiple.

The issue is one of personal choice, not particular mandate. Parenting is hard enough and exhausting enough without the attempts of sincere, well-meaning people heaping more guilt on dual-career families. I dissent from the popular view that families do best with a stay-at-home mom. Recent research indicates that working moms spend as much time with their children as stay-at-home moms did in the 1950s. Mom can stay home if she really wants to, and I have no problem with her decision. But Mom can also have a career and children and that can be just as good a decision for her and for the family.

Many of the critics of our culture lay all the blame on the family. They cry for the “good old days” when the family was made up of a man and his wife and three children. But were the good old days ever that good? Was the family ever free of violence? In The Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore writes, “Many people who come to therapy today were raised in the so-called golden age of the family, and yet they tell stories of abuse, neglect, and terrifying moralistic demands and pressures. Looked at coldly, the family of any era is both good and bad, offering both support and threat.” Painful memories and difficult relationships are the stuff of family life.

Moore continues, “Today professionals are preoccupied with the ‘dysfunctional family.’ But to some extent all families are dysfunctional. No family is perfect, and most have serious problems. A family is a microcosm, reflecting the nature of the world, which runs on both virtue and evil. We may be tempted at times to imagine the family as full of innocence and good will, but actual family life resists such romanticism. Any attempts to place a veil of simplistic sentimentality over the family image will break down.”

We can’t go back. No matter how sincere the prophets of restoration of the traditional family are, no matter how deeply the preachers of “the good old days” may believe, we can’t go back. Nothing is more suitable for the care of the soul than family. According to Shirley Steinberg and Joe Kincheloe in Kinderculture, “Advocates of traditional family values and severe discipline for children understand that something has changed, that for some reason authority has broken down. Such advocates often attribute the breakdown of authority to feminism and its encouragement of mothers to pursue careers outside of the home and to permissive liberals who opposed corporal punishment and other harsh forms of child control. Unfortunately for the welfare of children, they’re wrong. Adult authority over children, no doubt, has broken down, but not because of feminist mothers or wimpy liberals. Children’s access to the adult world via the electronic media of hyper reality has subverted contemporary children’s consciousness of themselves as incompetent and dependent entities. Such a self-perception doesn’t mix well with institutions such as the traditional family or the authoritarian school, institutions both grounded on a view of children as incapable of making decisions for themselves.”

To live in a family is to experience all the complexity of human life. There are too many simplistic understandings of what it means to live in a good, functional, and happy family. There is good and bad in all families. We need less judgment and less pressure. Since there is no ideal family, we can learn to embrace the family that’s ours. We can learn to be at peace with the shadows and the stories that make up each individual family.
For every single parent and working mom who has internalized the blame and guilt and shame propagated by the traditional family proponents, I offer encouragement. The issue that really matters is for your children to have an intimate, affectionate environment and a loving, positive relationship with you.

For me, raising children is an exercise in controlled insanity. It’s not necessary to be great scholar or child psychologist to see that many families today aren’t in good health. Each year as I speak to parents, I hear stories of anxiety, stress, pain, and brokenness. Family ills are innumerable; they exist in an odd mixture of pleasure and pain. What can we do to help?

Many parenting experts have attempted a diagnosis. Some of them have done so with a certainty, an air of authority, that disturbs me. I’m convinced that the reductionistic appeal to return to the golden age of family life is a myth. The ever-expanding library of parenting books convinces me that there is no one perfect approach to raising children. Everyone who writes about parenting as well as every adult practicing the art of parenting is searching for answers.

Relationships and Communication:

What matters is the nature of the relationships that you form with your children. Relationships are complex and multiple in nature. They include individual family members, the ways they interact with each other, treat each other, communicate with each other, and connect with the overall family. The actual makeup of the family isn’t nearly as important as the relationships that are being built day by day.

There are no easy paths to building relationships, but I believe that we all have the ability to be good parents and build good, strong relationships with our children. The crucial component in building relationships is communication: sharing our thoughts with one another. All family members contribute to the ongoing series of conversations that make up the family. Whenever a new baby comes home from the hospital, he or she joins a family conversation that has been going on forever. In fact, each member of the family joins the conversation from another conversation in their family of origin. The original conversation echoes throughout the new conversation that’s being constructed each day by the members of the family. There is a constant give-and-take. The family thus functions better as a democracy than as dictatorship. Together families communicate to increase understanding and develop common ground or rapport.

Excerpted from The Encouraging Parent by Rod Wallace Kennedy, Ph.D.

Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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