When you are in the midst of dealing with different perspectives in your partnership
about how you want to raise your children, it can naturally be very easy to lose track of the bigger picture of nurturing the whole child. Each parent might decide what they think is in their child’s best interest based on their own values and perspectives and their life experiences. This can be problematic because if we are focused on parenting based on what matters to us as parents, we might be losing focus on what is in service of nurturing the WHOLE child.
The 6 Life Areas
According to therapist Terry Real, there are 6 life areas where all children need nurturing, guidance and limits. And when they don’t receive these things in these life areas, children are more prone to struggling with things such as self-esteem, boundaries, interpersonal communication, personal insight, relationships, and so much more. These life areas, when provided nurturing and guidance and appropriate limits when needed, can help develop a WHOLE child that can thrive throughout their lives.
Here are the 6 life areas where children need nurturing, guidance, and limits:
I will briefly break down these areas as they relate to parenting in a mixed-faith marriage. Some of them are more self-explanatory than others. Before we can talk about how to nurture a whole child, we need a basic understanding about what nurturing in each of these areas would look like.
Physical: The children’s physical needs are being met for physical safety, food, shelter, clothing, hygiene, rest, and they are free from any forms of physical abuse or physical neglect. They are given enough information to make wise choices for their physical well-being. This is pretty straightforward.
Emotional: Parents are attuned to, and caring about the emotional experience of the child. They are creating a safe environment for the children to express and talk about their emotional experience or things that are bothering them. Children aren’t shamed or shut down for having feelings and they are allowed to express those feelings in appropriate ways and invited to do so. They are allowed to have the full spectrum of emotional experiences including fun, enjoyment, sadness, anger etc. They are free from emotional abuse, emotional manipulation, and emotional neglect.
Social: Friends, relationships, social interactions are fostered and encouraged. Children are allowed and encouraged to be in social communities where they feel safe. They are taught about appropriate social skills and social awareness, they are around people that are different from them, they have access to social support systems and mentors. They are provided opportunities for interaction and age appropriate friendship and relationship development.
Sexual: There is way too much to add about this area so I will leave that to the experts on this topic and just narrow it down specifically to the way it tends to be problematic in mixed-faith marriages, which is around moral values and ethics. Children are taught not only about one set of moral values, but they are taught how to be sexually safe and responsible even if they choose to live outside of those moral values. Safe, responsible, and healthy sexuality is discussed and not just morals and values. Children are given appropriate information to make healthy sexual choices and understand their own sexual development. They are free from sexual abuse.
Intellectual: This is not about children knowing facts and being intelligent. This is about helping children develop their ability to think and problem solve for themselves, and helping them learn strategies for problem solving and navigating choices. Children are asked for their thoughts and opinions, they are allowed to have thoughts and opinions that differ from their parents or caregivers. Their independent thinking and curiosity is encouraged and their choices and opinions are valued appropriately. The focus is more on teaching them how to think rather than what to think. They are free from intellectual abuse. (I will speak much more on this area in a future post because there is a lot to add here.)
Spiritual: My favorite understanding of spirituality is the following:
“The word spirituality comes from the Latin root spiritus, which means "breath"--referring to the breath of life. It involves opening our hearts and cultivating our capacity to experience awe, reverence and gratitude. It is the ability to see the sacred in the ordinary, to feel the poignancy of life, to know the passion of existence and to give ourselves over to that which is greater than ourselves.” -David N. Elkins Ph.D.
In this area, children are allowed to cultivate their relationship to something greater than themselves, whether that be inside or outside of religion. They are provided opportunities to experience awe and gratitude and connection to themselves and to others in various ways. They have appropriate levels of choice in their spiritual decisions and they are free from spiritual abuse or neglect (more on this to come about this particular topic in future blog posts).
How to put nurturing the whole child into practice:
Becoming a parenting team when you have different parenting views might mean that you have to make an intentional commitment to nurturing the whole child instead of only nurturing the parts that are most important to you. Focusing on nurturing the whole child is a framework that can help pull you out of binary black-and-white thinking about what is or isn’t best for the child, and instead realize that they are multidimensional people. Understanding this might help pull couples out of rigid thinking about parenting, and into a state of being more workable and contextual in their parenting approaches which will help them more easily arrive at compromises around their parenting approaches.
For example, there are things related to church and religion that I do not necessarily want in my children’s lives based on my own views and lived experiences. When I parent from that place of what I want, I tend to be focused on their physical, emotional, and spiritual life areas. But in order to focus on nurturing the whole child, I need to also nurture their intellectual and social areas, so I have to find out what matters to them. Do they want to be near friends? Do they like the community? Do they have mentors in those spaces? What are their opinions? How do they think of things? How are they making decisions about their religious participation? Is there any aspect of church and religion that they find valuable personally? The result of all of that might move me into a more workable, open place which can help me to be more able to compromise more than when I am only focused on the areas that have a lot of significance for me, which tend to be heavily focused on their emotional well-being.
Oppositely, there are many things related to church and religion that my husband does want our children to participate in. His parenting preferences tend to be focused on their social and their spiritual areas, based on his own values and his lived experiences which are different than mine. But if the agreement is to focus on WHOLE parenting, he also has to attune to their emotional well-being related to religion, as well as their intellectual well-being and whether there is spiritual meaning for them there. The result of nurturing and considering all of the different areas usually tends to make him more willing to compromise and more open to different parenting approaches than he otherwise would be.
In our relationship, the result of both of us focusing on what is in service of nurturing the whole child is that we end up with much more frequent and easier compromises and give-and-take about how to raise our children. We also tend to to take each situation and look at it individually instead of making more across-the-board decision about how we will handle things. Our kids end up having a lot more say and opinion in all of it than if we weren't caring about nurturing their whole child. The result has been much more collaborative, not only between us as a couple, but as a family. If we were not both trying to nurture the whole child, we would probably be in conflict much more often about how to navigate raising our children! There is always discomfort with not getting all of what you want or what you think is best, but we feel like a team in looking at the bigger picture in thinking about their WHOLE well-being.
In essence, a commitment to focusing on the whole child keeps us more accountable to the fact that our children have so many aspects to them and what is best for them is more about what best serves to nurture their whole being and less about what matters to us individually. Their whole being is complex, which helps parents move out of rigid parenting views and instead into more nuanced approaches that lend themselves more easily to collaboration and compromise.
This is not a one-stop solution to automatically make you a great parenting team, but it is a framework that with thought, exploration, practice and effort, can help you become more collaborative and less stuck on opposing sides of what is or isn’t best for your child! It can give you something to focus on to help you unify in your purpose as parents.
I hope these ideas are helpful in finding a framework to unify around in your parenting goals. You don' t have to have the same belief system to be able to unite around parenting goals and purpose!