Raising Kids With Character

Cirque du Parenting

  • Thom Van Dycke, Author
  • Speaker, coach, writer

My wife and I love Cirque du Soleil. This year we went again and saw the magnificent production of “Crystal” which is performed entirely on ice and naturally included a lot of figure skating. But what fascinated me was the gymnastics and acrobatics that were performed on the rink. In particular, I loved the juggler.

To be honest, I was surprised to see a juggler. At first, I wasn’t sure how it would all work, walking about on a slippery surface, but it certainly did. Beyond the skill of the performer, though, it was the minimalism of his act that grabbed my imagination.

At times the rink was full of skaters. At other times it was used as a platform for acrobatics of all sorts, which filled both the length, width and height of the arena. But when the juggler came on the ice, at least at first, it was pretty much just him and his props. At times he had upwards of 10 balls flying and bouncing at once, all while keeping his balance.

It was a good picture of parenting, I thought. It feels like we are alone, on a vast and dangerous sheet of ice, trying to keep a million things up in the air at one time. From schedules, to homework, to emotions; parenting is a high-stakes juggling act. One where you can’t possibly anticipate what will be thrown into the mix next… (A bowling pin? Flaming torch? Chainsaw?)

And this is where the illustration breaks down, because unlike the juggling clown, who has rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed, there isn’t a rehearsal for parenting. You get one try. Granted, that one attempt is stretched over a bunch of years, but still, can the parent of the 4 year old anticipate what parenting a 10 year old will be like? Not really.

This is why it is critical to learn to think like a parent.

I’ve been noticing a leadership challenge a lot lately, namely that many people want specific answers to specific questions they are facing. Parents are no different. For example, they ask, ‘should I allow my child to go out for Halloween?’ Do you know how I would answer that? With a big, fat, I don’t know! For some kids Halloween is a terrible idea because they are pressurized bottles of anxiety; they need neither the fear of the d├ęcor nor the sugar from candy.

On the other hand, what if your 6th grader is just starting to make friends at school and they were invited to go trick or treating together. As a Christian parent, you haven’t felt comfortable with the holiday, but things are more complicated now. What do you do? I don’t know!

The problem I find with so many parenting books, blogs, and websites is that they try to prescribe specifically what parenting should look like, instead of teaching parents to think. When someone knows how to think like a juggler, they can adapt to the changing environment. And the same is true for the parent who knows how to think like a parent should.

In my next few blogs I want to share some general principles that I believe are very important for parenting. General principles that will can be applied to specific situations. I hope that they will help you improve your juggling skills and avoid those painful parenting falls.

Thom Van Dycke has worked with children and youth since 2001 and is a passionate advocate for healthy foster care. Together with his wife, since 2011, they have welcomed 30 foster children into their home. In 2017, Thom Van Dycke was trained as a Trust-Based Relational Intervention Practitioner.