This blog is part two of our Creative Parenting Series. To read part one, click this link: Show, Don’t Tell.
Ismet: When I was 10 years old, I started writing about parenting. I felt that there was plenty of room for improvement in how I was being raised. I wanted to make sure that when I was a parent, I wouldn’t repeat the mistakes my own parents made.
When I became a parent, I discovered that it wasn’t enough to have detailed notes about what “did not work.” All I had was a void where workable strategies should be. Studying creativity gave me the opportunity to learn how to craft the solutions that filled those gaps.
In this blog series, I will be reflecting on what I experimented with in order to create a different parenting experience for my children.
One of my greatest complaints as a child was that I had no voice. I had no say in decisions that adults made around me, even when those decisions would have a significant impact on me. This lack of agency frustrated me and made me resist any impositions on me, even when they were in fact for my benefit. Even though I may have made the same choices if only I had been given the right to choose. Being denied that opportunity created an intrinsic resistance and aversion.
As a part of my studies in the field of creativity, I was trained as a facilitator. I learned to use the creative process as an organizing framework in order to facilitate productive conversations within a group that is working to address a shared challenge. This process seemed like the ideal approach for addressing the challenges of parenting. After all, parenting challenges are really about reaching shared goals. There was no reason to exclude the children from the conversation.
We developed a process that gave us tools and language that we could use effectively to co-create solutions for our family. By engaging with the children in this shared task of raising them to become adults, I hoped to overcome the inherent resistance that comes from a loss of agency and voice.
I began to invite my children to be a part of the conversation. Together, we shaped how we functioned and operated as a family. Everyone had a voice and was given the opportunity to share their perspectives and offer options for all of us to consider. All ideas were given airtime and due consideration. We agreed on the criteria for the process of deciding which ideas we adopted. We factored in accountability and ownership. We as parents were held accountable just as the children were.
The benefits of this approach became apparent very quickly. The children were motivated to make our solutions work. As a family, we all benefited from being deliberate about goal-setting and problem-solving. My husband and I discovered that when we had conversations about the “what” and “why” of our parenting goals, we came to understand each other better. We articulated our values clearly and were forced to reflect on what really mattered. Not only did we become better parents, but we came together as a couple and bonded as a family. The children also learned how to make decisions, approach a complex challenge, and collaborate with others.
Hana: When I was young, the biggest difference I noticed between my friends’ parents and my own was the conversations. In my family, decisions were always discussed with everyone who was affected. Both my sister’s and my opinions were given the same consideration as my parents’ opinions, and there was always mutual respect between everyone. Essentially, we kids were given the opportunity to play an active role in how we were parented. To me, this was so natural and logical that it was strange to discover that it was not how my friends’ families ran.
One example was how we handled sorting and getting rid of some of our toys. At a certain point, we had too many toys, and my mom said we needed to get rid of some. Originally, my sister and I went through them rather thoughtlessly, not getting rid of enough toys, and at the same time, accidentally getting rid of toys that we really liked. It became clear to my mom that she needed to be involved in the process. But even then, we still wanted to be a part of the decision making, and she agreed. The deal we came to was that my mom would choose the toys to give away, but my sister and I would each get four vetoes to save toys that we really wanted to keep.
Experiences like this at a young age helped me develop some very valuable skills. First, I was able to practice decision making. Making decisions about my toys was low stakes in the long run, but it was meaningful to me in the moment. I had to consider what was really worth keeping, knowing that I could only save four toys. Situations like this allowed me to practice the critical thinking that goes into decision making. This set me up for effectively making more important decisions as I got older.
Second, being involved in family decision making made me more invested in the outcome. For example, if I had a real say in where we would go on a family vacation, I was more willing to put in the effort to make the trip fun for everyone. My sister and I really wanted to go to Australia, so when our family planned a trip, we both put in a lot of work, researching specific activities we could all do. Because we were involved in the decision to go to Australia, we were eager to plan all the little details of our trip. We were active participants in our family, instead of just being along for the ride.
Overall, having an active role in how I was raised was something that I felt was unique and especially valuable to me.
- Engaging children in parenting and family decisions makes them vested in the outcome. Consider engaging your child in defining parenting goals and strategies.
- Giving children the opportunity to contribute to decision-making teaches them valuable life skills. Consider inviting your child to lead the way within the safety of your home and family by providing them with opportunities to be in charge.
- Respect is a two-way street. Consider treating your child with the same respect and courtesy they would have a right to expect from you if they were an adult.
Ismet Mamnoon is the founder and guardian of imagination at Beyonder, which offers training and facilitation for Parents, Educators, and youth with the mission of using creativity as the means to unlock the human potential of the next generation. She integrates polarity thinking and appreciative inquiry along with creative thinking techniques into her work. Ismet was recently featured in TIME magazine’s article When Schools get Creative in their special edition on the Science of Creativity for her approach to parenting and for the work that she does globally to weave creativity into education. She was first drawn to the field of creativity and innovation when she became a parent and she speaks intimately about her journey on the TEDx stage. Ismet is a graduate of the International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State where she received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence.
Hana Mamnoon is a student at the University of Rochester studying Psychology and Business. She is trained in Creative Problem Solving and facilitation and has been using it from a young age since she grew up in a household run by Ismet, the Director of Beyonder. She has experience in teaching her peers Creative Problem Solving techniques as well as helping facilitate workshops for a variety of clients, including educators.