One of the most significant and personal relationships in our lives is the one we have with our children. The relationship between parents and children impacts all aspects of our children’s life, sometimes for their entire life. When we as parents truly realize the impact we have on the children entrusted to our care, physically, mentally, intellectually and emotionally, we are likely to tremble. We hold awesome power in our hands, and with great power comes great responsibility.

It is worth spending time thinking about and talking about the roles we play in the lives of our children. If we don’t think actively about our role, we easily fall into traps that can be a hindrance to the parent/child relationship or even unhealthy for children. Some of these traps include becoming a dictator, being overly critical, rescuing them from all situations, trying to be a “friend” instead of a parent or turning to children as confidants. Being a friend, a dictator or a confidant puts children into situations where it is more difficult for them to thrive or exposes them to events or knowledge they aren’t yet ready to handle.

So then, just what is our role? I think our role is that of a poet. Poetry is defined as an artistic creation that stirs emotion. The poet creates a poem by carefully choosing and arranging words and phrases. A poet thinks carefully about each element and each word included in the stanzas of the poem because each part carries meaning. If effective in our role as parents, we too must think about each element needed by our children to thrive. We must consider the impact our actions have on the young people in our care. Poems are beautiful works of art, and the lives of our children are the same. If we are to write a POEM on the lives of our children, we must Protect, Orchestrate, Empower and Mentor them.

“Protect” is perhaps the easiest for most of us. “Protector” is one of the first parts we play with our children as we care for them, watch them learn to walk and hold their hands as they cross the road. To be a “protector” means we are looking out into the world to identify the danger zones in their paths. As protectors, we put up barriers against these danger zones when possible. For example, we immunize our children to give them the best opportunity to fight disease, we put safety gates at the top of the stairs when our child is learning to walk and we install software to protect them from areas of the internet they should not see. The danger of course is that we become overly protective and deny children natural opportunities to grow and explore. It is all a balancing act but the key is being aware of developmental stages and what a child is capable of doing. So while we might put up a child safety gate for the two-year-old, that gate must certainly come down as they become able to safely navigate stairs.

To “Orchestrate” for our children means providing opportunities for growth. This means taking into account their abilities and interests. This, of course, does not mean micromanaging all aspects of their lives, nor does it mean acting as those parents who have “purchased” test scores (that is orchestration gone horribly wrong). Healthy orchestration is providing opportunities for our children and exposing them to a broader world as best we can. It is encouraging and facilitating their participation in activities such as sports, art and camps. Not all of this needs to cost money, there are many free ways to orchestrate activities. Orchestration is simply the careful consideration of the interests, needs, talents and dreams of our children and working to make some of those options possible.

We also “Empower” our children. To empower someone means to give them authority or power to make decisions. To empower means to make someone stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights. Now be clear, please, I’m not suggesting we give children free reign of our households. Rather, we empower children by allowing them some opportunities to make choices. That might mean allowing them to be a part of the machine that makes the household run by taking on some age-appropriate family chores. It might mean giving them opportunity to earn some of their own money. To empower our children means giving them a choice when it is possible. “Do you want to clean your room now or after supper?” is a classic example. We empower when we listen to our children, when we respect that there are some aspects of their lives that are different and when we love them in spite of the differences.

Finally, we “Mentor” our children. A mentor is a trusted and experienced adviser who trains and counsels. As effective parents, we provide solid information, share experiences, listen, coach and train. We share our values. We encourage giving and community participation. Sometimes it means we let children make mistakes and support them as they learn from those mistakes. We are present with them and for them even when it is inconvenient for us. We guide and teach so that they can find their own way when we are no longer around.

By protecting our children, orchestrating opportunities, empowering our children and mentoring them along the way, we help our children create a poem of their lives. And this is art.

Tina Bartleson is the executive director of the Exchange Club Family Resource Center, which provides in-home parent education and mentoring to families with children 0-12 years. She has 29 years experience working with families and may be contacted through www.exchangeclubfrc.org.