Now that my nest is empty, I have found that I finally have a few spare hours to pursue something that has been my dream for many years – to attempt to learn the art of watercolor painting. It probably wasn’t the smartest move given the fact that I am not an artist and my friends who are have informed me that it is one of the most difficult of mediums to master.
However, as I sit in class each week and attempt to follow my teacher, I am amazed that the principles I struggle to imitate on paper are honestly the most important ones I practiced as a parent.
Think Way Ahead
Unlike oil or acrylic painting which allows you to paint over your mistakes, watercolor is totally unforgiving. What you paint the first time is what you get. Therefore, your painting must be totally planned in your head – background, foreground, details, before the brush is ever dipped into the water.
In like manner, the best parents know where they are headed with their children practically before they are born. Of course, they don’t know their children’s bent, their personality, their gifts, or their dreams. But parents should have firmly established values about what family life looks like, how time is spent, the place of work and leisure, the importance of service. Without this bedrock, parenting disintegrates into a constant reaction to the moment rather than a guiding hand that demarcates clear boundaries.
To be a better painter I study the masters and ask a lot of questions of those that know more than I do. To be a better parent, I did the same thing. As a teen, college student, then a young married woman, I watched parents who were doing a good job to learn their secrets. I asked lots of questions. I read a great deal about parenting and took notes from generations of my own family’s parenting history (the good things as well as the mistakes). When my own children arrived, I already had very clear ideas. I knew from experience as a youth development specialist that kids are capable of way more than most folks think possible. I comprehended the value of work and sacrifice. My husband helped me understand the importance of service for our children. Thus, even though my children are very different from me and have differing gifts, they were parented first and foremost for their character.
Protect the White Spaces
In watercolor painting, you have to protect the white spaces from the beginning of the painting since you can’t apply white over the top of this transparent work. You are forced to mask the white with tape or a special liquid preparation. Or, you refrain from painting in the white space.
When most parents think of protecting the white in their children’s lives, we automatically think of sexual purity. And that is certainly very important. But many parents miss the other pure spaces that desperately need protection. These spaces occupy our children’s heart and mind. What do we allow in? Without careful screening, very young children are barraged with images, attitudes, lifestyles, etc. from television, movies, games, and the internet. Their minds are filled with song lyrics. Their time is occupied with things chosen by others.
The white spaces of our children’s lives can be quickly sullied. I’ve seen very small children who are completely jaded because they had careless parents. If you think your kids are safe from this just because you live in an expensive gated community or homeschool, or spend your time mostly at church, you are sadly mistaken. It’s time to wake up and be a parent.
Too Many Colors Make a Muddy Painting
A watercolor artist has to combine a few well-chosen colors very carefully or the result is mud. He has to know when to apply which color to keep things sharp and clear. She must leave space so colors don’t run together. And, sometimes in a painting it’s more about what you leave out than what you include.
As a parent, I discovered that too many things in my family’s routine meant a muddy life. Without space between activities to debrief and learn, all the events become a blur. There is no time to gain wisdom or learn important lessons. With an overabundance of good things crowding the schedule, a child never masters anything. They are just a part of the crowd and never become something special with skills above the norm. With no time to ponder, a child (or adult) stays shallow never growing into the interesting, thoughtful person that they could have been.
As a watercolor beginner, I am learning to exercise a great deal of care as I apply lovely paint to expensive paper in the hopes of creating something beautiful. As a parent, the stakes are much higher and the creation infinitely more precious. It requires the skill of a master.
Look Who’s Talking!
Thank you so much for your help. You have been a godsend and I can’t imagine having gone through this process without your help! You have my deepest appreciation and respect. God bless, ~Molly, Kansas (high school senior)
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