Corbin often comes up to me, asking, “Mommy, will you play a game with me?” Although I love to play games, I have to force myself to relinquish my to-do list and sit down in the middle of the afternoon to play cards or Checkers. I know full well that game playing is my son’s love language, but I often excuse away my play with guilt or obligation. “Mommy has to get her chores done first.” The problem is, the chore list is never really completed. As my mom reminds me, “You’ll die with a to-do list.” So, I need to take responsibility, yes, but I also need to cherish these moments and release the seriousness that says, “You are too old to enjoy your life.” What? Where did that come from?
Laugh & Celebrate Life My mom taught us, by example, the value of celebrating life. She knew how to seize a moment, cheer a new accomplishment, acknowledge a significant date, sing over a completed school year. Since then, I’ve tried to do the same with my kids. We’ll observe random holidays, like Pi Day, Donut Day, World Foods, and half birthdays. We make chocolate cake and dance to Kool & the Gang when we finish a school year. If this practice is challenging for you, mark special (even random) days on the calendar and take time out to do something unique together.
Prioritize Work and Prioritize Rest Kids pick up on your work practices (whether you are lazy or a workaholic). They understand more by what you do (than what you say) what you value most out of life (esteem, position, acknowledgement, fame, money, etc.). Find the right balance. They are always watching. Do you allow yourself to rest in the evenings? Do you allow yourself to rest too much? Ask the hard questions, and if you are feeling really bold, ask your kids what you value most (“Hey Bud, what do you think is the most important thing to Daddy?”) The answers are alarmingly revealing. Apparently I value clean floors above all else. :/ Guess I need to work on that balance.
Serve Others Who is the center of your home? God? You? Your kids? What does your schedule look like? What consumes the majority of your family time? Who do you commit to? What is a non-negotiable? Do the kids see you make sacrifices for others or do you keep your life pretty protected, avoiding the difficult. The Harris brothers have started a movement with teenagers called, “Do Hard Things,” encouraging people to make a difference in the lives of those around them and to say no to selfishness and irresponsibility.
Commit to Your Word (Let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no”). In a world that keeps its options open and allows emotions and selfishness to dictate choices, choose to be different. Set an example for your children that shows them, “Yes, I will keep my word, even if it’s inconvenient or undesirable.” This mentality will help kids understand the value of loyalty, promises, and putting others first. Marriages, jobs, and familial bonds last longer when we understand that our word is our promise and we are trustworthy with it.
Pray Last but first, pray. Pray in front of your kids. Pray with your kids. Pray for your kids. Let them know that apart from our relationship with the Lord, there’s no navigating anything in this life well. We need Him for our joy, our peace, and our purpose. We need to share our hurts, fears, and burdens with Him, and we need to hear Him sing over us, reminding us that we are His children. The five-finger method is a good one to teach kids. A.C.T.S. is another great one.
As for the things to avoid, I must sadly confess that I’ve neglected to do what’s best. Repenting to God and to my kids is the best response to mistakes. I tell the kids that their mommy needs Jesus too–not just them. I am not perfect and I need forgiveness as well. May I endeavor to circumvent these things better in the future.
Don’t look at your phone (or the computer) more than you do your children’s faces. Commit time during the day to not get on your phone, check email, scroll social media, or read blogs. Be a student of your kids (and spouse). Learn more about them; saying ‘no’ to screen time helps them to see that they truly do matter.
Don’t yell at your kids (unless they are in immediate danger) and don’t arguewith your spouse in front of them. How I respond to my frustration is often how my children will as well. When I’m angry, do I choose my words with patient care or do I go off into a full-blown lecture rant? Do I roll my eyes or say harsh things about their efforts? Am I kind as well as truthful? Where do I rank on the scale of self-control?
Don’t let your only time spent with family be centered around a television. The average American spends 35 hours a week watching TV! Wow. We claim we don’t have time to read books or exercise or to learn a new hobby, but we certainly do. Evidence shows that we will make time for what we most value. Instead of just vegging out with your family, pull out a board game, dust off the bikes and hit the trail together. Ask fun questions. Sit outside and roast marshmallows over a bonfire. Color together. Catch lightning bugs. Get creative.
Don’t belittle or gossip. It’s better to avoid this sinful habit altogether, but certainly, don’t make slanderous or judgmental comments about people in front of your kids. Not only could they repeat the words and cause embarrassment, but far worse is teaching them a bad practice: it’s okay to talk mean about people behind their backs. You want your kids to be honest–of course–and stand up for themselves, but you want them to treat others the way they want to be treated, with respect, honor, and compassion. When we slander others, we tell our kids it’s fine to condemn and dismiss others (often showing little-to-no forgiveness or mercy, but a whole lotta pride).
Don’t speak negative self-talk in front of them. I wish I had always done this practice well; I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I remember one blog-mom talking about the dangers of saying, “I hate my body,” or “I’m so fat,” or even, “I wish I could lose weight,” in front of her daughter. Through her daughter’s eyes, Mommy was a beautiful princess, so when she started labeling herself in these derogatory terms, the daughter learned to apply that skewed standard to herself as well. I want my kids to be healthy and take good care of their bodies, but not for the sake of appearance or having a model figure. The world’s standard is not mine. Nor should it be your children’s. There are various body shapes and sizes. Strength and health matter more than the scale number, and spiritual health overrides them all. “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” I Tim. 4:8
Listen to God’s Spirit, prioritize what really matters, and make yourself a present parent. Don’t beat yourself up when you hit the “Don’t list”. Give yourself (and your spouse) grace and keep encouraging one another toward love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24-25).