There are many provisions that need to go into your family ship for this journey called parenting. Some of the first provisions you need are described below.
KEY #1: The Ship
Family meetings are the best ship I know of for your journey. They have been an amazing foundation for our family since 1994.
When we returned to our home the next day, one of the first things that the kids wanted to do was to have a family meeting. Everyone stopped what they were doing and we huddled all together safe and prayed, just like we had done so many times in the past. Family meetings are a cornerstone ingredient within our family.
I picked the scripture selection based on what was going on in our family, or if I sensed that we needed to head an issue off before it became a problem. I frequently addressed two themes from many different angles: (1) family unity, (2) the preciousness of others.
We ended every family meeting gathered around our coffee table with everyone taking turns praying. My kids learned to pray aloud through our family meetings. There is nothing like hearing one of your children praying aloud with love and conviction for another sibling!
KEY #2: Jesus Often Taught Using Parables and so Should You
Jesus taught many lessons in the gospels through the use of parables; stories about seemingly real people. They captivate us to this day. I discovered early on that our little kids were on the edge of their seats whenever I told stories in our family meetings. This method became a cornerstone for teaching my kids biblical truths. Because we started this when they were young, I continued telling stories even as the oldest son was moving into high school. Story telling can be timeless.
In other cases where maybe the lesson was about something more serious like stealing or telling a lie, I would tell a story using the family dog or the kids’ hamster as the main character. The impact was the same…bulls-eye.
Bear with me…here is an example story that I want to share with you and for good reason.
There was a group of neighborhood boys once upon a time that lived in a very nice neighborhood. The neighborhood was pristine, with every house well taken care of, the yards were all finely trimmed, and everything was always in its perfect place. The boys always took the same path to school through the neighborhood since it was only about 4 blocks away.
One week, the boys noticed that the grass out in front one of the homes was beginning to get pretty long, and several old newspapers were scattered here and there about the driveway. The situation got worse and worse each day. Then one day, on the way home from school, they noticed that someone had thrown a bunch of candy wrappers and a pop-can into the front yard. After that, the trash that kids threw into the front yard grew very quickly…apparently, the owner of the house just didn’t care how their place looked. The boys reasoned, if the owner doesn’t care how their own yard looks, then why should they?
Several days later, one of the boys was telling their mom about this house, and about all of the mess in the front yard. The mother questioned the boy further about the house, and ultimately realized that this house belonged to Mr. Johnson, a dear family friend, who had been rushed to the hospital several weeks earlier for surgery related to a serious heart problem.
It was only then that the boy realized that Mr. Johnson cared about his yard just as much as any other neighbor, but he was unable to take care of it for that period of time because of his health.
And the moral of the story…we cannot place our value on something that does not belong to us! We can not use our assessed value on something that we do not own to ever justify our actions.
In subsequent weeks, again in our family meetings, I relied in part on this story to teach my kids that each one of them actually belonged to God, rather than to Linda and me. And based on that truth, each one of them had infinite value in God’s eyes. I believe that thought was the genesis, the beginning of why my kids all genuinely love each other as much as they do to this day. The kids connected the dots and realized that they had to place God’s value on each family member rather than their own.
If you still have young children in your family, I hope that you will aspire to become the wise and insightful storytellers in your family! Your impact will last for all eternity.
Key #3: Family Unity
Our kids know that we believe our family is the greatest thing going; not to be bragged about, but to be cherished, protected, loved. Your kids desperately need you to feel the same way about your family too!
We have already talked about our “Crawdad shirts” elsewhere on this site. Everyone in our family had a Crawdad shirt, and they were numbered “Crawdad 1” through “Crawdad 6” on the back. We always wore these shirts when we were on vacation in Oregon when the kids were small.
Once in a while, early on Saturday morning, I would yell through the house, “It’s a Crawdad shirt day!” All the kids would run around, finding their shirts, and for that day, we celebrated once again being family-Crawdad.
In recent years, our kids have had several close friends petition us to become “Crawdad-7” or some higher number. These kids have typically been in their twenties, and are still dealing with a broken home in their past. There is no doubt in my mind that every kid wants to belong to a great family.
One of the greatest things a dad can do is to exhibit and voice thankfulness for his family in front of his kids. I have personally peppered the walls of our gameroom with over 125 8×10 laminated photos of the family and kids…some of my favorite memories ever. I have another 14 pictures draped from the backside of my home-office double-doors. I’ve been called my family’s cheerleader on more than one occasion, and I am proud of it.
I took, and yes, I have made opportunities happen just so that we could work together as a family. Whether it was giving the dog a bath on the driveway, washing the cars together, painting the garage door, stuffing church bulletins, or other work around the house, these have all been opportunities to work together and build family unity.
Some things that I did were just silly. If you remember the movie Dead Poets Society with Robin Williams, this scene will be familiar. One night before dinner was over, out of the blue I stood up on my chair to salute the cook (Linda) for her exceptional care for us that evening, and I prompted all of the kids to join in…which of course they did. They have never forgotten that simple gesture.
Take every opportunity you can to build unity in your family. This too will last a lifetime and beyond.
Key #4: Be a Lighthouse of Hope
Heaven knows the world is a pretty messed up place these days. Whether it be the definition of family or even the tenets of the Christian faith, they are all under attack by the evil forces in this world. Even so, we parents must be the beacons of hope in our family.
We must be genuine about our hope for the future as well, and we must be rational too. We can not project a Pollyanna kind of hope that is without reason, or our babbling will be simply dismissed. As our kids get older, they know the real score out in the world.
Our real hope comes from knowing that we will one day spend all eternity in heaven with God as believers. That thought may seem too distant for many children to fully embrace, but moms and dads have an incredible role in making that dependence on Christ happen through our actions in our families. A healthy relationship between children and their earthly fathers goes a long way in helping them bridge their understanding to their heavenly Father. I can share a few examples of what I am thinking about here.
In 1994, my first engineering book was published. We were visiting Linda’s alma mater in Oregon the following summer, and we happened into the main library on campus. It occurred to me that it would be great fun to challenge the kids to see who could find a copy of my book among the many stacks of books in the library. Of course they were up to the task! When they finally found it, at first I think they were taken back a bit. And then their childish joy broke out as they pulled other neighboring books off the shelves and compared how many times those books had been checked out compared to mine. It was at that moment that I realized that the focus had shifted where I didn’t really want to go. In our next family meeting, I recounted this event with the kids, and then I told them, “I may have written this book, but as my children, much greater things will you do in the future yourselves if you set your mind on them.” In my years of youth work, I have seen so many kids almost write themselves off as losers because they are adopted, or their dad was a drunk. While I am certainly not advocating false vibrato or an over exuberance on self-esteem, our kids need to know that we believe in them. It is that simple.
Some of you are so accomplished that your kids think that your height, and your grandeur is simply not attainable by them. Your kids may believe that your accomplishments are so beyond their abilities that they may choose simply not to try at all. Neighboring country clubs are often frequented by the sons of the rich and famous who have checked out in this very way, believing that they have nothing to offer in comparison to what their parents have achieved, or being paralyzed by their parents’ imposed expectations upon them. Moms and dads, you must sway your kids belief in themselves by vocally and demonstrably believing in them first. Admittedly, some parents go much too far in this regard, becoming babbling sillies sold out to self-esteem which is vacuous. So use judgment and discernment, always choosing your words wisely.
Above all, a father can never place a label on their child by habitually calling them lazy, or stupid, or a failure! This is especially true for sons. These labels will be remembered for the rest of their life in many cases. The criticism may be accurate, and the title deserved, but you can not say it!! If you find that you have already crossed this line with any of your kids, go even now, confess your error to them, and ask them for their forgiveness. It is never too late to come clean.
We are reminded in James 3 about the dual nature of our tongues, that with them we both praise God and condemn other people. Who can tame the tongue? We should all be mindful of these truths.
The hope landscape is always changing, and we need to adapt with it. My second textbook was published in December, 2007. I dedicated it to my future grandchildren, and I gave a copy of the book to each of my kids. Even now, I want my future grandchildren to know that I am thinking and praying about them long before they are even born. Those words represent the beginnings of my storehouse for each of them.
Key #5: Live a Disciplined Life
By no means is a disciplined life a dull or boring life! May it never be. We’re taught in 1 Timothy 4:7 to “discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness” because it holds great promise for our present life as well as the eternal life to come.
With so little discipline exhibited around our kids these days, the odds are very high that kids will be no more disciplined than their parents are. If parents run/cut stop-lights, most likely their teenagers will do the same. If dad lets foul language slip in a moment of anger, so will his kids. If mom tells “white lies” on the phone, so will her children. Kids watch our every move and every action. They know our hearts.
Staying fit is one form of discipline in my life that I have strived to maintain, particularly for my three sons. I have long maintained that I never want to provide them an excuse (Oh, dad did this or that) so that they can justify being out of shape and flabby when they are 40 or 50 years old. I am usually up at 5 AM, and after time in my bible, reading, and self-study, I hit the workout routine around 7 AM. Over the past 3 months or so, I have been hiking up a local southern California mountain four to five times a week, and still get to my office by 9 AM. At the same time, I do not impose any of my fitness regiment on them in that doing so would most likely defeat much of my intended purpose entirely.
When my kids were small, I made a point to always return the grocery cart to a proper location in a parking lot. This was a subject of family meetings. The simple (moral) reasons that I gave for this were that it meant that I valued the poor guy who otherwise would have to fetch my wayward cart, and I knew that God was pleased by my kindness (Matthew 6). Most of the time now, my kids get the cart returned before I even know it…it is who they have become too.
Many years ago, I was an adult advisor with a high school youth group in Orange County. One girl in the group was going through a lot of problems: her home life was really tough, she was always depressed, she knew that she had been given up for adoption as a baby, and she had even tried suicide. In the course of all this, she found out that her birth mother had given her up for adoption because she was an alcoholic. This girl latched onto this piece of information like it was the final proof that she needed to justify, to prove to everyone around her that she was going to be a big-time loser too! It was the excuse she needed to justify just giving up. This was not the only time that I saw this behavior lived out unfortunately, and it all caused me to reflect seriously about Christ’s words in Matthew about never causing or bringing harm to the little children in His midst.
Be discerning about good, better, and best. If you haven’t already, decide that you will be at your very best for your kids, with no facades allowed. We parents should not be the excuse that our kids one day use to become less than they are capable of becoming; on the contrary, we should light their path through the Godly way that we conduct our own lives each and every day.
Stay tuned for more key trip-provisions for this big journey called parenting.