In our minds we all understand the basics truths to raising children and we aim for those as much as possible. If you’re anything like me you can get focused on the end goal and miss the day to day. These are just some pointers that I try to focus on to make sure I’m loving my kids well daily so that when they do grow up, they have the foundation of the Gospel as a daily rhythm of their lives.
C.S. Lewis said it best when he said, “Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different…” This is so true as a parent. You can write down your hopes and goals for your kids, and they at times seem reachable. Then the day-to-day sets in, and your goals of what college they’ll go to and who they’ll marry are replaced with trying to get them to brush their teeth and change their underwear in less than four hours. So with that in mind, I came up with 5 things I think are important to say to your children on a daily basis.
1) “I’m sorry, will you forgive me?”
So often we tell our kids to ask for forgiveness for hitting a sibling or to apologize for throwing sharp objects. But how often do we practice forgiveness with our kids? This idea hit me really hard. I remember learning the most from my parents’ actions and not their words. “I don’t have to apologize to my kids if I don’t make mistakes”—but who are we kidding? I fail more in a day than I succeed. But there’s a lot of power in asking for forgiveness. I know deep down in me it was hard to start doing this at first. I didn’t want to admit failure. I wanted to be this perfect parent who had it all together, and the areas we didn’t I desperately tried to cover up with a “we’re working on it” excuse. After a while of practicing quick repentance, I felt free to make mistakes and my kids would love me through it. I can only imagine it did the same for them. My kids need to know I’m human. My kids need to know I’m weak, and my kids need to know that I go to Jesus to be my strength.
2) “Who was hard to love today?”
I love this one. Just asking my kids this question forced me to think about it for myself. My natural reaction to hardship is to turn and run away, including from people who are hard to love. I don’t care what grade your kids are in; they need love, and I guarantee their classmates do, too. There’s a good chance most of them don’t receive it. This question forces your kids to think about those who might get ignored or labeled negatively because of their outbursts. More often than not, those outbursts are a cry out for love. As you discuss these hardships with your children, you’re able to challenge them to go out of their way to show love. Have lunch with the kids who are most disruptive in class. Invite the bully to play a game and help him follow the rules. Befriend a kid who’s completely different than you. Again, it’s really important to remember that your kids learn from actions just as much as words; it speaks volumes to share yourself who you are pursuing in love.
I’m a high school leader and was working with a group of teenagers last week, and I asked them to describe what a Christian is. The first response was “exclusive,” the second was “hypocrite,” and the third was “segregated.” These are Christians describing their own faith. How can we say we love our neighbor if we turn from anyone different than us? God wants us to be in the world but not part of it, meaning we’re meant to go to dark places and share the light of God.
3) “Did you do your best?”
This one took me a long while to learn. I grew up in a family that was a bunch of intelligent, freak athletes. It was either an A or bust. You were either starting on the team, or you didn’t try out. My goal became being the best at everything. This mentality destroyed so many aspects of my potential for community. First of all, it was impossible for me to celebrate other people’s talents. If I’m totally honest, I still struggle with this one today. If someone got a compliment, I had to be better so that I would get that compliment. My self-worth came from my success instead of doing my best. The second part of this problem was that I only did what I had to do to succeed. If I was already gifted at something, that was good enough; I didn’t try to use the abilities God gave me to their full potential. The third issue was how devastating this characteristic was for my friends. Winning was more important than relationships, and this took its toll, especially in high school.
Now I just encourage my kids to do their best. If they’re not some genius mathematician and the best they can honestly get is a B, then they can get a B. I want my kids to feel the freedom to challenge themselves and to not be afraid of struggle or failure. I want them to feel like their job is to use God’s gifts as well as they can, not to just try and please me.
4) “What was the high and low of your day?”
This is always a great conversation starter, especially at the dinner table. I know personally more often than not, when I look back on a day, I only remember the negative things and forget the blessings. This simple question allows space to talk about the hard stuff but also reminds us to see the Jesus in everyday life. It’s also really important to look for Jesus in the “lows.”
These are things that, when learned young, are then much easier to apply later in life. The Bible says that God disciplines those He loves. If we only focus on the negative things—such as other people’s issues affecting us—then we miss out on the beautiful opportunity to learn from the struggle. Jesus is life. He’s there in the ups, and He’s there in the downs. The ability to praise God through any circumstance is the most powerful tool you can give your children. Again, remember, kids learn from actions just as much as words, so be honest about your highs and lows. Obviously practice discretion according to your children’s ages, but use this beautiful opportunity to show children by example what it’s like to not hide your weakness but instead offer it to the Lord. You don’t have to be the savior of your family; you just have to point them to the One who is.
5) “You add so much fun to my life!”
I know my mom constantly complained to other parents about how busy I made her because of all the sports I played and all the piano recitals I had. Now let me make it clear: Through playing six sports in high school and two different instruments, my mom never missed a recital, worship service or game. She was in the stands for it all, rain or shine (which says a lot living in Washington State). Even though she had good intentions, her complaints made me feel like she’d rather not have me around. She totally didn’t mean that, but that’s how I felt. I’m sure a lot of parents don’t realize that complaining about the business a child brings into their lives can make them feel like they’re unwanted. It’s totally okay to take a season off to make sure that you’re caring for your family well, and it’s okay to have busy seasons and be moving around a lot, as long as your kids don’t suffer because of it.
For me, this topic daily brings me back to number one: learn to apologize. I can get so caught up in my own business that I’m not present for my kids, even as I’m at their events. During a soccer game, I’m sending out emails and planning play dates. I even make the excuse, “Well, I’m doing this for them, so they should appreciate it,” when in reality they’d probably prefer me to just watch them play. The first thing I learned with a newborn in the house was how selfish I can be. Now I pray for God to give me the wisdom to know when my selfishness is controlling me and the humility to ask my little ones for forgiveness.