New School Year, New Parenting Practices

4 Habits to Draw Your Family Closer to Christ

It’s that time of year! No, not Christmas (although we’ll see it in the stores any time now). In the USA, it’s the beginning of a new school year. Many of the school systems around us begin classes this week or next, and every homeschooling mom I meet has an imminent date in her mind as well.

As a parent, mid-August feels more like a new beginning to me than early January. With the establishment of new school schedules, after-school activities, etc., this is a fantastic time to implement or refresh some Christ-centered practices in your family life as well. Consider any or all of these four ways to ‘up’ your Intentional Parenting game.

  1. Establish Family Devotions

I will just confess right here that we don’t do this. In fact, my impetus for writing this post is my desire to finally start a weekly study time with my family!

Rather than depending on a pre-written devotional (sorry, writer friends!), try reading through a gospel such as Mark. Do one chapter or one story  each week. Be creative; act it out if your children like that kind of thing or play charades or draw pictures or just take turns reading aloud. Leave time to talk and to pray for God to help you respond to what you’ve received. For older children, you might study a paragraph per week from an epistle such as Philippians.

If the thought of discipling your children like this leaves you weak in the knees, come back next week. I’ll post How to Study the Bible with Your Grade School Children in 500 words or less.

Intentional Parenting perk: When we prioritize Bible study…when we model digging into the Word, obeying what we find, and living according to God’s guidance, our children naturally learn to do the same.

If you just don’t know how to fit this intentional time into your family calendar, look at #4. We’re making it a priority this fall—finally—and I’m praying you see the value in it, too!

  1. Implement Drive-to-School prayer time

We started this last year, and it was such a blessing. If you deliver your child(ren) to school, turn off the radio on the way. Ask what he/she anticipates in the day to come:

  • Academically: tests, homework, projects, presentations, PE expectations
  • Socially: friends, lunch conversation, locker break
  • Emotionally: disappointing grades, difficult teacher

Repeat the names of classmates and friends to help you remember. Ask for clarification if necessary. Show that you are really listening.

After listening, pray aloud as you drive. (Don’t close your eyes, obviously.) If you feel led, offer a very little bit of counsel…maybe a Bible verses that applies. This isn’t the time to advise; it’s the time to support. Let him/her know you’ll be praying through the day.

Intentional Parenting perk: This habit says, “I love you and I care about you, my child.” It also demonstrates that God is interested and active in our day-to-day lives. Just watch after God works in something about which you’ve prayed!

Give God a chance to prove Himself faithful in your child’s life through voiced prayer. (click to tweet)

  1. Create After-School Conversation Time

My introvert just isn’t up to processing her day the moment she gets in the car after school. She needs some quiet. My extrovert wants to talk right away, and he always has multiple stories (some of which don’t make any sense to me, but that’s okay). The when isn’t important. It might be immediately after school, over dinner, or just before lights-out. The point is to spend some time processing with your child, holding him accountable, and helping her see how God did answer those morning prayers.

Avoid yes/no questions, and make sure you ask about whatever they mentioned in the morning. Beyond that, we’ve used these two questions since our first one started Kindergarten. They know to expect the questions, so they look for answers as they go through the day.

  • What was your best thing from today?
  • What was your worst thing from today?

You may have different questions or more questions. Don’t get too complicated or long, though, especially for younger kids.

Intentional Parenting perk: The purpose of this habit is to communicate your enduring investment in your child’s life and to coach them through their days away from you.

  1. Set a Family Schedule

It’s super-easy to over-commit at the beginning of the school year. Everything seems like a good idea: PTA council, STEM scouts, sports teams, after-school clubs, service clubs, tutoring sessions, music lessons, Bible studies. Before you know it, you’re wearing out your mini-van tires on the road to school, church, the field/court and back!

With planning, you can create blocks of open space for family, so don’t say ‘yes’ yet! (click to tweet)

Before school starts, sit down together and, keeping your family mission statement in mind, decide how many activities each child will participate in or how many evenings/week you are willing to be out of the house. Decide this before the offers and ideas start rolling in.

After school starts, wait until everything is ‘on the table,’ include AWANA or whatever evening programs your church offers. (I realize some parents may be shocked by this, but sometimes the best choice for your family will be to skip Wednesday night church programs for this year.) Talk through which parent will drive where, how long the commute takes, what it means for family dinners, finances, homework plans for those days, longevity (such as continuing piano lessons), etc. Some options will automatically be disregarded. For the rest, make decisions as a family. Even the youngest ones can participate. This is hard. Believe me, I know. We have said “no” to so many good-but-not-best things, but our family is stronger and closer to Jesus because of those tough decisions.

Intentional Parenting perk: As your children watch you model responsible, Christ-centered time management, they see what’s important to you and to your family and they learn to make intentional decisions for themselves.

Small changes in your family routine will go a long way toward peace and understanding in your home. Or, to make a bread-baking analogy…

Knead some small changes into your new school routine and watch your family rise into richer Christ-centeredness. (click to tweet)

What about you? What small changes do you hope to implement at the turn of the school year?

Want more? Check out any of these posts:

How to Make Room for the Important by Kelly Smith at The Glorious Table. Kelly has guest posted on Intentional Parenting before, so you know I like her. This post is for the moms and dads who fell led to adjust their own schedules—especially applicable at this corner-turning time of year.

4 Tips to Start Off the School Year by Sarah Anderson at Parent Cue. Sarah has very young kids, so her tips are different from mine, but I found the post insightful.

Also, my Wait, Wait, Don’t TELL Me* post may be helpful if your children are in middle or high school.

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On Purity

As I tucked my then-nine-year-old into bed one night, she asked, “Mommy, what is purity?” Since we hadn’t had The Talk yet, and since her question wasn’t actually about sex, I hesitated.  I shot a silent prayer up to God for a simple, understandable answer and took a deep breath.

Whatever is noble . . . whatever is pure . . . think on these things (Philippians 4:8).

The phrases bounced into my head (not the reference—just the words), and I answered: “Purity is about keeping your thoughts pure, about never letting your mind dwell on things that God doesn’t like.”  (Or something like that.  It was a few years ago now, so I can’t remember word-for-word.)  She was satisfied, but the Lord launched me on a long-term thought process that continues to bear fruit in my mind.  It began with the conviction that purity is something much bigger than the box into which we have presently placed it.

Having started college in 1991, I was too late for True Love Waits. (You can go to the TLW blog here.)  I hear wonderful things about the movement, so don’t read this as a criticism of the program or the way God has used it to honor Himself in many lives.  True Love Waits espouses sexual purity, but we American Christians don’t even like to say the word “sexual”—much less talk about it—so somewhere in the last twenty years, “sexual purity” became just “purity” and we all knew what it meant.  But we lost something big when we did that.  We lost the rest of what purity really is.

Virginity is just one branch of the purity tree, and a low-hanging, usually-chopped-off branch at that. Is there no longer a need for purity after you get married?  That’s just ridiculous; of course there is.  And having sex within a marriage doesn’t make you impure.  (I wonder how many newlyweds have struggled with this . . .)  So we really need some expansion here.

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?  The one who has clean hands and a pure heart . . .  Psalm 24:3-4

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Matthew 5:8 (emphasis added on both)

Real purity allows us to stand unstained before God. It is about seeking God first, about not allowing anything to come between me and God.  It’s about keeping intimacy with God as my number-one objective and testing everything else to see how it contributes or detracts from that intimacy.  It’s about removing everything from my mind that is not true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy (Phil 4:8 again).  Real purity brings me closer to God.

What are the branches of the purity ‘tree’?  (Not an exhaustive list—I’m just brainstorming.)  But first, let’s assume that the one pursuing purity is a Christ-follower, rooted and built up in Him (Col 2:7).

  • integrity. This includes taking credit only for your own work, being honest, leaving others’ possessions alone, ‘owning’ your mistakes, and much more.
  • intimacy. It’s not just about intercourse.  God restrains what we share of our personal lives, family lives, physical bodies, and emotional situations.  He also limits what we need to see of others’ intimacy.  Mom and Dad kissing?  Fine and good.  Couple having sex on screen (especially at the movie theater, where it’s SO BIG!! . . . okay that might just be me)?  Not healthy.  Married women who look to each other rather than their husbands for secrets and support?  Not good.  The motivation behind that phrase, “technical virgin”?  Anathema.
  • interactions. Paul says, Let your gentleness be evident to all (Phil 4:5).  How we think of and speak to other people measures what is in our minds.  Thus, Jesus gave interactions the second-most-important place in obedience:  Love your neighbor as yourself (See Mark 12:29-31).  Furthermore, acts of violence are unacceptable; committing them–definitely, but even watching them . . . well, it’s something to consider.  Ask yourself, “Does the violence in this movie make it more difficult for me/my child to keep my/his mind pure?”
  • ideas. Sometimes Satan just throws sinful thoughts into our minds (especially if we have a less-than-pure past).  Entertaining them tarnishes our purity.
  • language. (Somebody PLEASE give me a word that starts with –i- for this point.  It’s driving me crazy!!)  If you expose yourself to an excess of coarse language, such terms sink into your mind and eventually come out of your mouth.  There’s a reason it’s called a “potty mouth”.

This list feels prescriptive, now that I’ve written it.  Just remember that it all begins in one’s mind; the key verse is Philippians 4:8.  Also, I was really trying to stay away from a list of negatives here, but if you want one, consider Colossians 3. Paul doesn’t specifically say “pure” or “purity” in that chapter, but look just before the list:  Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Col 3:1-2).  Isn’t this a great description of full-bodied purity? Set your heart and mind on Him. Wow.  I love it when the deluge of details boils down to something simple.

So sexual purity is important, of course, but it quickly descends into simple behavior modification and doesn’t focus on the heart of my preteen. The better approach will be to help our children focus on living a pure life with God-centered boundaries in every area, which honors Him and permits them to walk into adulthood with a mature and fruitful purity.