Things They Are A-Changin’

 

It’s a new year. Time to make some changes, but I want to explain a little.

Parenting with intentionality is one of my biggest passions. I know God called me to be a mother, and I believe He expects the same effort in that calling as in other callings. I search the Scriptures for guidance. I study books about parenting. I read blogs and articles about parenting, education, and other related topics. Because of all that input, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I have developed clear ideas about parenting, especially as Christ-followers.

Eighty-five times, I’ve shared those ideas with you (or facilitated others’ sharing). It’s easy for me. I can think of two or three topics right now that I’d like to explore with/for you, my 74 followers.

For over a year now, I’ve faithfully blogged weekly both here at Intentional Parenting and at Not About Me, plus the Instagram memes and social media links (Facebook and Twitter) for each blog post. It’s too much for my life right now. I am still parenting, you know. The commitment to the blogs has taken me away from writing the Bible study series that is the very reason I began the blogs. It feels a bit like the church at Ephesus, to which John wrote, “You have forsaken the love you had at first” (Revelation 2:4). I’m not a blogger. I’m a writer who blogs. That means I must write more than what I publish here each week.

So I’m scaling back on this blog. Perhaps it seems counter-intuitive to you. These posts are easy for me, and I have more ‘hits’ on this blog than on Not About Me (my main blog). It’s not the first time God has led me into something that didn’t make sense on the surface. (I call it uncommon sense.) We all know, however, that it’s easy to spend our lives doing the good things and miss the best thing. God drew me into writing through my passion for His Word. Nothing enlivens me more than when He reveals Himself through Scripture…except sharing His Truth with others! That’s where my writing efforts need to focus.

My new plan is to publish on this blog once each month—either something specifically for here or a link to something I wrote about parenting that I’ve been blessed to share elsewhere. If you need more, go back into the archives or follow me on Not About Me or e-mail me.

Thanks for understanding. It may seem weird since I don’t actually know many of you, but I sincerely appreciate your interest, likes, and comments.

I don’t know that there’s much on which to comment here. If you’d like to let me know what post most influenced you, I would be very encouraged.

 

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Goal-Setting for Children

Even though it’s only mid-December and the biggest event of the year is still ten days away, I find myself already looking toward the new year. I’m not big on making resolutions, but I do like to use the fresh year as a kicking-off-point for new habits or emphases. If you’re the same, you know it takes forethought and prayerful consideration to implement meaningful change—in ourselves and in our children.

In Shepherding a Child’s Heart (which I also mentioned last week), Tedd Tripp offers guidance on how and why we, as parents, should set goals for our children. There’s no need to rehash that. Let’s look instead at what sort of goals we might set for our children.

In my parenting, I often come back to this one verse.

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. -Luke 2:52

(I wrote about Luke 2:52 as a guide for prayer in the past.) When we think about the young Jesus, we know he didn’t grow up in a vacuum. Joseph, Mary, and others influenced his maturity. I’m a little jealous; that must have been the easiest parenting job ever! For the rest of us parents—the ones raising non-God-incarnate children—it’s even more important to intentionally influence every facet of our children’s maturation.

This verse provides us with four areas of growth. Applied to goal-setting, the short version looks like this:

1 achievement, 1 skill, 1 spiritual growth, 1 relationship

Let’s brainstorm some ideas.

Wisdom: intellectual development

violin-close-up
music lessons (c) Carole Sparks

Set one goal related to their education, learning, or other thinking/mental skills. This could be a skill or an achievement. Some possibilities:

  • Learn to read chapter books.
  • Improve average grade (overall or in one subject) by one letter grade.
  • Attend a special class or camp that emphasizes an area of personal interest such as environmental sciences, computer coding, painting, soccer, etc.
  • Learn to play an instrument or, if they already play, learn a significantly more difficult piece.
  • Learn another language such as sign language or Spanish. Connect this with their social development by finding someone they would like to talk with.

Stature: physical development

gymnastics-assist
gymnastics assist (c) Carole Sparks

There’s not much we or our children can do about their height or shoe size, but we can help them practice a healthy lifestyle or improve their fitness. Set one goal related to their physical development, also either a skill or an achievement. Something like…

  • Learn to ride a bike.
  • Learn a new sport.
  • Achieve a new level in their existing sport. For example, earn the next belt in karate or make the varsity team in his/her sport.
  • Accomplish a fitness goal such as running a 10-minute mile.
  • Learn to eat three new healthy foods.
  • Learn to cook something specific, learn a certain type of cooking, or learn how to do some household chore. (Don’t just say “learn to cook.” That’s too broad to measure.) Last year, my oldest learned to use the washer and dryer. This year, maybe we’ll focusing on cooking some simple dishes.

Favor with God: spiritual development

11-21 read Bible story (2)
(c) Carole Sparks

How can we help our children grow closer to God through the year? Consider one of these or something else that fits your child’s interests and current maturity level.

  • Become consistent in having a daily quiet time or personal devotion.
  • Memorize a certain number of Bible verses. (Personally, I’m planning to memorize twenty-four passages in 2017!)
  • Work on one aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) such as kindness or self-control. This one will take some extra effort on your part, parent, to find actions and/or practices specifically targeting this one thing.
  • Begin paying attention and/or taking notes in “big church.” Start with once/month or five minutes/sermon.
  • Learn a certain number of Bible stories (great for younger children). Maybe one per month?
  • Improve upon one spiritual discipline such as meditation or generosity (great for older children).
  • Read a certain numbers of books related to spiritual growth. I’m challenging my teen to read one non-fiction book per month, mostly faith-based. John Piper’s Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ is a great one for thinking teens to start with.

Favor with Man: social development

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kid spectators (c) Carole Sparks

Without a little encouragement, our children fall into relationship ruts just like we do. Talk with them about how they want to grow this coming year. Some options might be…

  • Intentionally make a new friend at school or church.
  • Reconcile with someone they don’t like or with whom they had a fight. This starts with praying for that person.
  • Learn how to make “small talk” with adults.
  • Compliment/encourage someone every day.
  • Learn another language so they can talk to someone in that person’s “heart language.” (See intellectual development above.)
  • Learn a technique for diffusing conflict—one they can practice with siblings.

 

As you look toward 2017, pray through what sort of goals God is leading you to set regarding your children. Ask Him to reveal areas where they need purposeful intervention, bringing them into the conversation at an appropriate level. For my older children, they fully participate in the process, but younger children may need more guidance from you.

After you’ve set your goals, don’t just leave them at the level of ideas. Goals need action plans or steps toward fulfillment. Sit down with your kids and discuss the small steps that will lead to big growth in 2017. Look at your own life, too. We have to model before we can teach. This is why I’m signing up to learn twenty-four Bible passages this year. I need accountability for my own spiritual growth, and I want to model the importance of Scripture memory to my children.

And finally, follow up! Through the year, revisit the goals. Are you seeing growth? Do you need to adjust something? Are they experiencing the difference? Encourage them to stay faithful to the task…and you stay faithful, too. Jesus grew up at the same rate that our children do. He didn’t achieve wisdom, stature, and favor with God and man in one day or even one year. This is an eighteen-year process, parents!

Then celebrate at the end of 2017! Recognize your children’s achievements. Talk about how they’ve grown and what changes you’ve seen.

As you anticipate Intentional Parenting in 2017, I pray this brainstorming session helps you set significant, achievable goals for and with your children. If you’ve been encouraged, please share this post using the tweet below.

4 #IntentionalParenting goals to help our children grow in #2017.

What goals are you setting in 2017 for your children or for yourself as a parent? Join this brainstorming session (in the comments below), and you’ll be helping us all!

More Everyday Images for the Christ-Life

On this fifth Tuesday of the month, with Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas ahead of us, I’m returning to the basics of Intentional Parenting: discipling our children. Enjoy these three metaphors for the Christ-life found in God’s creation. Like a potter shaping a vase, God leaves his fingerprints all over His creation. These everyday images are endless! Read through these, then share your own at the end.

Calluses/A Hardened Heart

everyday-image-guitar
guitar calluses (c) Carole Sparks

My son plays guitar. The tips of his fingers on his left hand have calluses from pressing on the strings to make different tones. I don’t play guitar, but I sat down to play around with his one day. Because I was pressing my fingers against the metal strings of his guitar, it only took a few minutes for the skin on the ends of my fingers to turn red and hurt. Why? Because I don’t have calluses.

You can press on a callus with your fingernail, and it doesn’t hurt. Sometimes, another person can touch your callus and you won’t even realize it.

For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.  -Matthew 13:15a

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…  -Hebrews 3:7b-8a

When you love Jesus and you want to make him happy, we say your heart is tender. Any small sin will press up against your heart, and you’ll feel the pain of that sin until you confess. But if you choose to ignore the pain instead of addressing it, you will probably sin again in the same way. But the second time, it won’t hurt as much because the area is already inflamed (like a blister). Over and over you press on the same spot, and that’s what creates a callus. While calluses are good on a guitar player’s fingers or on the middle finger of your writing hand, they aren’t good on your heart. They make it harder to know what Jesus wants and to respond to his gentle direction. Confessing your sin and pushing it away means it can’t press against your heart anymore.

Salt/The Kingdom of Heaven

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.  -Matthew 5:13

This one’s straight from Scripture, but here’s a good tactile method of explaining it.

everyday-image-popcorn
popcorn (c) Carole Sparks

Make some popcorn (in a pot, not microwave). Separate it into two bowls. Salt one bowl but not the other, then ask your children to taste each. The one with salt tastes so much better! This is what we’re called to be in the world: unobtrusive difference-makers. You can’t really tell which popcorn has salt until you taste it, but it makes all the difference. (Salt has preservative properties and other uses, but let’s keep this simple.) If the salt wasn’t salty—if it didn’t make a difference in the popcorn—it wouldn’t have any use. As Christ-followers, if we don’t bless the world with Christ, we don’t have any use either.

Ask your children how believers can make a difference in the world. Answers may range from smiling at a sad person or picking up litter to starting a charity or sharing Christ with a friend. Remind your children of one way they made a difference in the past week, emphasizing their unique personalities. Challenge everyone in the family (including parents) to share one way they plan to intentionally “be salt” in the coming week. Write SALT on a big piece of paper, on a white-board, or on the bathroom mirrors (with dry erase markers) to remind everyone of the challenge.

For more on popcorn, check out one of my previous analogies.

Pebbles in a Stream/Unconfessed Sin

This one’s not original with me, but it’s so good that I thought you should hear it.

everyday-image-pebbles
rocks in a stream (c) Carole Sparks

Every time you sin, it’s like throwing a pebble into a river. One doesn’t really make a difference, but over time, the river will become dammed by the accumulation of pebbles.

Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”  -John 7:38

The Living Water cannot flow from you if it’s blocked by unconfessed sin. Even though we try not to sin, we all do it. When we ask God to forgive us, however, He removes that pebble from our “river of life” so the water keeps flowing.

Parents, you could make this very tangible while playing outside in the rain. Just find a flow of water and start dropping small rocks into it at a certain spot.

 

So I pray these are helpful to you in Intentional Parenting. Remember, just look for opportunities and experiences to bring up spiritual things as a natural part of your day. Like Deuteronomy counsels, Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up (Deuteronomy 6:7).

Be equipped to talk with kids about spiritual things at any time (Deut 6:7) with these analogies. (click to tweet)

I’d love to hear some of the creative ways God has shown you to understand theology. (That’s what this is, you know.) Please share in the comments. Maybe I’ll post a collection of other parents’ images at a later date.

Reflections on Sunday School Songs: If You’re Happy and You Know It

This is not technically a Biblical or theological song, but we used to sing it in Sunday School when I was a child, so I’ve included it here. The principles embodied within it are certainly Biblical, so let’s take a look.

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

When God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.  -Ecclesiastes 5:19

Four things God gives, which I’ve turned into questions:

  • Do you have what you need to survive? Do you actually live in abundance? Most of us do (though it may not always feel like it). God gave that.
  • Are you able to enjoy your material possessions? Such pleasure is good and right. God supplies not only our “daily bread” (Matthew 6:11) but the mental capacity and the presence of mind to appreciate it. If you’re distracted by the demands of life, feeling like you always need to do or get more, then your attitude doesn’t honor God (just telling it like it is here, like I tell myself way too often!). Trust and faith are so intertwined. Our faith creates the capacity for trust so we can let go of our stress and enjoy His faithful provision.
  • Are you satisfied with your work, home, and life-in-general? Contentment is such a treasure! Not that we should be complacent, but those who “accept their lot” in life find it much easier to be satisfied.
  • Does your work make you feel good? Mine does. When I write, my mood lightens. I am happy, and it overflows into the rest of my life. If you’re living out what you were created to do, your work will satisfy.

Confession #1: I sat down to write this post out of obligation, but already—with this first verse—God has shown me how blessed I am! Pausing now to clap my hands, as the song instructs. … Really; I did it.

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.  -Psalm 47:1

We sat mid-way back in an elementary school awards ceremony. You know the type. Many names, and each walks onto the stage whether their accomplishment is major or minor. The obligatory applause begins with enthusiasm but quickly dissipates. By the tenth kid, you can pick out his parents because they’re the only ones clapping in earnest. I tried—I really tried—to celebrate all the kids, but my hands started burning from slapping them together so much, and honestly, my heart just wasn’t in it.

Through the Psalmist, God commands us to celebrate Him. We’re not celebrating a minor accomplishment or a middle-grades promotion. We’re recognizing the God of the Universe! We’re called to clap. All of us.

Even when you’re not feeling happy, when your circumstances have stripped the smile not just off your face but out of your heart, you know you have reason to celebrate because, well, He’s God: Sovereign, Creator, Redeemer, Omnipotent…you get the picture. And sometimes the exact thing we need in order to realign our focus and redeem our happiness is a simple song and a bit of hand-clapping. My brain has to tell my heart, “Yes, you are happy. You just forgot.”

Psalm 47 goes on praising God (Read all nine verses right now if you have time!), then it says,

Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise.  -Psalm 47:6-7

 If you’re happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it.

But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.  -Psalm 68:3

Our satisfaction with God will inevitably show up on our faces. I’ve heard people say things like, “That Steven, he always has a smile.” I happen to know Steven, and I know why he smiles. It’s because He constantly walks beside His Savior.

Wearing a constant smile is not the same as a mask. People can recognize masks. It’s an authentic pleasantness that comes from a contented heart. This line in the song challenges those of us who carry so many burdens (read: responsibilities, worries, concerns, etc.) on our shoulders. Our internal attitude will show on our faces. If you can stay conscious of God’s faithfulness and content in His provision, your face will inevitably smile, with no effort on your part.

Confession #2: Sometimes my smile is faked. I’m still working on it.

 If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.  -James 5:13

It’s not entirely clear, but the context in James 5 seems to be a group meeting. If so, James calls believers to share both their troubles and their happiness. We’re pretty good at sharing our troubles, at least the not-too-personal ones, but we often hesitate to share our successes or happiness. We’re afraid it may come off as bragging, or it may make someone without the same success feel bad or jealous. James calls us to share it anyway; of course, there’s a God-honoring way to share that takes out any personal pride.

If you’re happy about something, and you know you’re happy about it, honor God by demonstrating your happiness in a physical way! It may be spoken, sung, or clapped. In fact, remember all the other verses to this song? They tell us to stomp our feet, say “amen,” turn around, etc. In the right situation, it might even be appropriate to leap into the air.

Confession #3: I embarrassed my teenager the other day when I leapt into the air just outside her school after she shared some fresh good news. (Okay, that’s not really the same kind of confession, I realize.)

The point is, acknowledge God’s provision and blessing. Don’t miss any chance you have to glorify Him!

So! I’m in a much better mood now. Not only did I get to write, which always satisfies me, but also, I got to dwell on God’s goodness, sufficiency, and blessing. I can’t clap and type at the same time, but there’s an authentic smile on my face. **insert happy-face emoji here**

Do you have any special childhood memories about this song? Has it ever convicted you, either as a child or an adult? What do you think about how/when we should demonstrate our happiness? I’d love to interact with you in the comments below! You can also share using one of the ready-made tweets below.

If you’re happy about something, and you know you’re happy, honor God by demonstrating your happiness in a physical way! (click to tweet)

If You’re Happy: more than a silly children’s song. Mine the Biblical truths with me. (click to tweet)

 ss-songs-happy

Note: For my “take” on joy v/s happiness, read On Joy. Not everyone agrees with me, and that’s okay.

Attribution: original lyrics unknown but refined by Alfred B. Smith, music by Isaak Dunayevsky (source)

Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Deep and Wide

Zacchaeus

Jesus Loves the Little Children

I’ve Got the Joy

The Wise Man and the Foolish Man

Father Abraham

My God Is So Big

 

Still to come:

  • He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands

 

Loving and Letting Go (guest post)

Friends, please let me introduce you to my friend, Jessica Michaels. Jessica
doesn't have a blog, and she's not trying to publish anything. Thus, no bio or
photo at the end. Jessica and her husband are foster parents. In the two years 
I've known them, they've embraced at least three foster children while raising 
their two biological sons at the same time. Jessica loves Jesus, and her fostering
experience gives her unique insight into Intentional Parenting. Take a minute to 
read what's on her heart these days.

I knew that when our family of four began fostering we would be loving and letting go. These precious children would come into our lives for a season and then we would let go, entrusting them to the sovereign plan God had for them.

What I didn’t anticipate was the loving and letting go of my own two children. I had planned to hold them close, shielding them from any discomfort that came with the process: the uneasiness of change within our home, the challenging behaviors displayed by the foster children, and the pain of saying good bye to those they had grown so close to. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t do it. God had called us into a ministry that, along with joy and precious rewards, involved change, uncertainty, and discomfort. No matter what I did, I couldn’t keep my kids from it.

But God in his grace is teaching me that sometimes it’s okay to put down the shield; in fact, great things happen in the hearts of my children when I love and let go. So if you’re a warrior momma like me, quick to raise your shield of defense around your kiddos, here are a few things God has been showing me.

Sometimes our shields can turn into shackles.

Let us be bold and say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid!’  -Hebrews 13:6

One morning I asked my son how his Sunday School class went. After a moment he solemnly replied, “Not good momma. I couldn’t reach the markers.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle and think, “If only his troubles would remain so small!” But they won’t. Inevitably as he grows so will life’s problems.

My prayer for my children is that they will know God as their helper because they have been given the opportunity to experience His faithfulness time and again. When I protect them from the smallest of troubles, my shield can turn into shackles that hinder my kids from seeing God as their helper. If they don’t learn to turn to Him for the small problems, He will be the last one they turn to for help when the big problems come.

Change is inevitable.

For I, the Lord, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed. -Malachi 3:6

One thing we have learned for certain through our adventure in fostering is that change is coming! From the small things like appointment times to the very children that enter our home, change is always coming. The anxiety of change is felt by all children at some point. While we can’t protect them from the butterflies that come with adjustment, we hold them close and reassure them that our love for them is steadfast. We also have the great opportunity to remind them that their Heavenly Father is unchanging and, because of His faithfulness, they will never be consumed.

God is keenly aware of and sensitive to the needs of our children.

And He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the Saints according to the will of God.  -Romans 8:27

loving-and-letting-go
Loving and Letting Go (c) Carole Sparks, #IntentionalParenting

As mommas we anticipate the needs of our children, but God knows their needs long before we do. He knit them together and knows every beat of their hearts. He wants good for them. Whatever God is calling your family to do, you can be assured that He is sensitive to the emotions and needs of your children, and when they are hurting, He turns a sharp ear toward their cries. The moments when we let go of our shield, we are trusting God to meet every need of our children. Who better to allow to minister to their hearts!

As mothers our instinct to protect is not only natural but God-given. I have found that it’s the moments filled with tears and frustrations which offer the greatest opportunities for God to reveal himself to my children…and to myself.  It is my prayer that God will grant us wisdom to know when to lower our shields, let go of control, and allow God to work in the hearts of our children. Hang in there, Momma!

Guest post at #IntentionalParenting: Loving and letting go of my own children through #fostering. (click to tweet)

 

Didn’t I tell you? Jessica has a beautiful heart, and I’m thankful she shared it with us. Please leave her some love (in the comments below) by responding to what you read. And hang in there!

Priorities

It’s fall break here, and I’m taking some time off this week to actually do some Intentional Parenting, not just write about it. Priorities, you know. See you next week!

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Fall 2016 (c) Carole Sparks

What about you? Doing anything intentionally fun with your kids this month? I’ll still read and respond to your comments, even though I haven’t written.

Seashell Assumptions

broken-shell
sea shell skeleton (c) Carole Sparks

We wandered down the beach in the early light, the first to imprint the sand with our feet that morning. We stopped with almost every step, scanning the sand for seashells. The sand was much further away for me than for my four-year-old. I was selective, only making the effort to bend over if I saw exceptional colors on perfectly formed shells. She wasn’t so selective. “Look at this one, Mama!” she said for the forty-seventh time in ten minutes. More often than not, “this one” was dirt brown and broken, well on its way to becoming sand.

“Oh, throw that one back. It’s not beautiful,” I told her more than once. “Look at this one, how perfect it is, how nice the colors are.”

“But I like it.” She looked a little sad. “It’s interesting. Look how you can see the inside—all the spaces. I think this is beautiful, too.”

An objection formed on my month but didn’t escape my lips. What was I teaching my child by insisting that “beautiful” and “perfect” or “whole” were the same thing? What did that assumption imply about people? Surely, I didn’t think the only beautiful people were those considered whole, attractive, and pristine in the world’s eyes!

I didn’t mean to teach my child that, but I was.

She saw the woman in the wheelchair at the grocery store. She saw the burned man at the next table in the restaurant. She saw the homeless man wandering down the street, talking to himself as I drove past him. I valued such people—ones the world might consider broken—and knew they were loved. I tried to show respect when I could. But such people weren’t part of our everyday experience any more than walks on the beach, so we hadn’t really talked about it. By rejecting the broken shells, I implied that some things (maybe even people) were more valuable than others because of their appearance. I knew I needed to correct myself before my daughter subconsciously acquired my tainted values.

I squatted down beside her and held out my hand to receive the broken shell. She ran down to wash it off in the water before placing it carefully in my palm. It was beautiful: intricate structure and shades of color that revealed a Creator much more clearly than the smooth outer surface of my “perfect” shells ever could, but it also, through its brokenness, told a story, and even though I didn’t know the story, I knew it was a beautiful story.

The Scriptures say we are each woven together in our mothers’ wombs (Psalm 139), that He has plans for each of our lives (Jeremiah 29:11), and that he values us above everything else He created (Matthew 6:25-34). We easily apply these Truths to ourselves but find it more difficult to apply the same standards to others. If I want to live out the Word of God in my own life and as a parent, I must believe these verses are true for every person, regardless of their outward appearance, not just for me as the reader. Then I must intentionally lead my children to believe the same thing.

All of us have prejudices (or at least assumptions). They are part of our sin-tainted worldviews, sometimes buried so deep we don’t even realize they are there. The challenge comes in discovering them because they are so deeply ingrained. With intentional parenting, God calls us to lay bare those assumptions and purge them from our lives and our words before we unwittingly implant them in our children’s minds.

Throw back the broken ones? No, they’re beautiful too, just like people. (click to tweet)

What have you taught your kids without realizing it? What assumptions have colored your conversations so that you had to correct them later? I know I’m not alone in this. Please share!

 

 

 

Respect is a Two-Way Street

We all want—no, expect—our children to respect us. It’s Biblical, right? Both the Old and New Testaments say, “Honor your father and mother” (e.g. Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:2). We are right to expect respect, but no matter how much we quote these verses, no matter how much we stomp our feet and vociferously demand respect, we don’t always get it.

Why not? Well, part of the reason is the sin nature with which both we and our children were born. Part of the reason is our culture and the influences of media, peers, etc. But may I submit something to you? Perhaps another part of the reason our children don’t respect us is because we don’t respect them. Respect is a two-way street.

In Intentional Parenting, we model respect for our own elders and superiors (at work, church, etc.). We also talk about respect, about how honoring others honors God and other associated Biblical concepts, such as “The Golden Rule.” Sometimes, however, we forget to apply those same Biblical concepts within our families as well.

Need some solutions? Here are a few age-appropriate ways to demonstrate respect toward your children. You can expect that respect to be reciprocated.

At Any Age

Follow through on your promises and commitments. If you said you’ll read a book before bed, then read a book. No excuses. If you said, “One more time and you lose [a certain privilege],” then after one more time, they lose that privilege.

This kind of integrity demonstrates that your words to the child actually mean something. When you begin to do what you say you will do, they will start listening.

Young Children

From the first visit to a playground or first playdate, institute a two-minute warning. Two minutes before you need to leave, tell the child he/she has two minutes remaining to play. (We usually tried to give a five-minute warning as well.) This simple warning has helped us avoid so many tantrums! I know because the times we didn’t give a warning were so much more difficult.

When you, as an adult, are busy on a project or in a conversation, you don’t like to be interrupted. Even worse, you don’t want to be forced to stop without warning. I don’t either. Why do we think it’s any easier for our children?

Early Elementary

Allow your children to make as many decisions as possible. Before you correct (or laugh—even worse!), ask yourself if it really matters. Toy storage locations, everyday clothes worn, books to read, interests to pursue…all these are decisions a six-year-old can make. Maybe you prefer the Legos in the bin on the left and the doll clothes in the bin on the right; maybe there are even good reasons for your preference, but as long as there’s no danger, allow your child the choice. That “ownership” in the location of the toys may even help at clean-up time.

Children at this age long for independence, but they have so little. By allowing their decisions to stand, we demonstrate the validity of their choices and affirm the children as independent thinkers. Besides functioning as a confidence builder and sign of respect, this approach will help your children know that when you do object, there’s an important reason.

Middle-Grade Children

Elementary and middle-grade children have so many stories to tell. Let’s be honest, though. Some of them are boring. Long and boring. As parents, we may be tempted to interrupt with something unrelated or jump in and quickly finish the story ourselves. Don’t interrupt. Allow them to finish the stories. (At our house, we have a sign for “make this shorter” when the story gets too long. It helps.) If it’s necessary to interrupt, say “Excuse me,” just like you would if interrupting an adult.

From the time they could speak, we’ve taught our children not to interrupt us. Allowing them the same honor says their experiences are valuable and their family participation is important.

Tweens and Teens

If your child asks you not to show affection in a certain way or say a certain thing in front of his/her friends, don’t do it. Respect their public image. Public displays of affection, pet names, even cheering too loudly may infantilize our teenagers (at least in their own eyes), and it may be fodder for teasing or bullying among their peers. Our teenagers don’t deserve that. Don’t worry, they’ll still enjoy the hugs, pats, and verbal affection in private. Also, refrain from telling embarrassing stories or showing naked baby pictures no matter how cute they are.

Let’s face it; we will embarrass our teenagers. It’s inevitable. But our efforts to minimize the embarrassment demonstrate our respect for their increased maturity. That respect will surely be reciprocated.

Reciprocate Respect

The world says respect is earned, not given. Contrary to the world, however, the Bible says every person—regardless of position or power—is a unique creation of God Most High (Psalm 139, for example). We begin there: every person deserves respect. This is not a burden to lay on our children (that they should respect us) but a principle to lay under our interactions with our children (that they are worthy of respect). At the same time, however, we parents should live lives worthy of our children’s respect. That’s just a given. We clear the way for respectful responses when we demonstrate respect in our interactions with them. Respect is a two-way street.

Respect your children at every age and you can expect respect from them-5 ideas. (click to tweet)

I thought about sharing stories of parents carrying their children from the playground in the middle of a temper tantrum, but let’s not do that. Instead, use the comments below to share some positive stories of reciprocated respect. Let us hear from you!

respect-2-way-street
Rainy road (c) Carole Sparks

3 Approaches to Allowance

I have some really practical Intentional Parenting thoughts for you today about our children’s allowances. There are a few different approaches we’ll look at, and I’ll let you know why we chose the one we did.

There are three broad approaches to allowances. (I’m making up these categories.)

  1. The Beneficent Ruler approach
  2. The Employer/Employee approach
  3. The Citizenship approach

The Beneficent Ruler Approach

In this approach, there are no allowances. The parent buys the child what he wants. While it feels generous, this approach is subject to the mood of the parent, who might choose not to buy a new toy because she is angry with the child or in a hurry. The parent may also be tempted to bribe the child in order to influence the child’s behavior in the store. Furthermore, as the child grows, his expectations will become more and more expensive, creating problems for the parent who will inevitably have to start saying “no.”

I don’t recommend this approach after the child learns to count money. In addition to the issues above, the child will not learn the value of money or how to save it. He also won’t understand why some shopping trips result in toys and others don’t.

No matter which of the next two approaches you take, an allowance is a good idea. It helps your children learn how to manage money and how to save for things they really want. I am so thankful my mother taught me how to spend and save money. I’m fairly sure it’s that experience which has helped my own family stay out of credit card debt!

The Employer/Employee Approach

In this method, parents pay children for the completion of chores. Although we don’t use this approach, I have friends who do, and there are some benefits to it. Children learn the value of their work—that effort has rewards. Parents sometimes quantify purchases, saying things like, “That book costs five dishwashings.” This can be helpful for children who don’t grasp the concept of paper money and coins yet. Children will also have incentive to do their chores because of the reward, and the punishment for incomplete chores is built into the system.

The Biblical basis for this approach comes from verses like 2 Thessalonians 3:10.

For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

The Citizenship Approach

In this method, all members of the family possess certain rights and responsibilities inherent to their positions as family members. Members have the right to an allowance, that is, to a small amount of money that can be used at one’s discretion. They also have a right to be heard and to provide input into big decisions (financial and otherwise). At the same time, family members have certain responsibilities simply because they are part of the family. Parents go to work or work from home, children go to school, parents drive places, parents buy groceries, children obey parents as governing authorities, etc. Everyone does household and yard chores appropriate for their ages and strengths.

Even if you don’t do your chores all week, even if you get disciplined every day, you still get your allowance (unless part of your discipline is the loss of that allowance, which we’ve never done).

I prefer this approach because it’s not really about the money. It’s about the family and each person’s permanent place in it. Through it, we teach our children about our (and therefore God’s) everlasting love and generosity but also our response of obedience. We fulfill our duties because we’re part of the family, not because we get something for it. We receive an allowance because we’re part of the same family and not because we did something to deserve it. Sure, it makes chore completion more of a hassle, but I think it’s worth it.

The Citizenship approach refers to our citizenship in the Kingdom of God. The Biblical foundation for this approach comes from verses such as this:

Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. -Romans 8:17

Details

Just a couple of details, if you’re interested.

  • Each person’s allowance (including parents) is half their age. So the 10-year-old gets $5/week. (We might have to change this in the later teenage years, but it’s working for now.) This helps us modify amounts as the kids get older. Because we parents get an allowance, too, the children watch us go through the same waiting times and decisions as they experience. They don’t think we can just buy anything we want because we have the ATM cards.
  • We give occasional advances if there’s a good purchase that probably won’t be available later. We are faithful, however, to ensure that it’s repaid. Learning about debt is part of the experience.
  • The children tithe on their allowance, as practice and as an act of worship.

3 Approaches to Allowance for Intentional Parenting. (click to tweet)

What about your experience as a child or as a parent? Please share some good allowance strategies or ideas in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!

Reflections on Sunday School Songs: The Wise Man and the Foolish Man

beach storm
beach storm (c) Carole Sparks

Just as I went to bed one night last week, it started storming. Thunder rattled the windows and rain battered the roof. Did I lie awake in bed, worrying about the effects of the storm? Did I think my house might go splat? No. In fact, I probably went to sleep faster because the sound of rain relaxes me. I have the freedom to relax in a storm because I know my house is solid and the weatherproofing on my windows is strong.

Jesus knew what a big storm feels like. We have documentation of his presence in a couple of storms (e.g. Matthew 8), and I imagine he lived through many others before His ministry became public. Jesus had this fantastic ability to take the everyday “stuff of life” and use it to instruct his listeners…and us. That’s what He did with the storm. Toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave us a parable (which is an analogy or word picture presented as a short story) to help us understand the importance of His teachings (Matthew 7:24-27/Luke 6:46-49). Many, many years later, someone (we’re not sure who) created this children’s song about it. Let’s dig into the parable and song for a minute to see what parents can take away from what’s seemingly “just” a children’s song.

wise man, foolish man
car window on a rainy day (c) Carole Sparks
The wise man built his house upon the rock
The wise man built his house upon the rock
The wise man built his house upon the rock
And the rain came tumbling down

The rain came down and the flood came up
The rain came down and the flood came up
The rain came down and the flood came up
But the house on the rock stood firm

The foolish man built his house upon the sand

And the rain came tumbling down

The rain came down and the flood came up

And the house on the stand went SPLAT!

We can assume these two men are equally dedicated to their task, using quality materials and excellent craftsmanship. We can assume they equally desire to protect and comfort their families.

What’s the difference between them? Below the foundations of their homes, they have different substrata. It wouldn’t even be apparent at first. Both families move in. Both families throw housewarming parties. But at some point, a huge storm comes. As the rain beats against the windows and the shutters creak in the wind, one house hangs on…possibly a bit worse-for-wear, maybe a few shingles missing and a cracked window pane, but still solid. The other house? Well, it goes SPLAT!

The parallel is hard to miss. The conviction needs little explanation. What’s under your family?

flash flood
flash flood 2015 (c) Carole Sparks

It doesn’t matter how much effort you put into parenting if your foundational faith system is misplaced. Think how much time and money the foolish man wasted because he built in the wrong place, on the wrong soil. Your family may look good and function well for a while, but eventually—when the inevitable difficulties arise (a.k.a. storms)—your Pinterest-worthy family structure will crumble. You can provide your own examples. I know you’ve seen it happen.

On the other hand, parents who rely primarily on God’s direction (through His Word) will weather the difficulties and stand tall against the storms. They may have to fight, and they may come out with some scars (Trust me, I know.), but they survive intact. Not because they are better than the other families but because they located their family structure on the One and Only Solid Rock.

A simple song reminds us to reevaluate the assumptions that underlie our family culture. (click to tweet)

Maybe you didn’t start your family on the Solid Rock. Maybe shifting sand better characterizes your first years of marriage and/or parenting. There’s good news: it’s not too late! Like those big trucks that come in and move existing houses to new locations, your family can resettle. It’s painful and might require some major upheaval, but it’s possible. I know a family who did it well!

This admonition from Jesus is certainly for all believers, but there’s a similar warning just for women.

The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down. -Proverbs 14:1

Two random things in my mind now:

  1. “The Three Little Pigs.” Anyone else reminded of them? No? Hmm… Might be a good lead-in to a discussion of this parable with your children.
  2. My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less by Edward Mote, is a “grown up” hymn based on the same parable. It’s one of the best!

Want to share your story? Please leave your response in the comments!

Attribution: unknown, public domain

wise man foolish man score

Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Deep and Wide

Zacchaeus

Jesus Loves the Little Children

I’ve Got the Joy

Still to come:

  • Father Abraham
  • My God is So Big