23. Keep your promises. A promise is a powerful thing. I hate to break a promise. I have and it hurts. Why is breaking a promise so painful? When you make a promise, you give away a part of yourself. Something as simple as “I will be there at 3 o’clock to pick you up” gives a part of yourself to another person. And something as serious as “I promise to love you for the rest of our lives” gives yourself completely to another person. That is why divorce is so painful. In marriage, you are giving yourself to another person. In divorce, you have lost something you will never get back. You have lost a part of yourself. God’s intention in marriage is to give yourselves away to each other and to never get it back. Keep your promise.
In a family setting, our words are powerful instruments for good or evil, hurt or encouragement. We make promises with our words. Promises carry a power with children that must be handled carefully. We don’t make flippant promises. We don’t casually change the conditions of a promise. Children don’t understand the work pressures or fatigue that tempt you to break a promise. A promise kept builds trust and respect.
Our house is not a democracy and neither is yours. Rhonda and I are in charge and the kids have to listen. But we will never be effective teachers and role models in the lives of our children based on the authoritarian approach alone. We can make them listen; but we can’t make them accept and understand. Our effectiveness as a teacher with our children is based on a trust relationship that takes huge strides forward when we keep our promises.
22. A healthy diet. Let me join the bandwagon for healthy eating. You know it is the right thing to do. Rhonda and I were both raised on a midwestern diet of meat and potatoes with ample sides of sugar and butter. Nothing nefarious on the part of our parents. It just came naturally in a farming community in the 1960s. A particular feature of our diet was a breakfast of donuts or cereal. (I still can’t believe that I put 2 tablespoons of sugar on my Cheerios as a kid. Again, just a sign of the times.)
By the time our own kids came along, books like Feed Me, I’m Yours! began to open doors to healthy eating for children. Along the way, we made the correlation between large doses of cereal for breakfast, for example, and sluggishness in the morning’s school work. We noticed a connection between irritability and too much sugar consumption. These were not hypothetical situations or some author’s opinion; we lived it!
It is not always convenient to make the healthy choices. But let me encourage you. Take the time to feed your kids and yourself properly. A poor diet can lead to an overall grumpy feeling. And no one feels good about themselves when they are grumpy. The type of fuel we choose to put into our body makes a difference. Make it a family goal to up the fruit and vegetable content of your day’s food intake and see if you all feel the benefits.
21. A healthy amount of sleep. This was a specific issue at our house because both Rhonda and I are night people. But our night owl approach was not a good fit for our kids. We became more sensitive to sleep issues when we made the connection between lack of sleep and some of the negative attitudes in our home.
Children often see bedtime as a rights issue, arguing to stay up longer as a function of their age. Or parents sometimes use bedtime as a punishment platform sending ornery kids to bed early. We tried to focus on bedtime as a health issue. We stressed that we all feel better physically and emotionally when we get enough sleep.
I also caution parents in regard to the health side of good sleep, that adolescents need to get their sleep. Just at the time they feel like they can burn the candle at both ends, in reality, they need an appropriate amount of sleep to fuel their growth spurt. Making sleep a health issue instead of a rights or punishment issue can take some of the wind out of their argumentative sails.
As an aside and a “shout out” to our Alaskan friends, I blame spending the early years of our marriage in Alaska as the cause of all our sleep dysfunction. When it doesn’t get dark in the summer, our biorhythms are thrown way out of whack. We would find ourselves working in the garden on a summer’s evening and wonder why the kids were dragging their feet only to realize it was 11:00 PM and still daylight. Or I wondered why no one else was mowing their yard on a particularly nice evening until I noticed it was 10:30 PM and they were probably in bed and wishing I was as well. You might think we could make up for our lost sleep in the winter, but by then we were going to work in the dark and coming home from work in the dark and working for employers who couldn’t care less about our biorhythms.
In short, we will parent best and our children will handle their many stages of growth best when we value our sleep.
20. Follow a family schedule that reduces fatigue and time pressure. On the printed page, margin is the space between the print and the edge of the paper. In life, margin is the space between our activity level and our limits. When our activities and responsibilities exceed our time, energy, and financial limits, life suffers. In particular, the relational life that God intended suffers the most.
A constant diet of busyness and entertainment limits the development of self-confidence and imagination in our kids. It also squeezes out the margin we need to help our children interpret life. When they hear something confusing from a teacher, a friend, or whomever, we need to have the time on hand to help them process these thoughts and make sense of what they are learning.
At our house, we found the evening meal was a good time to put some margin back into our lives. We jealously guarded this time to spend together. This included time to talk about the day in ways that built up our relationship with our kids. And we fought the temptation to just squeeze dinner in before rushing off to the next event. In a family setting, we need time to take advantage of the “teachable moments” we have with our kids. And time for just being there.
Having margin in our lives is also a lesson to our kids about living the broader Christian life. Margin equals availability to serve, to love those God brings into our lives. Because God’s commands are generally not schedulable, we must have time availability to carry them out. Think about some of the things God has asked us to do. Go with someone the second mile. Carry one another’s burdens. Give witness to the truth at any opportunity. Practice the “one anothers” that make us a vibrant community of faith. They can only happen when we have time to make a difference.
19. Encourage friendships of high character. “He who walks with wise men will be wise. But the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov 13:20). One of our continuing prayers for our children is that they would find and connect with quality friends. We were created for community and friendships are community in action.
We stressed several ideas in teaching our children about making friends. We first explained that they already had a network of close relationships in their siblings. Getting along with their brothers and sisters became a defining criteria if they were going to be allowed to invite new friends over. Developing affirming relationships within your family teaches what true friendship is – loyalty in good times and bad.
We also emphasized the importance of reaching out to be a friend, rather than assuming friendships would just naturally come our way. Sometimes we assume that just by showing up, friendships will be developed. We taught our children to recognize and make the effort necessary to invest in the people they were getting to know.
On the warning side, we taught our kids to beware of fickle friends and to recognize sincerity in potential friendships. We also talked about the balance between being friendly, but also being wary of character issues. The Bible says, “Do not associate with a man given to anger, or go with a hot-tempered man. Or you will learn his ways, and find a snare for yourself” (Prov 22:24-25).
As with most things parenting, the book of Proverbs became an invaluable resource for teaching our children about friendships. In addition, we also explored the “one another” commands of the New Testament for real life encouragement on how to treat our friends in light of what God has done for us.