The next two categories in the “Children” section are Join them in their interests and Join you in your interests. As my friend Greg Despres says, “Kids spell love T-I-M-E.” Join your son in a Lego building project. Join your daughters in a tea party. When you see your teenager shooting hoops, go out and challenge him to a game of HORSE. You may be thinking, “I haven’t developed that kind of relationship. I don’t think my son would want me to join him.” It is never too late to start. Persist in joining your kids in their interests, but persist in a way that is winsome and inviting.
But this is not only about the children’s interests. Have them join you in your interests. Include your kids in the things you like to do. It teaches them new skills. It teaches them to cooperate with you as not all of the time decisions revolve around their interests.
Even when it would be easier to just do it yourself, find the situations where they can be included. Take you kids along on your errands to the Home Depot. Take them fishing even it they are afraid to touch the worms. Have them help you in the garden. Teach your grade-schooler to play chess. In short, include them in your interests.
Last Thanksgiving, I asked our kids and grandkids that were joining us for the holiday to bring some work clothes along. Wednesday evening, I announced our Thanksgiving schedule, “We will start with two hours of clearing dead wood in the forest behind our house.” We had taken down some trees lost in the previous summer’s drought and I needed some help cutting them up and getting them to the burn pile. And since a chain saw is my favorite tool, they were definitely joining me in my interest. (See photo.) Of course, the reward for their effort was a complete Thanksgiving dinner and the honor of beating their mom and dad in a game of Trivial Pursuit.
What I am trying to say is that it works both ways. We make a great investment in our children when we join them in their interests and, likewise, have them join us in ours.
The next topic on the “Children” part of our diagram is Life Skills.
What do I mean by “Life Skills”? Basically, the whole range of what children need to know to function as independent adults in this world. Everything from brushing their teeth to learning to drive a car. From setting the table to moving the lawn. From developing positive character qualities to learning how to sort their laundry. The list, if one existed, could go on to infinity. But wait! There is a list and it is located here. This one page summary (taken from the Teaching Home magazine and edited by us over the years) is a good starting point.
Many of these skills will be learned by repetition or just “catching on” as we live out our family life. But several of these ideas will need intentional direction, will need specific instruction. And it was a help to us to have something like this in front of us with the basics to be covered. Now the list is not meant to be exhaustive or overwhelming. You have about 18 years to get it done. It is also not designed to be one more big job on your part as a parent. They are simply ideas that we work into the natural ebb and flow of our family.
For example, when we wanted to teach our children how to prepare dinner, we instituted a plan to have one child pick the evening meal once a week and help Rhonda put it together. It was a great time of Mom and child interaction and learning. It taught some basic skills we wanted to get across. But we did not feel compelled to take this good idea to a limit of wearing it out. We probably did this for six months or so and then went on to something else. (Cleaning up after dinner and doing the dishes, on the other hand, was a lifetime job that we shared around as long as someone was in the house.)
In a Christian home, there should be the appropriate focus on spiritual training. But I have observed too many times a lack of focus on life skills. It is as if parents are thinking that if we ignore the world, or insulate our kids from the world, maybe its adult demands will go away. Career preparation (girls included) and learning how to maneuver in this world are not secular activities to avoid, but opportunities to teach our children how a Christ-follower navigates the adult world.
You will do your children a great service by thinking through and putting into practice a plan to teach them “Life Skills”.
Several years ago, when our children were small and we were just beginning this parenting journey, I came across this quote from Charles Swindoll, “Building the relationship is more important than rules of control.” With plenty of need for “rules of control” in a family of seven, I had to mull this idea over for a minute or two. I concluded at the time that maybe the need for a relationship was as necessary as the need for rules, but surely not more important. But I was wrong.
As life with a growing family evolved, I came to agree wholeheartedly with Dr. Swindoll. Building a relationship is more important than rules of control. Rules are of course necessary. But over time, rules will change. Rules will slowly lighten up as the kids get older. And eventually, rules will go away and those rules we were so focused on will become irrelevant as our adult children leave home.
But the relationship? It lasts a lifetime. And it starts with assuring your children that you love them. It says to your kids, “I love you, I love you, I love you. I will always love you. You cannot do anything that would cause me to withhold my love.” Does this love need to be balanced with control? Sure. Our kids need to know that we are in charge. That we are the adults. That we know what is best for them. But that control needs to be wrapped in a giant dose of warmth and love that is palpable to our children.
I have observed that when building a relationship is paramount, something very interesting happens in the mind of a child regarding the rules. Rules are no longer rules for rules sake. Rules are no longer part of the power struggle for control. Instead, the rules just become a natural part of our family identity, woven into the fabric of this is who the Lehmans are. Rather than points of contention, the rules become part of what makes us who we are, part of what brings us together as a unified family.
Let me encourage you as you gather with your family this Christmas. Celebrate and build on the relationship you have with your children. If this connection has been lacking in your family, Christmas can be more of a challenge than a joy. But don’t live in the past. Make the effort to restore, build up, and embrace all the relationships in your family. Affirm the strengths that each one brings to the mix in your family. And celebrate Jesus, the One who redeems the challenges of our past and empowers us to walk in the newness of His life in us. Merry Christmas.