29 Ways to Affirm Your Children – #30

Surprise!  We came up with number thirty so that all you even number types could finish the series with a sense of closure.  Enjoy and thanks for joining us.

30.  Build family unity.  I am not so sure if this is another affirmation suggestion or actually more the result of practicing the previous twenty-nine.  Here are some practical steps to build family unity.  Pray together.  Practice good communication.  Teach your kids to share.  Stay involved.  Say “yes” as often as you can.  Have a plan.  (We are more likely to say “no” out of convenience when we don’t have a plan.)  Have everyone contribute to mundane jobs.   Affirm, affirm, affirm.   Agree on a schedule that reduces fatigue and time pressure.  Nip sibling rivalry.  Ask the older kids to sacrifice for the younger ones.  Assign your older kids the role of pacesetter, setting the example of behavior for their younger siblings.  Read the Bible together.  Eat your meals together – great conversation opportunities.  Share the experience of carrying out life’s duties together.  Teach your children how to compensate and compete.  Celebrate life.

As I have said before, these affirmation ideas are not just another “to-do” list to add to your already overworked schedule.  They are a way of doing life together.  They are a way of relating to each other in your home.  They are not an added burden, but a natural flow of intentional choices to relate to each other in affirming ways.

As the movie Toy Story 2 opens, Rex the toy dinosaur is once again defeated by the evil Zurg in a video game (due to the fact that his arms are too short to jump and fire at the same time).  However, Rex eventually gets his revenge when, later in the movie, he accidentally knocks Zurg and his ion blaster down an elevator shaft with his tail, saving Buzz from certain ruin.  Rex proudly proclaims, “I did it!  I finally defeated Zurg!”  Later, back at Andy’s house, Hamm requests Rex’s assistance with the video game.  Rex, fresh off his defeat of Zurg, responds, “I don’t need to play the game, I LIVED IT!”

May that be your family’s exclamation as well.  These ideas were not just good theory.  These ideas were not put on the shelf waiting for the kids to get older.  These ideas were not lost to laziness or procrastination or busyness.  One of your greatest antidotes to being left with a house full of regret when your children move on is to take action now.  Then your whole family can look back together and say, “WE LIVED IT!”

29 Ways to Affirm Your Children – #29

29.  Develop a healthy pride in being part of something bigger than themselves.                      A group of tourists went to visit a marble quarry in western Vermont.  As their tour progressed around the quarry, one of the visitors called out to a jack hammer-wielding worker below, “What are you doing down there?”  The worker snarled back, “I’m cutting this stupid rock into a square!”  Seeing another worker who appeared to be doing the same thing, the visitor called out to him, “What are you doing?”  The second worker, obviously happy in his work, called back, “I’m on a team building a cathedral!”

When we view family life through the eyes of the first worker, we are just a group of people living under the same roof.  Your contribution to the effort may go unnoticed in the busyness of day to day activities.  Conversely, you may not acknowledge the contribution of others to the family’s well-being.  In short, we are just cutting rocks into squares.

But when we embrace family life through the eyes of the second worker, our family becomes a team that is building a cathedral.  Each one in the family has a contribution to make.  Our job as Mom and Dad is to require a contribution, recognize the contribution, and celebrate the contribution.  Part of developing an affirming family is getting your kids on your team.  If we require them to join the team with all responsibility and no celebration, family life becomes defined by rules; cold and rigid.  When we celebrate and reward without responsibility, we fail our kids.  We haven’t taught them the value of self-discipline, loyalty, and service.

Building a family team requires balance.  A balance of responsibility and celebration.  A balance of love and control.  A balance of truth and grace.  And as we live into that balance, we prepare our children to join an even bigger team than just our family.  We prepare them to join God’s team, to explore God’s work in this world, and to discover the mission He has for them.  And they become part of something bigger than themselves; the greatest mission in the world.

29 Ways to Affirm Your Children – #28

28.  Celebrate life.  When we celebrate life, our Christian experience becomes characterized by joy, not by the disappointments this earthly life has to offer.  Financial stress, physical setbacks, fickle friends, difficult schoolwork, etc. bring plenty of challenges to adults and children alike.  In short, left to itself, this world is not an affirming place.  We need to be the affirmers.  Our children may reject that affirmation.  But, in general, people run to where they are affirmed.

One of the keys to raising the joy factor in our homes is to celebrate the small victories.  This is particularly true in the area of training our children.  Our joy as a family is centered on the relationships God has given us with our children, not only on the outcomes and results.  If we wait to celebrate until our kids are perfect, we will miss so much.  (And we will never get to the celebration!)  If we wait to celebrate until the final goal is accomplished, we will miss the small victories along the way.  Celebrate early and often the steps to maturity you see in your children.

We made a commitment early in our home life to not let “little victories go by with no applause” – to borrow a phrase from Wayne Watson’s Watercolor Ponies.  We made a commitment in our marriage, in our ministry, in our friendships, and in our family life to find joy in the journey, celebration in the pathway.  When all our focus is on the finish line, we spend a lot of time waiting, worrying, longing for change to come.  When our focus is on the journey, we not only find joy along the way, but we are also tuned into how to make the path straighter and harness the lessons learned along the way.

One evening, several years ago, we announced to our children that Mom and Dad had come up with a motto for the summer.  “Every day a holiday, every meal a banquet, and every night a party!”  The kids looked at each other in shock and so as not to miss this golden opportunity, they quickly asked, “Are you sure?”  I said it sounded great to me with school out for the summer and as long as we got our chores done, I think it would be fun.  There is always a way to add intrigue to daily life.

So what did we do that summer?  We probably added some unusual touches to our meals; an appetizer or a special dessert.  Rhonda and the kids did more spontaneous activities during the day.  We might have bought a season family pass to Astroworld.  We probably went to TCBY for a treat a few more evenings than usual.  And a party is pretty easy to create as long as any size party will do.  In short, we did some special things that summer, but nothing outlandish and we didn’t let the expectations go beyond reasonable.  I will say the general attitude around the house made it seem like a three month long celebration and the “hype” left a mark of joy that we still talk about today.

29 Ways to Affirm Your Children – #27

27.  Teach your children to serve others.  One of the inherent dangers of all these affirming efforts is an unhealthy pride that can infiltrate your family.  How do we tell our children they are special without puffing them up?  How do we affirm our kids, but not spoil or coddle them?  How do we teach “everyone makes mistakes” while at the same time expecting them to improve and do their best in every endeavor?  Welcome to the balancing act called parenting.

So much of our parenting wisdom goes into finding the balance between love and control, between fairness and generosity, between reward and punishment, between activity and margin, between giving an allowance and making our children to earn their money.  And finally, today’s topic:  the balance between affirmation and an attitude of humility.

The answer is not to lessen the affirmation.  The answer is to raise the humility.  And we do this by teaching our children the importance of love and the service that flows from it.  Love one another is the greatest commandment of the New Testament.  In the book of I Corinthians – specifically chapter 13 – we learn that love trumps knowledge, love supersedes our gifts and giftedness, and love is even greater than faith itself.  Love is the answer to pride, strife, envy, and disharmony in both the home and the church.

Teaching our children that love trumps knowledge, gifts, and faith is not only biblical, but practical as well in preparing them for the mission in life that God has for them.  Our son, Josh, was not taken aback by the decadence in the residence halls of the secular university he attended known for its art and music programs.  He had been taught that all people are worthy of our love and this helped him overcome the fear of such an in-your-face experience.  He and his wife, Erica, are now teaching their children what serving out of love looks like.  Our daughter, Elizabeth, befriended her manager at her first job in Boston.  He is a gay man who is curious why Elizabeth is the first professing Christian he has known who was not mad at him.  Our daughter, Annie, and son-in-law, Matthew, moved their family to Burkina Faso, West Africa to follow a specific mission God has for them.  Their desire to serve their new neighbors, motivated by love, was stronger than their fear of sickness and loneliness.  Our daughter, Bethany, walked through the contaminated and flooded streets of India aware of her natural phobia of germs, but overcame her fear by the love she had for the destitute, dying and demented she was going to serve.  Our son, Joe, served as a counselor to incoming freshmen at Texas A&M, overcoming his inclination to shyness by love for the new students and a desire to give back as he had been blessed by his Impact experience.

I am not sharing these things to build up our own family.  I am trying to make the point that when you teach your children that all people are loved by God and worthy of our love, it prepares them for the path God has for them in their adult life.  “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Gal 5:13).

29 Ways to Affirm Your Children – #26

26.  Reward effort, not results.  Early in his navy career, former President Jimmy Carter applied for service in the U. S. Navy’s nuclear submarine program.  Here is his account of his interview with Admiral Hyman Rickover, head of the program at the time:

It was the first time I met Admiral Rickover, and we sat in a large room by ourselves for more than two hours, and he let me choose any subjects I wished to discuss.  Very carefully, I chose those about which I knew most at the time – current events, seamanship, music, literature, naval tactics, electronics, gunnery – and he began to ask me a series of questions of increasing difficulty.  In each instance, he soon proved that I knew relatively little about the subject I had chosen.  He always looked right into my eyes, and he never smiled.  I was saturated with cold sweat.  Finally, he asked a question and I thought I could redeem myself.  He said, “How did you stand in your class at the Naval Academy?”  Since I had completed my sophomore year at Georgia Tech before entering Annapolis as a plebe, I had done very well, and I swelled my chest with pride and answered, “Sir, I stood fifty-ninth in a class of 820!”  I sat back to wait for the congratulations – which never came.  Instead the question:  “Did you do your best?”  I started to say, “Yes, sir,” but I remembered who this was and recalled several of the many times at the Academy when I could have learned more about our allies, our enemies, weapons, strategy, and so forth.  I was just human.  I finally gulped and said, “No, sir, I didn’t always do my best.”  He looked at me for a long time, and then turned his chair around to end the interview.  He asked one final question, which I have never been able to forget – or to answer.  He said, “Why not?”  I sat there for awhile, shaken, and then slowly left the room.

That question became the thought-starter for President Carter’s autobiography, Why Not the Best?, and is a question I have asked myself many times.  I have also posed its positive form to our kids on several occasions, “Did you do your best?”  Not every child is a straight A student, but every child can give their best effort.  Not every child is a stellar athlete or musician, but they all can give their best.  Reward them for their effort.

One of the reasons we rewarded effort over results at our house was because the results are often outside our control.  This is a lesson I have learned in life many times over.  When I worked for a large oil company, I had a particular good year and received a top level performance review.  It also happened to be a year when the oil industry in general was in a downturn and my excellent performance translated into a minimal pay raise, not the results I had hoped for based on my efforts.  But the macro-economics of the situation were outside my control.

Our children face the same challenge.  Our son, Joseph, was a pitcher on his high school baseball team.  He was very accurate and did a good job of keeping the ball down in the strike zone.  But every once in awhile, a good hitter would drive one of his pitches over the fence.  I told Joe many times, “Your job is to keep the ball low or on the corners which you do extremely well.  The pitch location is all you can control.  You have no control over how good the hitter is or how hard they hit the ball.”

Reward your children for what they can control, for what they give their best effort to.  This fits the reward we will each receive from our heavenly Father.  “Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor” (I Cor 3:8).