Everybody Join In

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.”  Bethany with ChainsawWe 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.

Teaching Life Skills

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”.

Building the Relationship

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.

Family Worship

The first investment on our chart regarding our kids is spiritual training.  For our family, this started with reading the Bible and praying together.  When our children were young, we usually read a Bible story at bedtime.  Over the years, our Bible reading and prayer time varied from around the dinner table to early evening to early morning before Dad went to work.  The important part was not the when or how, but the consistency; making the time for family worship in our busy schedules.

The consistency your kids see in your effort elevates God’s Word in their minds.  They see that this connecting to God through our praise, His Word, and prayer is important enough to Mom and Dad to make it a priority.  Besides sticking with the plan, there are also important considerations for making the time interesting and inviting to your kids.

One of the best ways to keep our kids connected to the goal is through variety.  We not only varied the times of day over the years, but varied the approach to make things age-appropriate.  As I mentioned, we started small with Bible story books like The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes.  In the early elementary years we graduated to Leading Little Ones to God, an excellent book for explaining big topics about God in ways that children can understand.  These are just two we used.  There are many other great resources out there.

Eventually we reached a point where we read through the entire Bible in one year.  If you are wondering how we made it though all 1189 chapters of the Bible with five kids in tow in such a short time, I will let you in on a little secret (just don’t tell anyone else…shhh), “we did not read every word”.  I know that this a difficult concept for you 100 percenters to grasp, but it is OK.  In fact, I think it is the preferred approach when working with kids.

We found a reading plan in one of our kids The New Student Bible (NIV) that included 190 chapters of the Bible.  These chapters, at least one from every book of the Bible, taken together provided a grand picture of the over-arching story of God’s Word.  It was a great way to get our kids into the main ideas of Scripture without getting lost in details that could be fit into the picture when they were older.

As we took turns reading each chapter, one of the kids would take notes on the main points in the chapter, and record those in our big red notebook.  At the end of each chapter’s reading, we would choose a key to the chapter; a five to ten word phrase that summarized the Scripture passage.  This became an additional learning tool as the kids paid close attention to the reading so they could contribute to the key.

Let me emphasize, there is a huge difference between entertaining kids and making things interesting.  The former is unnecessary and only detracts from the goal.  We always stayed focused on the Bible and its message.  But we were highly motivated on the latter; making things interesting.  When we acknowledge and work with the differences in our kids ages and learning styles and personalities, we are willing to do the work to make our family devotions a point of unity and connection not a drudgery.  In too many situations where very little thought is put into the effort, we see kids experience, “You will know the truth and the truth will make you bored.”

Please hear me, this is not about wham bam entertaining.  This is simply paying attention to how best to connect your family to what God wants to teach us through His Word and our prayers.  And one of the best ways to enhance our teaching is to build a relationship with your child.  That will be our topic next time.

Making the Investment

Let’s now turn our attention to the right side of our diagram, the “Children” area.

children-drawingWe have already acknowledged that our new responsibility of children will squeeze our other priorities.  But what do we do with the time we dedicate to our kids?  One thing I emphasize with fathers is that this time with our children is not babysitting or childcare.  It is investing.  It is investing in their future and our legacy.

There is a verse in the New Testament that gives us great motivation and instruction in what that investment looks like.  Ephesians 6:4 encourages us with, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  Paul starts with the relationship angle, “Do not provoke your children to anger.”  I think this is intentional.  The relationship is critical.  Without the relationship, all of your instruction, all of your character training goes right out the window.

Let’s take it a step deeper by including some of the key Greek words in the text.  “And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up (έκτρέφετε) in the discipline (παιδεία) and instruction (νουθεσία) of the Lord.”

  • EKTREPHO translated “bring up” means “to nourish or feed
  • PAIDEIA translated “discipline” means “training that regulates character
  • NOUTHESIA translated “instruction” means “putting in the mind

So an expanded or amplified version of Ephesians 6:4 might read like this, “Fathers, do not provoke, antagonize, or exasperate your children to the point of harming the relationship.  Instead, nourish them by establishing a training program that puts into their minds the ways and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Our training goal is two-fold.  The top line, “do not provoke”, is about establishing a relationship.  Your positive influence in the life of your child is almost always directly proportional to your relationship.  The bottom line, “instruction”, is about establishing a training program that puts the ways and knowledge of our Lord into the minds of our children.  Both lines are important.  The top line starts with a sincere interest in getting to know your children.  The bottom line starts with examining God’s Word together as a family in a pattern that is regular, planned, everyone involved, and parent-led.

We will look at some specifics of what that spiritual training looks like next time.