How Family Devotions Are Like Family Meals

** The following article was copied from gospelcenteredfamily.com.

Family devotions are times “when family members come together for spiritual encouragement.” Patrick Kavanaugh, now retired director of the Christian Performing Arts Fellowship made this observation nearly 15 years ago in a little book titled Raising Children to Adore God. I encountered the book in 2007, just after our second daughter was born. Around that time, I also began my first full-time ministry job—working with kids. As a young dad and minister, Kavanaugh captured my imagination. He compared having family devotions to sitting down for a meal. Here’s what he wrote:

Obviously, a family meal is a time when the members of a given family eat together. Notice the many thousands of possible variations in a family meal. To begin with, the food will presumably vary day to day. The meal may be a massive Thanksgiving feast or it may be a quick bite. Someone in the family may not be present. At other times, friends or relatives may join in. Still other times will find a family at a restaurant or relaxing around a campfire. The only two factors that a family meal must contain are: (1) members of a family and (2) food. Everything else is quite flexible. So it is with a family devotional.

Kavanaugh’s parallel of eating together with practicing family worship rings true to me. I’d say the analogy is distinctly biblical. God wants us to nourish our faith just as we nourish our bodies. When God rescued Israel from Egypt, he gave them laws, ceremonies, and sacrifices to help them remember his great rescue. At the heart of this instruction was a meal.

“Family devotions are times when family members come together for spiritual encouragement. ”

When you read Exodus 12:26-27, it’s clear God expected families to recline around the Passover table together. The kids are there asking, “What is the lamb for, daddy? Why are we eating these bitter herbs and matzo?” God tells the Hebrew moms and dads to stand ready with the salvation tale on their lips (Exod. 12:27). This connection between physical and spiritual nourishment doesn’t end with the Passover festival. It’s likely Moses had in mind reclining to eat a meal when he told Israelite parents to teach while the family sat together at home (Deut. 6:7).

  1. Our families need regular spiritual meals. We all need to eat. If we’re going to feed our kids’ souls as well as their bodies, we must make regular times of family teaching a priority. This will look different in each family, because family schedules are as different as the families who set them. Some parents will pray and read the Bible with their kids each night. Others will have family devotions around the table—during the family meal. In other families, a parent will meet with their children individually to teach the Bible one on one. Whatever the format, consistency is key. It’s better to gather the family once per week than to exasperate your kids with failed attempts to meet every day. Young children respond best to a planned routine—something like Taco Tuesday that they can count on and look forward to.
  2. Meals are made for families, not families for meals. While family devotions should be regular, they should also fit your family’s life and personality. Some families will have an hour or two to sit down, read and reflect on a psalm, memorize a catechism question, and sing a hymn every week. But for most of us, that kind of feast is rare. I’m thankful the Bible’s vision for training our kids includes teaching them “along the road” (Deut. 6:7). The most consistent part of teaching my own kids has been the practice of quick prayers while we’re waiting in the carpool line or singing along (sometimes loud and silly!) to Seeds Family Worship and PROOF Pirates while we drive down the highway on a road trip.
  3. Make sure it’s digestible. The Bible gives us a developmental vision for growing up in faith. Christians move progressively from basic things to deeper truth—from milk to solid food (Heb. 5:12-14; 1 Cor. 3:2). It’s especially important to remember this when teaching young children. Two and three-year-olds typically have an attention span of two to three minutes. Their vocabulary is limited to 200 to 1500 total words. Like a parent cutting up their child’s food into digestible chunks, it’s important to help our youngest kids learn a beginning vocabulary of faith—basic Bible words like sin, promise, prayer, and the name of Jesus—before moving to more abstract concepts like forgiveness. Many Bible storybooks are written with these developmental considerations in mind. If you’re just beginning a family worship time with your toddler, consider Ella Lindvall’s Read-Aloud Bible Stories, David Helm’s Big Picture Story Bible, or my The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible.
  4. Vary the menu to stretch your family’s palette. Just like family meals, family devotions have thousands of possible variations. Sometimes when I hear what other creative families do during family worship times, I feel overwhelmed and guilt-ridden, thinking, “I should be doing more!” I’m tempted to adopt practices that would be a bad fit for our family dynamics. But my wife is really encouraged by families who are a step ahead of us. She sees concrete ideas as an opportunity to stretch ourselves. Adding variety to our times of family worship helps them become times of discovery. So, don’t get stuck in the rut of simply reading stories. Act them out. Draw and paint. Let a sock puppet tell the story. If the lesson is about serving others, find a way to practice serving right away—like making cookies for your neighbor. You may find that mixing it up helps to keep your kids’ interest as well.

The best meals involve grace and laughter around the table. So it is with family devotionals. They’re an opportunity to model a life that craves the pure spiritual milk of the Word (1 Pet. 2:2), one that helps your kids to taste and see that the Lord is good (Ps. 34:8). So, make a practice of inviting your kids to come to the table to feed their souls, along with their hungry stomachs.

Spiritual Practices Common to Kids Who Flourish As Adults

** The following article was copied form thegospelcoalition.org.

Parents, don’t take the biblical proverb “train up a child” and treat it like a promise, assuming that if you do everything right in your parenting, your children will turn out right. Proverbs are general truths, not specific promises. Besides, when we consider the overall context of the Bible, we see how counterproductive it is to try to train our kids to trust in God if what we model for them is that we trust in our training.

But even though we place our hope for our children in God, not in our training, we recognize how this proverb teaches us to take our training of children seriously—both where we guide them andalso  how we shepherd their hearts. And part of that shepherding and guidance includes the effect of a family’s culture.

A new LifeWay Research study commissioned by LifeWay Kids surveyed 2,000 Protestant and non-denominational churchgoers who attend church at least once a month and have adult children ages 18 to 30. The goal of the project was to discover what parenting practices were common in the families where young adults remained in the faith. What affected their moral and spiritual development? What factors stood out?

You might expect that family worship services would play a major part, or the simple habit of eating meals together around the table. Perhaps you’d expect a Christian school kid to be more likely to follow Jesus than a public school kid. Everyone has ideas about what practices are formative on children.

The research (compiled now in the new book Nothing Less) indicated that children who remained faithful as young adults (identifying as a Christian, sharing their faith, remaining in church, reading the Bible, and so on) grew up in homes where certain practices were present.

BIBLE READING

The biggest factor was Bible reading. Children who regularly read the Bible while they were growing up were more likely to have a vibrant spiritual life once they became adults. This statistic doesn’t surprise me. God’s Word is powerful. The Bible lays out the great story of our world and helps us interpret our lives and make decisions within the framework of a biblical worldview. Bible reading is a constant reminder that we live as followers of God. Our King has spoken. He reigns over us. We want to walk in his ways.

PRAYER AND SERVICE

Two more factors follow close behind: prayer and service in church. The practice of prayer did not specify whether it was private or corporate, before meals or before bedtime, or in the morning. But prayer was present.

Note that the church-related factor is about service, not just attendance. It wasn’t just that parents took their kids to church (where “professional clergy” could feed them spiritually), but that the children were included and integrated into the church through the avenue of service. The habit of serving others in the church and community likely formed these young adults in a way that kept them from identifying merely as a churchgoing “consumer,” but instead as a contributor to the building up of God’s people. Down the list a little, church mission trips show up, another indicator of the power of active service.

SINGING CHRISTIAN SONGS

What may surprise you is how high up on the list was this factor: listening primarily to Christian music. Christian contemporary music gets a bad rap these days, usually for being more inspirational than theological (although I believe this stereotype is not true across the board). Still, we shouldn’t dismiss the truth behind Augustine’s ancient observation that we sing the truth into our hearts. When we sing together as congregations and when we praise God on our own or sing songs that fortify our faith, we reinforce the beauty of our faith. (Also noteworthy was the finding lower on the list, that listening primarily to secular music was an indicator that negatively affected one’s spiritual life.)

CULTURE, NOT PROGRAMS

For decades now, many Christians have assumed that certain church programs are the key factors in a child’s spiritual development: Vacation Bible school, youth group activities, Sunday school, and so on. But the research study shows that these programs make an impact when they are connected to consistent habits of prayer, Bible reading, praise, and service. It’s the culture of the family and church, and that they integrate children and young people into spiritual disciplines, not the how that matters most.

Also notable is the impact of the parents’ example of reading Scripture, taking part in service projects, sharing their faith, and asking forgiveness after sinning. In other words, the more the repentant, joyful Christian life was modeled, the more likely children were to remain in the faith.

THE POWER OF IMITATION AND ENVIRONMENT

Research shouldn’t be misused in a way that transforms children into blank slates. There is no perfect parenting formula, and as I mentioned above, no one should assume there’s a surefire formula or method to bring about the result of a faithful kid. Don’t overestimate your power. The Holy Spirit saves, not you.

But don’t underestimate the Spirit’s power to work through the environment you create for your home either. Nothing Less shows that there’s power in faithful, Christian imitation. Children are more likely to repent and ask forgiveness when they’ve seen parents do so, and when they’ve experienced grace in human relationships. Children are more likely to aspire to faithful Christianity when they see joyful service as a virtue modeled in the home.

What kind of culture do we want in our homes and churches?

What space are we creating for our children to flourish?

How are we rooting our families in God’s Word?

How are we modeling prayer and repentance?

What does faithfulness look like in our home?

What are the songs that are in our hearts and on our lips?

How are we fulfilling the Great Commission?

Let’s ask these questions and beg God to work in us and through us, for his glory and our families’ good.

A Faith of Their Own

** The following was copied from theparentcue.org.

I was the mom with the schedule. Feeding schedule. Sleeping schedule. Reading and playtime schedule. I even had a written schedule on my refrigerator that I followed so I wouldn’t forget anything. I’m telling you, I was the schedule queen. (I’m shaking my head laughing just thinking about it.)

Why the scheduling? I simply wanted what was best for my kids. I wanted to make sure they got what they needed. Somehow I got it in my head that if I did everything perfectly things would be, well, perfect.

Yes. Perfect.

The perfect playgroup.
The perfect meal.
The perfect bath time.
The perfect toys.
The perfect preschool.
The perfect life.

We all know perfect is not possible.

No person . . .
No day. . .
No circumstance . . .
No life . . .
is perfect.

And yet we “good” parents try. I tried. (And then felt defeated when it wasn’t.)

At some point along the way, during those early preschool years, I began to see that no amount of micromanaging will ever prevent my children from disappointment and hurt.

We live in a fallen world.

Pain and disappointment are inevitable.

I came to the conclusion that rather than drive myself crazy trying to do the impossible, my time would be best spent training my children to trust God no matter what and how they can respond to pain and disappointment in ways that honor Him.

I began focusing more on the heart, not the circumstance.

Rather than write letters requesting certain teachers for my kids at their public school, we prayed that God would give them who He wanted and help them honor Him in that classroom. Yes, a few times we got “that” teacher, and looking back, I wouldn’t trade the spiritual growth in my kids for anything.

When my kids get their feelings hurt by a peer, I don’t call the other mom. I encourage my children to have the hard conversation so they can learn how to become peacemakers, forgive, and love like Jesus.

When my son didn’t make the basketball team in middle school I could have had “the talk” with the coach or complained to fellow parents, but instead I encouraged my son to trust God, be the best water boy he could be, and cheer for his friends. He did. And I guarantee I was the proudest mom in the stands.

Do you see where I’m going with this? When we focus on trying to control the circumstances in our kid’s life, all in the name of “wanting what’s best,” we put ourselves where only God should be—in control.

Without meaning to, we teach our kids to look to us rather than to God. We teach our children to depend on us to fix every thing, rather than trusting that God will allow, do, fix whatever is best.

We teach our children that nothing bad should ever happen to them. And if that’s not a set-up for disappointment down the road, I don’t know what is!

I can honestly say, after 18 years of parenting and three teenagers later, I experience more joy watching my children respond to trials with wisdom and faith than watching them live life trouble free.

So, keep the sleeping schedule, and make sure you provide lots of great books to read and healthy things to eat, but when it comes to circumstances that God allows in our lives—into your kid’s life—don’t ask, “How can I change what is happening?” Train yourself and your kids to ask, “How can I respond to this in a way that will make God smile?”

Nothing is more important than helping your children develop a faith of their own, for the day will come too soon when mom and dad can’t fix it.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28, NIV

Parent Network Podcast – Episode 07 with The Ashcrafts

In Episode 07 we interview Mike and Julie Ashcraft just after our recent Parent Network event.  They’ll share a little more about how to create a healthy family culture and answer a few questions from the night.  We also talk about upcoming Parent Network events.  You can listen below, or subscribe to the Parent Network Podcast on iTunes and SoundCloud.  Enjoy!

 

 

Series Links

Looking to check out one of the series that were mentioned at the recent event with the Ashcrafts or on the podcast?  Check them out below.

Hot Heads

Freak Out
Parents Just Don’t Understand

PARENT NETWORK EVENT – WATCH

Interested in watching our recent Parent Network event with the Ashcrafts?  Click here (and settle in for little while!).

How to Raise Changing Children in a Changing Culture

** The following article was copied from www.thegospelcoalition.org.

Starting a new job always requires a few months of settling in before feeling comfortable with various tasks—knowing how to do things, when to do them, and what to avoid altogether. After a few months, things begin to run relatively smoothly and eventually, after years of experience, you become an expert in your field.

Parenting has a completely different professional growth trajectory.

Just when you understand babies, they’re already toddlers—with an entirely new parenting job description. The toddler then heads to preschool—and to elementary school, middle school, and high school—with further changes each step of the way. And just when you have school sorted out, they go off to college, with a new set of parenting dynamics. After college, there’s the potential for in-laws and grandchildren. Our parenting journey is in a constant state of flux, and we rarely feel like experts in our field. How can we find stable footing along the way?

I corresponded with Paul Tripp, author of Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles that Can Radically Change Your Family. (Sign up to hear Tripp address the topic of parenting at our upcoming 2017 National Conference, April 3 to 5 in Indianapolis.) For those of us raising constantly changing children in a constantly changing culture, Tripp offers biblical principles that stand the test of time.


What’s one practice you’d encourage parents with young kids to do to help foster good communication in the teen years?

I always have one single piece of advice for the parents of teens: Don’t let your relationship with them fade away. Often the sweetness and closeness of the parent-child relationship is nearly gone during these years, and an awkwardness and distance sets in. Don’t let your teenager cast the mold of your relationship. Here’s why. Parenting is entirely relational. You cannot effectively be used of God as an instrument of rescue and transformation in the life of someone with whom you have little functional relationship. Heart and life change always takes place in the context of relationship.

Think of the gospel model—the way God works in your life. He first draws you in with an unbreakable bond of love (justification), then tranforms you into what he wants you to be (sanctification). Only those who have been justified by his grace will ever be sanctified by that same grace.

So, do everything you can to create and maintain a loving, tender, patient, and gracious relationship with your teenager. Pursue him each day. Verbalize your love each day. Hug and kiss her each day. Confess your irritation, impatience, and harsh words over and over again. Love him as much when he is undeserving as when he is deserving. Regularly invite her out for an evening, just the two of you, for dinner and some activity. Go to their extracurricular activities. Be glad to provide transportation. Do anything you can to be together and communicate your affection. When you must have a hard talk, don’t do it on the fly. Make an appointment so you are emotionally calm, have time to communicate with affection, and are able to talk about hard things with grace. And don’t forget to pray daily that God would bless you with his grace so you can be a tool of grace in the life of your teenager.

What’s the purpose of parenting? What does the world say is the purpose?

There are only two models of parenting.

The first is an ownership model. Here the driving motivation is that these children belong to me and I have the right to form them into what I want them to be. Usually this model is informed and directed by cultural models of what a successful person looks like. So I set the rules I think are best, use whatever power I have to enforce them, and mete out whatever punishments I think are best when the child goes outside the boundaries of my rules. The ownership model emphasizes the parent’s ability to restrain and control the child’s behavior until he or she exits the home.

The ambassador model is profoundly different in every way: Parents understand their children do not belong to them, but to God. They know their work is ambassadorial—their job is to represent the purposes, character, and methods of God. So they constantly ask: What does God desire in the lives of my children, and how can I be part of it? Their labor is driven by biblical values rather than cultural norms.

There’s one other crucial element to the ambassador model. Parents embrace their complete inability to change the hearts and lives of their kids. They recognize their role as instruments in the hands of the One who alone has the power to create lasting change. So they look for every opportunity to be tools of God’s convicting, forgiving, rescuing, transforming, and delivering grace in their children’s lives. Their goal is to exercise parental authority as a beautiful reflection of the authority of him who called them to their parental task—so they constantly cry out for grace to represent the heavenly Father well.

There’s a lot of hustle and bustle in a teen’s world these days. Between homework, sports, music lessons, and service activities, they can feel enormous pressure. What’s the most important thing parents can do to help teens navigate a busy and stressful world?

Every Christian parent must ask a critical question again and again, or they will lose their way in the chaos of information, pressures, and influences of the culture in which they raise their kids: What set of values determines the goals, activities, and schedule of our family? 

You simply can’t squeeze a biblical model of parenting into a frenetic schedule shaped by the world’s view of what a successful child looks like. Many well-meaning parents have little or no relational or instructional time with their children because they’re running from activity to activity, fearful their kids will somehow miss out. It’s so vital to keep focused on what God wants to form in the heart and life of your children, and what you need to do to be a tool of his agenda. Ask yourself:Lightstock

Are you giving yourself the time necessary to build and maintain a relationship of love? Are you setting aside time for family worship? Is there time to share relaxed moments and discuss what’s truly important in life? Is your schedule driven an agenda of heart and life transformation, or by activities and achievements? Do biblical values shape whether you say “yes” or “no” to adding another activity? In the busyness of life, are you working to build into your kids a constant awareness of God and their need for his grace?

Asking these questions again and again protects you from the pressures that can cause you to lose your way.

When disciplining children and holding them accountable for their actions, how do parents usually fall short in teaching grace? 

Too many parents unwittingly fall into the trap of expecting the law to do what only grace can accomplish. They think if they set up a neat system of rules, enforcements, and punishments, their children will be okay. But if all our kids needed was moral information and moral control, Jesus would have never had to come. Yes, our children need God’s law because it exposes their sin and shows them how to live. But the law has no power to rescue, restore, and transform their hearts. Lasting change in a child’s behavior always flows from the heart, and only grace can change a child in this way.

It’s vital to understand grace. Grace isn’t about being permissive, because grace never calls wrong right. If wrong was right, there’d be no need for grace. Grace is quick to acknowledge wrong as wrong, but instead of moving away from a person in criticism, judgment, and condemnation, grace moves toward them with forgiveness, tender instruction, loving correction, and the patient exercise of authority. It’s not enough for parents to be the child’s law-giver, policeman, prosecutor, judge, and jailor. We must look for every opportunity to share grace—it alone has the ability to open the eyes and unsettle the hearts of our children so they run to the Redeemer where real help can be found.

Why are so many parents discouraged, worn out, and overwhelmed, and how would you encourage or counsel them? How can parents find rest and peace amid the challenges they face?

Many loving, well-intentioned Christian parents get up each morning and load the spiritual, emotional, and physical wellbeing of their children on their shoulders. Although they claim to believe God is with them, they act as if they’ve been left alone in their parenting task. They think it’s their job to change their children. If you parent this way, you’ll progressively crank up the size of your threats, the heat of your emotions, and the sting of your words, asking these things to do what they have no power to do. You’ll end up doing and saying things you shouldn’t in a frustrated attempt to force change in your children.

No wonder so many parents are frustrated, discouraged, and exhausted! How liberating to know the wise heavenly Father is with you at every moment, and he is parenting everyone in the room. How freeing to know God carries the burden of your children’s welfare, and he’ll never ask you to do what only he can do. How good to know you haven’t been asked to be the change-agent, but rather a willing tool in the hands of the One who has the power to rescue, redeem, and transform your kids. How important to know he doesn’t condemn you in your weakness and failure, but meets you with forgiveness and empowering grace.

You can go to bed knowing he loves your children, and because he does, he’s put them in a family of faith—your family. He’ll reveal their needs to you so you can be a tool of his work in their lives. You don’t carry the weight of their ultimate welfare; he does. All he calls you to do is faithfully represent him, to play the role of ambassador. He will do the rest.

The Top 5 Middle School Problems Tweens Face

** The following article was copied from allprodad.com.

The Top 5 Middle School Problems Tweens Face

Several months after going on staff with a youth outreach organization I took around forty middle schoolers to camp for a week. I introduced myself to every kid before they got on the bus. My interactions with each of the kids were awkward, but I was confident it would get better as the week went on. It didn’t. Every time I said hello to a kid on my trip they looked at me like I just asked them how to synthesize a methylated alkaloid. All I got was confusion and a blank stare. Every exchange had an amazing dose of weirdness. I felt like I was taking crazy pills. There may have been some malice in their treatment of me, but really I think it more boiled down to a general social awkwardness typical of that age.

Middle school is by far the weirdest time of life. There are so many changes and difficulties for tweens to contend with. Of course, there is pressure to perform in academics, athletics, and activities. There is pressure to fit in with their peers, family strife, and the complexities of social media. That’s all true of high school and even college, but the middle school years bring unique challenges indicative of that age. Knowing the difficulties of middle schoolers gives us more empathy and strategy in helping them establish their place in the world. Here are the top 5 middle school problems tweens are facing.

1. The Awkward Phase

Their bodies feel out of control and so life is full of feelings of embarrassment. Then you have those who develop quicker or later than others, which breeds insecurity and instability. Early adolescents essentially still possess all of the self-absorption of a child, but without the same cuteness. It leaves the rest of the culture feeling annoyed by them, and the funny thing is that they are either unaware or don’t care. More than likely, they’re unaware. The don’t care phase is more related to high schoolers. In the end, though, the world of uncertainty surrounding them leads to perpetual feelings of angst.

2. Changing Friendships

The relationships they had in elementary school start to change. Many kids experience having less and less in common with their childhood friends. Without the social skills to deal with the complexity of changing relationships they tend to coldly disassociate with one another resulting in hurt feelings. For example, one child may be left wondering why his “best friend” no longer wants to hang out with him. So not only are their bodies unpredictable, but their social structure is as well.

3. Living In A Culture Of Meanness

Middle school is the apex of the mean environment. Unfortunately, only the political arena is worse. At least tweens have some kind of excuse. In their angst caused by the uncertainty around them, they are looking to reacquire some sense of control. Putting down someone else or even bullying gives them a sense of the power they are lacking. Since they have not developed the part of the brain that helps them evaluate cause and effect, they don’t have the ability to recognize the damage they are causing to the person they are destroying. So the meanness is fierce and relentless.

4. Alone In Groups

Due to the mean environment, middle school friendships are generally formed out of a need for protection. Their groups offer a safe haven, as long as the group is strong. A group is only as strong as its weakest person so each person has to posture strength no matter how they feel. Therefore, the trust and vulnerability levels are shallow. So even in a group of “friends”, most feel alone. For those unable to find a group the feeling of loneliness can be unbearable.

5. The Independence Vs. Dependence Paradox

In the tween phase, kids move towards independence from their parents. However, they still crave the security and support parents offer. It’s as if they are holding up a stop sign while motioning their parents to come in. Parents are left in a confusing situation. They have a kid who looks more adult like but still has the mental ability of a child. Ultimately, a tween wants their parents involved in their lives. They want their parents’ guidance but in their timing and on their terms.

If you are parenting a middle schooler, try to show them as much empathy as possible. They are in a difficult stage of life and need the security, stability, and support from you. Be a safe and available person.

Parenting Dangerously Close to Empty

** The following article was copied from the parentcue.org.

I love to live on the edge. At least that is what I tell my kids when they are all frustrated with me. I am that person. That person that drives until the “E” light in my car has been shining at me for about 30 miles. It doesn’t help that now my car tells me exactly how many miles I have to “E.”

I drive until there are no more miles left. It just has an asterisk on the screen. (I assumed when it said * that meant there was no more gas, but I’m happy to report that you can actually make it at least 5 miles with nothing but an asterisk.) I’ve learned that this drives my middle child crazy. He worries about his mama. He likes to know I’m not going to run out of gas, that I will not be stuck somewhere, that I am safe. One day, as I realized we were near “E” he snapped, “MOM! You are dangerously close to empty.”

A church recently asked me to speak on this very topic: You Can’t Lead On Empty. It was one of those Moses moments. I thought, “God, they have the wrong person to speak on this. I’m a single mom. I’m managing 3 kids. I try to take care of my house, my yard, the bills, the food, their schedules and mine. I’m working full time, plus some side jobs. They have made a mistake asking me.”

But, as I began to think and pray about this topic, I was reminded of an impactful talk I heard years ago on this very subject. Wayne Cordeiro had just written a book called, Leading on Empty and did a talk on it. I don’t save much, but I still had my notes, and the book. It was that good. So, I got busy reading and studying and prepping my talk. Every single principle spoke to me as a single mom and so I wanted to share them with you.

KNOW WHAT FILLS YOUR TANK AND WHAT DRAINS IT.

Answer the statement, I feel most alive when __________________. Now ask yourself these 3 questions:

  • Who am I with?
  • What am I doing?
  • Where am I doing this?

Our life, our very soul, has to be filled up in order to pour out. If I were to keep driving my car way past empty, my car would stall. If I only put 3 gallons of gas in each time I stopped to fill it, I wouldn’t make it very far. We are the same way. Are you putting in more than your giving out? The drain of life can’t be emptying you faster than you are filling yourself up.

And one way to be conscious of that is know what fills you and what drains you. Being a single mom can ironically fall into both categories. Sometimes parenting can be so filling, and other times it sucks the life out of me. Make a list of “Fill” and “Drain” items.

Have you ever noticed that when life gets busy, we tend to cut the things from the “Fill” column? We rarely cut from the “Drain” list. Why? I don’t know, but that is something I’ve worked hard at changing. My kids need me to have a tank that is more on the full side. They deserve that.

UNDERSTAND BALANCE IN LIFE.

I think for most of us, if we were to define balance in life we might draw a seesaw with family on one side and work on the other. I used to think it was a constant balancing game. That is not really how life works. Our family has to be the fulcrum. Fulcrum is defined as the point on which a lever rests or is supported and on which it pivots. Our family is the center. If you lose a job, you start interviewing for another. If you lose your family, you lose everything.

LEAD OUT OF REST.

We don’t mess up as parents because we are evil. It is often because we are exhausted. We have to look at our year, our month, our week and our day with rest in mind. Schedule your rest points first on your yearly calendar.
o Know when you will take a day off way in advance.
o Schedule your vacations at the beginning of the year.
o Use all of your vacation time. You’ve earned it and need it.
o Know when you will sleep. Often people say, “I can’t sleep in. I have to get up, get the kids up, etc…” Sleep in on the other side of the clock. Go to bed earlier. Your best sleep is from 11-3. The average person needs 7-8 hours. If you aren’t getting that, you aren’t the best you.

FIND SOMEONE TO BE YOUR LIGHTENING ROD.

Who is your person that you can be totally honest with and who can be honest with you? If you’re a single parent, you don’t have a spouse to bounce things off of. You need to have a person. Who can you go to when the day has totally frustrated you? If you don’t have someone you can dump it all in front of, you will take it out on your family. Find someone who can take it, listen and then ground it–just like a lightening rod. Sometimes, you need to know when to ask for help. For a season this person may be a counselor. Recognize when your kids may need one too. Finding help when it’s needed is one of the greatest gifts I’ve given myself and my kids. (see my article on when to ask for help)

FINALLY, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY.
PRIORITIZE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.

Listen to him, talk with him, obey him, worship him, pray to him. He has all of this. He’s got our mess. It doesn’t take him by surprise. He loves us more than we can ever fathom. He is in control and he wants the best for us. I really believe that. He doesn’t want us to live dangerously close to empty at any moment. He wants us to live rich full lives that honor him.

Ending the Homework Hassle

** The following article was copied from theparentcue.org

Any time parents of teenagers or pre-teens are in a room together, the subject of homework and education seems to be on their lips. My experience is that most of the time parents worry more about their teen’s schoolwork than the teen worries about their schoolwork! I’m can’t promise to improve your teen’s grade point average. Actually, you may have to see your teen’s grade point average lowered for a while.

But then again, you will have to ask the question, “Is my primary purpose in parenting to help my child become a responsible adult or get good grades?” If you answered, “good grades,” I think your goal is too low.

A very good friend of mine is a university president. He told me that a mom called him to complain about a poor grade her son was getting in a business class. The president of the university wasn’t totally sure why she called him, but he did say he would check into it with the professor.

When he asked the professor about this student’s grade, the professor said the student wasn’t motivated and had written a terrible mid-term paper. When the president reported his finding to the mom, she was extremely angry and said, “That was not a bad paper, it was an A paper. I have an MBA from Stanford and I wrote that paper for my son!”

Here is the situation: for teenagers, education is their primary job, and school is their workplace. Rather than seeing education merely as a stepping-stone to future employment and earning a living (it is this, of course), it’s more important for your teenager’s progress toward adulthood that you view it as hisresponsibility during this season of his life. This responsibility should include striving to learn all he can, and doing the best he can do academically.

A parent should encourage, challenge, and guide when he does not live up to his academic potential, while remembering the responsibility is his, not yours.

Some parents mistakenly wrap their own self-image into how their teen performs academically. They cannot live with knowing their teen is doing poorly in school and it is not an option, because it reflects poorly on them. So, they do their child’s homework themselves.

For other parents, it’s a matter of family pride. What parent hasn’t attended a school science fair where it has been obvious that Mom or Dad made their child’s project?

For still others, it’s a matter of practicality, such as hoping that a scholarship will pay for their teen’s college years. I understand and sympathize with the many reasons parents have for bailing out their teens academically.

But the bottom line is that none of these helps the teen to become a responsible adult. Education ought rightly to be a monkey on your teenager’s back, not yours.

High school senior, Lindsey, and her parents were often locked in conflict over homework. An incredibly bright girl, Lindsey just didn’t apply herself. Her parents would nag, bribe, restrict, shame, and sometimes even do her homework themselves, all so she could keep her grades up and get a college scholarship. Finally, they took Lindsey’s monkey—her lack-of-discipline—off their backs and put it on hers.

They sat down with her and explained that they were partly at fault for all the tension in the home. They admitted that by her age, they should be nagging less. Starting then, they would release the homework decisions to her. She alone would experience the consequences of her academic decisions. It was a good talk, but that didn’t mean things changed overnight.

Lindsey continued to miss homework assignments, and her grades weren’t good enough to get into a four-year university. But two years at a community college did bring some maturity to her thinking, and she eventually became an excellent student, graduating with honors at UCLA.

How to Handle Homework

In a HomeWord parent podcast, John Rosemond spoke about “ending the homework hassle, and he introduced his ABCs for putting an end to family conflict over the issue. It’s one of the most freeing plans I’ve seen for dealing with homework, yet admittedly, it’s going to be a difficult one for parents who are addicted to control. In a strange twist of fate, it turns out that these ABCs found below are nothing more than the approach to homework many parents used fifty years ago.

  1. All by Myself. Teens ought to be responsible for doing their own homework. Find a private place for your teen to do homework and help set up an environment conducive to study. Then leave them alone. If they flunk the homework assignment, they chose the consequence. We have to teach them independence.
  2. Back Off. What may be the most difficult step for many parents is to back off. This means to refuse to give your kids your constant attention at homework time. Nagging really doesn’t work in the long run. Some would say it is like a constant dripping and a form of torture. John says about 80 percent of the time, “I need help” means they are looking for someone to fix a problem or bail them out. It’s possible to back off from helping the kids do the homework and turn your role more into supporting and encouraging. Even if your teen fails the homework assignment, they will learn an important life lesson from the experience. Don’t rob them of this learning experience.
  3. Call It Quits. Many parents set a time when kids must begin their homework and a time for them to quit. Set deadlines to finish the work. John strongly advises, “When it’s time to quit, it’s time to quit.” This gives your kids plenty of time to get it done, but it isn’t a fight every night that ends up creating a very poor family environment. This will give your kids a chance to learn to manage time more effectively.

Has homework been a hassle in your family? What has been successful or unsuccessful for you?

This is a excerpt from Jim Burns new book Understanding Your Teen. Used with permission.