Parenting Through the Tough Questions

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

The other day, our family was out for an evening stroll along our usual route. We went down the sidewalk from our home, past a few shops, across a street, and over to the local college.

On our return, we walked past the large cemetery next to our neighborhood, where a couple of men were preparing a gravesite. As we walked by, my 5-year-old son asked one of those questions parents often dread: “Dad, what are they doing?”

What should I do? Was he too young to hear the truth? I could shrug the question off — perhaps by redirecting his attention to the sunset or a passing car. But I decided that my inquisitive little guy deserved an answer.

Gospel at the Graveyard

I stopped and sat on the cemetery wall, stood him in front of me, and began my best attempt at an explanation: “Buddy, at the end of each person’s life, they die. When someone dies, they put the person’s body in a box, they dig a hole in the ground, and they put the box inside the hole.”

He responded, “Do we have clothes on when we go inside the box?”

I said, “Well, they put clothes on the person’s body when they put them in the box. . . . Did you know that Jesus died? They put his body in the ground, but three days later he came out of the ground because God raised him back to life. If we believe in Jesus, we will go to be with Jesus when we die. And one day, when Jesus comes back, our bodies will come out of those holes all brand new, and we will live with Jesus forever and never die again.”

“I hope I still get to wear my clothes. And I’m going to keep my eyes open inside that box.”

“Okay, buddy.”

Patterns of Honesty

Obviously, my son was pretty lost on the whole dying-and-being-buried thing. But I was trying to establish an important precedent with him. When he comes to me with honest questions, I am going to give him honest answers. He may not fully understand the answer, and I may fumble through an awkward reply, but one thing is certain: I’m not going to ignore his earnest inquiries.

“When my son comes to me with honest questions, I want to give him honest answers.”

My hope is that the patterns of communication my wife and I are establishing early on with our children will continue to equip us as parents. With God’s help, each question we choose not to punt on gives us more wisdom to handle the next. If I feed my kids little falsehoods now, thinking, “They’re too young for the truth,” I’m not only hindering their growth in wisdom and stature, but also my own. They may be too young for certain details, but there’s a way to lovingly answer their specific question truthfully. If I can’t give my 5-year-old the truth, what makes me think I’ll be ready to do it when he’s fifteen?

These years — when the kids are young and the questions are of little consequence — are practice for later. Right now, we’re learning to field basic queries like “Is Santa real?” or “How big is God?” But one day the questions might become “My best friend just told me he’s gay — what should I do?” or “Why would a good God let them die like that?” As we step up to the plate now, while they’re young, we trust that God will teach us how to handle the questions that will be more difficult to answer later.

Children will satisfy their curiosity one way or another. If we do not give them the truth, they will find it elsewhere. Establishing an early pattern of open communication will hopefully help to avoid heartache later on. No parent wants to discover too late that their kids have been going online, to their peers, or to even worse places with questions they don’t trust us to answer to their satisfaction.

On top of all this, it’s important that we treat our kids according to their God-given dignity. They are little people made in the image of God. They deserve the truth.

Every Conversation Captive

My son’s question, which threw me off guard at first, turned out to be a great doorway for the gospel. That evening in front of the cemetery, I could have shuffled the family along, avoided the topic, and given some vague answer like, “They’re just digging a hole.” But when your child asks you pointedly about a graveyard, is it really to his benefit to avoid the issue of death altogether?

“If I can’t give my 5-year-old the truth, what makes me think I’ll be ready to do it when he’s fifteen?”

Surely God envisioned these exact conversations when he commanded us, “You shall teach [these words] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:7). At the breakfast table, on the summer walk, and from the bedtime pillow, our children probe us for the truth spurred on by their own curiosity about the world around them. These are the perfect times to teach our kids about God and his gospel.

Be on the lookout. Many of our children’s toughest or most embarrassing questions can turn out to be perfect opportunities to talk about the good news of Jesus. Take those conversations captive. Sit and talk intentionally and honestly with your children. Are we going to bumble through our answers, have awkward transitions, and make absolutely no sense sometimes? Of course. But my kids are young — they won’t know any better! Maybe yours are older. They will likely still appreciate your candor, and God will help you grow over time. It’s never too late to start telling the truth.

The Truth Our Kids Need

If you have been in the habit of dodging your kids’ hard questions, you may need to ask for their forgiveness. Children become exasperated when Mom and Dad fail to be the primary truth-tellers in their lives. Paul tells us the solution is to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

As we grow in faithfulness to instruct our children in the truth, we trust the Spirit to grant us more wisdom to point them to Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).

5 Things You’ll Never Regret

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

Yes, it really was a bad idea to give your six-year-old access to the finger paints while you did the laundry. Or to let your fourteen-year-old son stay overnight at his friend’s place without triple checking to make sure his parents were home.

And maybe it wasn’t all that wise when you had that fight heated conversation in the kitchen when the kids were watching cartoons.

We all have regrets.
But the flip side is also true.

We all have things we’ll never regret doing as a parent. And if you think about doing things you’ll never regret, you can actually do them more often.

Here are 5 things I think you’ll never regret as a parent:

1 – TAKING FAMILY VACATIONS

It can be so hard to find both time and money to get away, but it’s been one of the best things we’ve done as a family over the years.

While staycations can be decent, a vacation moves everyone out of their native environment. There’s no grass to cut, no clutter to clean up every three hours, no video games to play for hours and hours and hours, or friends who want you to come over (again). All of you move into new experiences and new environments together. 

Even if you don’t have a ton of money, borrow someone’s house for the weekend (we’ve done that), and change up the scenery.  Moments away will become some of your kids’ fondest memories—and yours.

2 – PUTTING EACH OTHER BEFORE THE KIDS

You’ve probably heard it as much as I have: One of the greatest gifts any parent can give a child is a healthy marriage.
It’s as important for your child to know you love each other as it is for your child to know you love them.

So take a date night. Hire and sitter or enlist the grandparents and go on a weekend away. Your friends will be envious (we haven’t been away together without the kids in seven years!!!), and you’ll have so much fun you’ll think you’re dating again.

Here’s something else I’ve discovered. Eventually the kids move out (really…no lies!), and all you have left is each other. It works way better when you’ve built up your relationship to the point where you actually still like each other. 🙂

3 – CREATING TRADITIONS

My wife is so good at this. She knew early on that family traditions are a great thing.

For example, on Christmas morning, we eat desserts like chocolate covered apples for breakfast. (No, Christmas and breakfast chocolate aren’t related, but don’t spoil things here). I don’t know how that tradition started, and I don’t even know that it’s a good idea, but we love it. And to this day, we can’t wait to dig into chocolate and stuff that really isn’t good for us in honor of Christmas.

We’re not big into baseball as a family (although I’ve always loved it), but every year I took my boys to a Blue Jays game. Now they insist on taking me. It’s a tradition.

We also go back to the same place every year for a week every year in the summer. That spot is now filled with two decades of family memories.

4 – INCORPORATING GOD INTO THE RHYTHM OF FAMILY LIFE

Yep, life is busy. And talking about God can be . . . well, awkward.

But figuring out a way to make God a natural part of the conversation is a great practice to establish early. The baby and toddler years are perfect places to start with morning and bedtime stories and prayers.

In the elementary years, meal times are great places to talk about God and life.

And even in the teen years, driving around in the car or hanging out after dinner are great times to talk about faith.

If you do this well, having conversations with your kids into their college and adult years won’t be that difficult.

5 – SETTING BOUNDARIES

So much of the conflict that happens between parents and kids, and between parents, happens because boundaries aren’t clear.

Boundaries and limits are something we both crave and resist. We think freedom resides in having no boundaries and limits, until we have none. Then we crave them.

Kids are masters at pushing the boundaries.

If you can set and agree on boundaries ahead of time, life becomes so much simpler. Then you have a solution to a problem (like curfew) before it arises.

Sure, if you have healthy limits for your kids as they move into their pre-teen and teen years, you too will be inducted into the Worst Parent Ever In The History Of Parenting category by your darling child, which is exactly where every parent enforcing a boundary will find themselves at some point.

But secretly your kids crave boundaries. And one day, they’ll thank you for setting them. Okay, I said one day . . .

So those are five things I’ve never regretted doing as a parent.

10 Parenting Hacks to Make Life Easier with Little Kids

** The following article was copied from theparentcue.org

“I don’t know what to do with all this time on my hands,” said no parent ever.

Once you become a parent, finding time to do the things you want and need to do is similar to catching Harry Potter’s golden snitch—nearly impossible, but incredibly rewarding when you do (a special shout out to all the Muggle readers who caught the Quidditch reference). It’s an odd thing, time—it feels like your kid eats it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and their afternoon snack.

You’ve probably got a list of things you do to help you have some semblance of being in control of your life and schedule, but here are some of my favorite parenting life hacks:

1. In lieu of birthday gifts, ask for free babysitting from family and friends. You don’t need another Amazon gift card (though, those are always nice). What you really need is a chance to eat your meal in the way it was meant to be consumed—hot and without little bites taken from it. For your birthday, ask your friends and family for the gift of time to watch your kids so you can have some much needed “me time.”

2. Zippers and more zippers. No one has time for buttons and snaps, especially when you have multiple kids and wiggly ones at that. When my daughter was a newborn, I found zippers super helpful and efficient when I needed to get her dressed quickly in the middle of the night.

3. Consolidate and minimize. Having a lot of clothing options for your younger kids means more to you than it does to them. Take an honest inventory of what they really need and wear and get rid of all the rest (check out some documentaries on minimalism for purge inspiration). You’ll have to find something else to do with all that time you used to spend doing laundry.

4. Online grocery shopping with curbside pickup. I was not a believer in this at first. I felt lazy and a contributor to the demise of brick and mortar establishments. But man, is it helpful and quick to do your grocery shopping online! I tried it for the first time a few months ago and I’m a believer. I’m the type to go to multiple grocery stores to find the best deals, so this has helped me avoid my hubby’s “But you’re spending more gas this way” lecture advice.

5. Stop folding baby/toddler clothes. Guess who doesn’t care about the wrinkles in their onesies? The kid you’re holding who just learned how to control their own neck. I stopped folding and hanging up my daughter’s clothes, and instead keep things organized(ish) in a hamper.

6. Do as much prep the night before. With kids, there will always be a cause for tardiness, even for the promptest of folks. Do as much as you can the night before—prep the diaper bag, lay out clothes, and prepare lunches, not only for your kids, but for yourself, too.

7. Commit to a bedtime routine. It may seem too rigid and might cause the older generations to roll their eyes, but getting your kids used to a bedtime routine puts time back in your day. When you use a routine to signal bedtime, they go to sleep a lot faster.

8. Get kid-sized cleaning supplies and make cleaning up a fun activity. For now, at least, one of my daughter’s favorite things to do is help me clean the kitchen. Her grandparents bought her a miniature cleaning set—which includes a toddler-sized broom, dustpan, mop, and more—that she uses whenever I start to clean. Pro Tip: Place painter’s tape in the shape of a square on the floor and ask your kids to sweep debris into the square. This turns sweeping into a game and reduces how much time you spend doing it.

9. Shop consignment sales for kids clothes. I’ve recently joined the world of consignment shopping for my daughter’s clothes. At consignment sales, consignors sell their kids’ gently used clothes at a fraction of their original cost during certain seasons, usually March for summer clothes, August for winter clothes. It’s nice to get the bulk of your clothes shopping for your children out of the way while being mindful of your budget.

10. Sign up for a food subscription box. At the end of the day, sometimes you don’t have enough brain capacity to figure out new dinner recipes. Sign up for a food subscription box to take the thinking out of this task and potentially cut down on food waste (and not to mention eyerolls from your family when Taco Tuesday becomes Taco Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday). Most of these subscriptions offer the first box for free.

Need More? : 23 Parenting Hacks for Parents of Little Kids

Even Toddlers Can Memorize Scripture

** The following article was copied from www.familylife.com.

If toddlers can memorize favorite songs and stories, why not help them learn the Word of God?

One night our son Isaac, age 2½, decided that he wanted to be continually thrown into the air. He would run over to me and say, “Do one more.” In his world this means I should scoop him up and throw him up into the air. After catching him and putting him back on the ground, he would run “flying” around the room.

As we were playing, my wife and I decided that Isaac should recite one Bible verse each time before I would throw him into the air. It was unorthodox, but he engaged and we were able to go through seven or eight verses that he had been working on over the past several weeks.

So have you ever thought about helping your toddler memorize Bible verses?  Don’t be afraid to start working with them at a young age. Toddlers are a lot smarter than what we give them credit. They can master their favorite songs, repeat stories from their books, and understand the entirety of the word “No.” Why not help them learn the Word of God?

Memorizing Scripture is an important step to gluing the Word of God to a child’s heart. In the Bible, Israelite parents were instructed to teach the commands of God to their children (Deuteronomy 6:7). The same principle applies to us today.

Like planting a seed in good soil, teaching a child the Word of God at an early age will help prepare a firm rooting with plenty of nutrients for life. It can be done.

My wife and I decided to start teaching our son memory verses around his second birthday. It was difficult at first, but the moment I heard Isaac recite his first full Bible verse made me the proudest dad on the planet.

We started with Romans 12: 9-10. Admittedly, it was a little haphazard at first. Isaac would goof around or act like he wasn’t paying any attention. But finally after a few weeks he remembered the verses in their entirety.

Here are a few tips I learned from our early stages of teaching our toddler to memorize Bible verses. Feel free to try them out for yourself or add your own unique style. The key is just to be intentional and let your toddler take it from there.

1. It takes two.  Technically, a child can learn a Bible verse with the help of only one parent, but it goes so much better when both Mom and Dad are actively engaged in the learning process. Understandingly, Mom may have a more active role because she may have more time with the kids, but this doesn’t excuse Dad from the process.

Be intentional. Your toddler needs to see both parents modeling a discipline of Scripture memory. Both parents don’t need to be present when practicing, but it is helpful to create a memorization plan that the family can work on together.

2. Don’t dumb it down. The Bible is full of words that are difficult for toddlers to grasp (they are even difficult for adults). After all, it wasn’t written as a children’s fairy tale. The words are rich and teach  us what it means to follow Christ. This is not an easy process, but I believe it would be an injustice to our kids to water it down. Remember, they are much smarter than what we realize.

For example, look at Romans 12:9, “Abhor what is evil.” Abhor is a funny word. Maybe it is only funny to me because my wife teases me for how I pronounce it. The meaning of it is also hard. I guarantee abhor was not the first word on your mind this morning. It means “to regard with extreme repugnance or aversion.” A toddler feels that way about taking a nap. Teach your kids the hard words. If you don’t know what it means, take the opportunity to learn for yourself while teaching them. Our families don’t need a watered down Bible, they need the full Truth.

3. Repetition is important. A major way people learn is by repeating an action over and over and over and over. Repetition doesn’t mean boring, however.

Memorizing Scripture can be done in creative ways. It works better for some families to practice at a specific time every day. Another option is to make note cards of each verse and put them on your table. At every meal you can work on it as a family. Or you could make a memory verse part of the bedtime routine. Kids thrive on structure; why not add a verse in with brushing teeth, goodnight hugs, and prayers? The more we practice, the easier it will become.

4. Repetition is important.  A major way people learn is by repeating an action over and over and over and over … you get the idea. Okay, point made, moving on …

5. Use your arms and legs. Add motions to the verse you are trying to memorize. Kids love motions and if your child is anything like mine, he is constantly moving anyway. So why not use this to your advantage? Make up silly hand, arm, leg, head, or body motions to help describe what you are learning.

And do the motions with them. Toddlers are copy cats. This is a great way to get the whole family involved as you dance around on the living room floor reciting the verse.

6. Mark it on your wall. Most kids, and adults for that matter, are visual learners. Finding a creative way to put the verse in an everyday spot is a big help. Here are some creative ideas: Frame a verse and put it on your wall. Or write it in chalk on décor in your house. Write it on the mirror with a dry erase marker. Scripture templates are available online for you to print and display in your house. My wife, Emily, created a subway art canvas of Romans 12 on Shutterfly to hang on our living room wall. This has been a great reminder for our family.

7. Join the fun. Who said memorizing Bible verses has to be boring? I think kids grow up thinking the Bible is boring because of the attitudes they see from their parents.

The key is making it fun.  And it’s not fun unless the whole family is involved.  It’s up to us, Dad and Mom, to make the Bible come alive to our children.

An Unexpected Gift: Raising a Child With a Learning Disability

** The following article was copied from www.familylife.com.

As parents, we never want to see our children struggle in school or in life. When we send our children to school we have hopes and dreams for them that we don’t often verbalize. We want them to “fit in”, get good grades, behave, pay attention, have good friends, and enjoy school. Our expectations grow as our children pass through elementary, middle and high school. But what happens when your child begins to struggle academically, socially, or behaviorally at school or in the home?

Last November, our family went through the process of determining what was going on with our youngest son, Matthew. He began grade 2 with enthusiasm and energy, but that quickly faded as October rolled around and the work became more demanding. We began to notice that he had a tummy ache every morning and that he was complaining of headaches. His reading and math skills were not progressing. His teacher and I became concerned and we began talking regularly. Referrals for Learning Assistance and Speech and Language Assessments were sent out, but Matthew was not considered “low enough” to enter our school’s Learning Assistance program. Yet, Matthew continued to struggle in class.

The symptoms persisted: can’t follow directions, has a hard time focusing in class, works slowly, reads slowly, is easily distracted, and on and on. We knew something was wrong but we couldn’t put the pieces together. We had a giant jigsaw puzzle dumped on the floor with no box top to follow. We just didn’t know what we were looking at. How could we help him if we didn’t know what was wrong?

As a mom and dad, we were aching for Matthew. We felt helpless because we didn’t know where to start. Being trained as an elementary school teacher, I felt frustrated that we would have to go outside the school system to have Matthew assessed. What I was not prepared for was how God turned this whole situation into a beautiful gift.

At first, both Ken and I struggled with a million questions. Would Matthew succeed in school? What does all of this mean for his future? How can we help him? Did we do something to cause this problem? How is he going to feel? Why does it have to be Matthew that struggles? However, after extensive testing through an educational psychologist, a speech and language pathologist, and an audiologist, a wonderful picture of our son began to develop.

It was as if we were unwrapping an incredibly precious and rare gift. Each testing day brought new insights into how Matthew learns, how he takes in and processes information, and how his amazing brain is able to compensate for weaknesses in one area by developing other areas. Through much dialogue with the professionals involved and his teachers at school, we were able to bring to the school some concrete ideas that when implemented would make a world of difference for Matthew, and probably other children in the class. As a teacher, I have always looked for different ways to engage students in the learning process. I recognized that each child brings to the classroom differing learning styles, but through this process, I was blown away by the incredible detail God designs into each of our children.

Our children are a wonderful gift from the Lord, and it is in His infinite wisdom that he creates our children uniquely. I will never read Proverbs 22:6 the same way again. “Train a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it.” Every child can succeed if he/she is trained with their unique style in mind. They can succeed in school, in relationships, in their spiritual life and in their family life.

10 Ways to Support Your Child Who Is Struggling in School…

  1. Remember: God has specially chosen you as your child’s most important teacher.
    You are their first and most important advocate in the school system they are in. You are capable of communicating vital information with those who will teach and interact with your child. You know your child the best.
  2. Build a great relationship with your child.
    Take the time to talk to your child regularly about what is happening in school. When you have an open line of communication, concerns, struggles and stress can be identified early. When an area of concern becomes known, you have a natural forum to begin to process it with your child. A great relationship takes BOTH quality and quantity time.
  3. Become a student of your child.
    Take a front row seat in the life of your child and learn about their personality, their learning style, how they deal with stress, their strengths, and their preferences.
  4. Build good communication with your child’s teacher.
    Do not wait to bring concerns to the teacher. Early intervention into learning issues is to your child’s advantage. There are many amazing teachers in the system, who are more than willing to partner with you in helping your child succeed. Excellent communication between home and the school can alleviate a lot of your child’s stress.
  5. Listen to your instincts.
    If you feel your child is struggling, gently but firmly pursue assistance for your child. (Remember, honey catches more flies than vinegar.)
  6. Make sure your child understands and knows their strengths.
    You continue to help your child build confidence and the ability to take risks when they are encouraged and supported in something they are good at. Consider things like team or individual sports, music, art, etc.
  7. Build a network of people around you who can provide information, strategies, and support for you and your child.
    It is amazing the connections you will make once you start asking questions and talking about your concerns. Many professional services are covered by extended health plans.
  8. Pray, pray, and pray some more.
    Pray that God will give you the necessary insight and wisdom to help your child succeed. Believe me, some days prayer was the only way I could hold it together. Pray that God will bring the right people into your child’s life.
  9. Communicate regularly with your spouse.
    It is critical that you are both on the same page when it comes to your child’s development. You both need to know what is working, and what is not.
  10. Learn from your child.
    Learn to see life from their perspective. Matthew has taught us how to look at the simplest of things and to be able to admire the color, the shape, or an interesting detail.

There were so many blessings wrapped up in this unexpected gift that God gave us. The first was the recognition of Matthew as a unique individual. Through the reports we got, the individuals involved in testing and assisting Matthew, and his teachers, we were given specific and vital clues to tap into the way that Matthew learned and processed information. Now that we are using strategies that match Matthew’s strengths, he is flourishing. He has found new wings and is once again taking risks in learning and in social situations.

The second gift is that Matthew’s stress level has come way down. The first day he went back to school after the results of the testing came in, he did not want to go. He was worried, he was feeling stupid and he was frustrated. I explained that what was happening to him was not his fault – he was not dumb. I expressed to him his strengths and explained that there was part of his brain that needed to catch up to the rest of him. I told him that his teachers knew what the problem was and that they wanted to help him. He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said “Mom that’s perfect; I don’t have to worry any more.” (My eyes were not dry either.) He walked out the door and I have not heard another word about him wanting to miss school.

Lastly, God has brought so many people into our lives with whom we’ve been able to share our journey and suggest some good resources to. Matthew’s teachers have been absolutely amazing as well. I have called one of them Matthew’s personal angel for the past year. I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that God places people into the lives of our children at critical moments.

It has been a year of both challenge and blessing and I don’t believe our journey is over yet. We will keep unwrapping this precious gift that God has given to us. Some days it seems like Matthew has to work harder than any of our other children to accomplish normal school work, and other days his imagination and creativity just shine. I can hardly wait to see what God has in store for him in the future. I’m sure I will be amazed at how God is able to use all of this for His glory.

Us Four and No More

The following article was copied from www.d6family.com.

My husband and I both work full time in ministry. We are the proud parents of two teenagers. Often, as a family, we are pulled in different directions. Sports, jobs, theatre practice, music lessons, church events, and so on. We get caught up in all we have to do; all of the people that need us. When we start to feel busy or overwhelmed as a family, one of us will say “OK, us four, no more.” That means it is time to hit pause and spend time together as a family—just the four of us and no one else.

You can improve the quality of your family time by doing things together as a family every chance you get. The activities can be big or small, planned or spontaneous. It’s just about spending time together. If you are looking for ideas to create quality family time, here are a few activities you can try with your family.

Have a family devotional
Game night
Build a snowman
Pack a picnic
Go on a family bike ride
Fly a kite
Make a bird feeder
Watch old home movies
Hang out around the fire-pit
Read a book together
Pull out sleeping bags and have an indoor campout
Roast marshmallows in your fireplace and make s’mores
Throw ball in the back yard
Have a Nerf battle
Go ice skating
Shoot some hoops
Have a dance party
Pitch a tent in your back yard
Make a fort in your living room
Draw a family portrait
Paint a picture to hang in your home
Play hide and seek
Make homemade ice cream
Have an outdoor movie night
Go to Goodwill and pick out an outfit for each other to wear
Make play dough creations
Go on a hike
Play four square
Do a puzzle
Try Geocaching
Make a time capsule
Watch the sunset
Have a craft night
Look at family photo albums together
Make your own pizza night
Go swimming
Have a lip sync battle
Write letters to each other
Plant a garden
Make a meal for someone who is sick
Play charades
Play Frisbee together
Create sidewalk chalk masterpieces
Go stargazing
Make a craft from Pinterest together
Go bowling

Remember, these family time activities do not have to be complicated. Your children just want to spend time with you and make fun memories as a family.

How to Invite Others to Invest in the Lives of Your Kids

** The following article was copied from theparentcue.org.

“Mom, did you know that one time Ms. Sandra had a real live moose in her house?”

 “Hey mom, Miss Amy and Mr. Adam told me we are going to make snow globes when they come over next! Real snow globes!”  

“Mom, isn’t it so funny when Miss Jenilee always shouts ‘Holla!’ when she is excited? What does that even mean?”

These are some of the conversations I have with my children about their friendships with adults outside of our family. They are fun little stories and tid-bits that reflect real relationship and investment into their lives.

We are one of the few families in our area that is blessed to have extended family living nearby. It is a rarity in Washington DC where most people are transplants. Our kids have aunties and uncles and teenage cousins that treat them like royalty and slip them candy whenever we aren’t looking. But we also have this rich community of non-family members that have made connections with our kids. My husband and I often comment at the depth of our gratitude for the adults that have taken an interest in our kids. It is a great source of encouragement, as a parent, to have other people come to know and love our children and speak life into them. We value the investment and look for opportunities to cultivate it.

We have Mr. Adam and Ms. Amy, a sweet married couple excited to start a family of their own. In the meantime, they pour all sorts of love onto our kids, taking them on adventures to the zoo and the park and out to pizza. We had Ms. Sandra who moved to DC on temporary assignment with her husband and was missing her grandkids so badly that she adopted ours as her own. Many of the Bible stories that our kids know come from the skits she created with them or the pop-up art projects they did together. The younger staff and volunteers that we work with at our church ask our kids to jump in and serve alongside them on Sundays, invite themselves over to play Legos or Barbies, and show up at their school performances. They are like big sisters and brothers, and their biggest fans.

A couple of years ago, we hosted Chap Clark, co-author of the book Sticky Faith, to speak to parents at our church. As a long-time researcher of youth and family ministry, Chap shared that for years, youth ministers have used the 5:1 ratio as a goal in youth ministry—one adult for every five kids. But, he proposed, what if we flipped that and aimed to have five adults for every one child? He explained that 40-50% of church-going young people are stepping away from their faith because they haven’t had the opportunity to see an authentic faith lived out in the life of adults they trust and admire.

So, Chap encouraged parents to invite adults with shared values to invest in the lives of their kids. I am often asked by other parents how to do this. Parents are eager to encourage these relationships but don’t know how to begin. Here are my best recommendations for how to get started.

Make an invitation already! Just start somewhere! Invite a college student to dinner. Share with that grandma from church that your daughter has been wanting to learn to sew, and ask if she might come over and teach her a few things. When you plan your son’s birthday party, ask a couple of teens or singles if they would come and help run games. Ask a newly married couple to take your kids to the movies, offering to cover the cost of tickets. Just start somewhere and see what happens!

Recognize it is not luck. My husband and I often hear that we are “lucky” to have these folks in our lives. We would never disregard that all of our rich relationships are a gift. But we were purposeful in allowing these friends to have space in our lives. It takes effort and intentionality to invite others into the life of your family. Make a plan and take intentional steps to help your kids make a connection.

Say yes when others take a step to engage. You might not realize it, but you may have passed up opportunities for relationship without intending to. When someone offers to babysit so you can get a night out, don’t hesitate to take them up on the offer.  If someone expresses an interest in something that interests your child, consider that a clue to an area in which they could connect. Remember that some people might have an interest in connecting with your family and might be dropping hints because they don’t know where to begin either.

Embrace the awkward. Yes, it will feel a bit funny at first. You are likely at different life stages than this person you are inviting in, so hunt a little for ways to connect. I sometimes feel lame inviting a young person over for movie night because surely they have better things to do on a Friday night. It can also be awkward or embarrassing to allow someone into your home and see the dirty dishes and the laundry piling up. Commit to pushing through the awkward stage to get to the fruit of real relationship.

Realize that relationship is a two way street. Parents have this bad habit of feeling sheepish if anyone extends help in our parenting journey. But, remember, you have something to share too. Family life offers a great comfort to someone who is single or an empty nester. Invite someone to share in your home-cooked meal. Be available to lend a listening ear about a job change or hurdles in a young marriage. Remember that you have something to give as well.

Be an investor yourself. Just because you are a parent yourself does not mean you are off the hook to be an influencer in the life of young people outside of your family. I attend plenty of musicals and sporting events to be a “super fan” for some young people in my life. Though it can feel like my hands are full with my own kids, I don’t want to miss the opportunity to make a connection with a young person who might share my interest in playing water sports, making silly videos, or decorating cookies.

Taking steps to invite healthy influencers into the lives of your children will ensure support and investment you trust. You will give them an opportunity to see an authentic faith lived out in the lives of someone they admire. And, as a bonus, you will show your kids that you believe they are worth knowing.

Parenting in the Power of the Gospel

** The following article was copied from core christianity.com.

All Christian parents desire the spiritual well-being of their children. We want our children to be Christians, to get saved, to know God; however we express it, we want our children to be part of the company of the redeemed. We yearn for the blessing of God’s covenant grace to be on our children. This longing to see one generation follow another in knowing God motivates the training and instruction of our children. Psalm 78:3-7 (ESV) captures it:

Things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and teach to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.

We declare God’s mighty acts to the next generation (Ps. 145) because we long for our children to know the grace we have known. We teach God’s ways so that our sons and our son’s sons will follow God (Deut. 6).

Moved by this passion, Christian parents also long for assurance that their children will grow up Christian. I have been asked hundreds of times all over the globe, “If I do all the things you teach in Shepherding a Child’s Heart, will my children grow up to be Christians? Doesn’t the Bible teach that if we raise them right, our children will walk in God’s ways? Doesn’t God’s covenant guarantee they will be saved?”

How can we think about these things? Why do some children raised in Christian homes grow up loving God, while others, sometimes from the same home, turn away? In answering this question, we must identify two issues that have an impact on the persons our children become: the shaping influences of their lives and the Godward orientation of their hearts.

Shaping Influences

Shaping influences are those events and circumstances in a child’s developmental years that prove to be catalysts for making him the person he is. There is a clear biblical warrant for acknowledging the lifelong implications of early childhood experience. The major passages dealing with family (Deut. 6, Eph. 6, and Col. 3) presuppose the importance of shaping influences they include your faithfulness as a parent, the consistency of correction and discipline in your home, your nurture, your teaching of Christian truth, your family times in God’s word, even the ways you demonstrate spiritual vitality before your children.

Your children interact with every shaping influence you provide on the basis of the Godward orientation of their hearts. Here is what I mean: your children are covenantal beings. Humanity is essentially religious; no one is truly neutral even our children worship either Jehovah or idols. All of us filter the experiences of life through a religious grid.

In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul reminds us that the truth of God revealed in creation leaves all mankind without excuse. All human beings respond to this revelation in creation; they either worship God or, in the words of Romans 1, they “exchange the truth for a lie and worship and serve created things.” Fallen humans refuse to acknowledge and submit to the things God has made plain in the creation. Paul further observes that when people know God in the creation and do not glorify him, they fall into futile thinking that leads to idolatry.

The Godward orientation of the heart ultimately determines how your children will respond to the truth you teach them. If they bow before idols rather than God, they will reject your best efforts at training them in his ways.

Proverbs 9:7-10 shows us that there are two different ways children respond to correction, rebuke, instruction, and teaching. One is the response of the wise or righteous child. He loves his instructor; he grows wiser; he increases in his learning. The other fellow the mocker, the wicked child responds with hatred, insults, and abuse. What accounts for the difference? “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Wisdom determines how a child responds to correction. Your children are never neutral in response to your parenting but always active. Whatever they do with God, whatever they determine to worship and serve, will determine how they respond to your parenting efforts. Two children from the same home may respond in very different ways to the same parenting style. That’s why it is not possible to provide a guarantee that if you get it right, children will respond with faith.

The desire for such assurances is easily understood. From the time your first child is born, you realize you will never have a happy day if your child is unhappy. The parents’ love creates a longing for their child to thrive and flourish. That desire takes on eternal significance when we think of our children’s immortality. The idea that they could go into eternity without God is unbearable for any believing parent. So we long for assurance that there is something we can do that will guarantee their everlasting joy and happiness in the presence of God.

I recall how sobering these thoughts were to me as a young father. I realized that as a fallen man I had passed on to my young children a nature that is fallen and corrupt, but I could not pass on to them the grace of forgiveness and new life in Christ. I remember thinking that each day as I taught my children the Scriptures I gave them the truth that would either be their salvation or increase their accountability before God, for to whom much is given much will be expected.

Child Salvation by (Parental) Works?

We cannot save our children. We don’t like to face that. We long for some guarantee, some assurance that if we do the right things they will turn out all right. But in some ways, it is a relief to face that reality. If you think of it, the idea that we must save them through our good works is a pressure no parent can bear. It hinges our children’s eternal destiny on our ability to perform.

We have to be able to represent God in all his glory, teach them adequately, be a vibrant example of true spirituality, and we have to do it all flawlessly or our children will be forever lost. The fact is that I failed as a parent. Too often my pride and self-righteousness got in the way. I personalized my children’s sins as if they were sins against me and not against God. I was inconsistent, sometimes capricious, too busy, too concerned about me, too blind to the idols of my heart.

What Are We to Do?

Then why bother? If I cannot be assured that good biblical parenting will produce saved children, why bother? Why work so hard at the parenting task? Why read books on parenting, why work so hard on the ways we structure family life and the effort we put into things like family worship, faithfulness in church, and careful, timely, appropriate discipline?

We do these things because it is our calling as God’s redeemed people. Ephesians 6:4 says we should bring up our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Deuteronomy 6 says that God’s words are to be upon our hearts and impressed diligently upon our children. We do these things out of love for God. It is our delight to obey God and to teach his ways to our children. His grace makes us delight in him and his law in our inmost being (Rom. 7:22).

Parents often ask, “What hope then is there for my kids, if I cannot get them into the Kingdom by my faithful parenting? What’s my hope?” Our hope is not our fidelity to the law of good parenting but to the power of the gospel. Our hope is the wonder of grace. Our hope is that God has placed our children in our home and has given us the one true answer for our kids’ most profound needs.

God has put them in a family where they are confronted with their sin and the goodness of the One who came into the world to save sinners. Every day I am bringing grace to my children. I have the opportunity to model the grace of the gospel by honestly confessing my own failures and responding to their failures with gracious discipline and discipling. They daily hear the word of God. We know that faith comes by hearing.

Each week we gather where the church sings God’s praises, and they hear God’s people pray and listen to the word of God preached. They are confronted with the vibrant reality of the worshiping church, interpreting life through the lens of Scripture. Historically, God has used these means to bring people to faith, and so I pray week by week that God will, through these means, shine his light into their hearts, giving them the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6).

There was a mother whom I was privileged to serve in the church. She prayed for her son’s salvation. She prayed for fifty-eight years without giving way to unbelief, but she died without seeing him come to faith. Within several years of her death, however, God brought her son to see his need for grace and to embrace Christ and his saving grace. Her prayers were answered even though she did not live to see the answer.

This hope will seem insufficient to the one who is looking for performance guarantees. But this is a realistic hope that keeps me on my knees before God, beseeching him to do in and for my children what I cannot do myself. It keeps me humble in prayer, asking God to use the means he has appointed. It keeps me casting myself on his grace and mercy. It makes me a humble supplicant before the sovereign God of grace. My encouragement is not that I can get it right but that God is a willing, able, powerful Savior of sinners.

Avoid Arguing With Your Kids

** The following article was copied from theparentcue.org.

You can’t effectively discipline your teenager if you continually find yourself in the middle of an argument with him. When disciplining, conversations may become heated, so use good communication skills and agree to walk away until you’ve both calmed down. The best way to avoid an argument is by refusing to engage in one.

When she was younger, one of our daughters could win most arguments in our home. She was dynamic and articulate and could argue either side of an issue. Sometimes I think she would argue simply for the sake of arguing. There were times when she was just exhausting. One day a counselor friend of mine gave me two words of advice: quit arguing. He encouraged me to hold my ground and refuse to argue with my daughter.

Learning to resist arguing with a child who is pushing your buttons isn’t easy, but here are three sayings I’ve found are helpful to diffuse potential arguments with teens:

“I FEEL YOUR PAIN.”

If your child knows your expectations and they break them, or if they suffer consequences from their poor decisions, let them know you care and that you feel their pain. You have empowered your child to make healthy decisions, but when he doesn’t do that, you can show him empathy while holding him accountable. In a HomeWord parent podcast, John Rosemond shared what he told his own kids: “If I was your age, I’d feel the same way. The answer is still no, but you are doing a great job expressing yourself.”

“NEVERTHELESS.”

This might be the most important word in the English language to show our kids who really is the leader in your home. Yes, we do feel their pain and we are listening; nevertheless, the consequences are going to stay. Adapting John’s words to his kids, a parent might say, “I can understand how you feel, and I might have felt the same way when I was your age. Nevertheless…”

“LIFE ISN’T FAIR.”

The sooner your child understands that life isn’t fair, and that whining and complaining won’t get her what she wants, she will quit trying to play the ‘make-it-fair’ game. Whenever you can, let reality be the teacher for your kids. If whining and manipulating works for a child even some of the time, it is the parent who has to live with the consequences.

Here are some more wise words John Rosemond shared in one of our parent podcasts: “Parents should not agonize over what a child fails to do or does if the child is perfectly capable of agonizing over it himself.” [i]Whatever your teen’s age, it’s about time he learns the truth that life isn’t always fair, but it sure can be good.”

Surviving Parenthood

** The following article was copied from theparentcue.org

If you knew what was involved in parenting, would you still go back and choose to do it? I’ll be honest, most days I would say, “no.” I would say that I’m clearly not cut out for this. In fact, parenting isn’t in my strength-finder results. If I had a boss in this job, I would have already been fired. Parenting is just so hard. And because parenting is hard, it pushes us in ways we never thought. I can’t tell you how many people tell me that they never thought they were an angry person until they had kids. And because parenting is hard and pushes us in ways that we never imagined, it can be one of the loneliest seasons of life. It leaves you feeling like no one else can relate or understand what you are experiencing.

I often tell people that I am surviving parenthood. I think it’s a really great idea to imagine being able to thrive every day in parenting, but the truth is—I’m surviving. Everyone was fed and loved by the end of the day. Isn’t that winning? Maybe for me, it’s less about thriving and more about surviving well each day.

Here are a few things that help me survive parenting well.

FEED YOUR SOUL.

Now more than ever, you need to find ways to rest, relax, and restore your soul. We all recharge differently, but for me surviving well means that each day I need to experience something for me.

Sometimes that comes in the form of reading something like a magazine, blog, or book. I need to be inspired visually so Instagram or Pinterest can do that for me. I also recharge through music. Music has the ability to transport my mind and my mood. I can hear a certain song and remember exactly where I was when I heard it 25 years ago. When I cook dinner, it is a must to have a John Mayer playlist going in the background. If I need to boost my mood, a little pop needs to be playing. And if I need to feel at peace, worship music plays in the background. Sometimes for me, simply getting outside with music in my ears and walking does the trick.

There are so many ways to feed your soul — journaling, exercising, cooking, reading, listening to podcasts, watching something. Find whatever it is and incorporate it into your daily life.

BE INTENTIONAL ABOUT BUILDING YOUR TRIBE.

Let’s all say it together: I can’t do this alone. We were never created to do life alone much less raise human beings alone. Parenting is hard. For many of us with little kids, it’s a miracle that you made it out the door today. And if you were dressed in something other than workout clothes, then high fives all around. We need people to come alongside us to encourage us, to run with us, and to encourage us when we are ready to quit.

My tribe refers to each other as “mom on deck.” Sometimes we need to know there is a mom on deck who can pick your kid up from school or bring you food in the hospital or tuck your kid in when something unexpected comes up. It takes effort and intention to allow other people to come alongside you. If you don’t have someone, be the one who makes the effort. We all want to be pursued. but sometimes you need to be the one who extends an offer.
DON’T FORGET TO BE YOU.

You are a unique masterpiece created for good works. And just because you have children doesn’t mean that you have to stop being uniquely you. Remind yourself of what you enjoy. Who were you before you had children? Maybe you need to dedicate one hour a week to doing something creative like writing or photography or crafting or playing a sport. Don’t be a martyr for your children.

It would be a terrible thing for your children to see that being parent is about letting your dreams die. Instead, pursue your dreams so that your kids will see that being a parent doesn’t mean letting go of your dreams and ambitions.

A couple of years ago, started a podcast called Surviving Sarah. It’s a weekly show where I have conversations with different people to be a megaphone to who they are and what they do, but I also get to be a megaphone of encouragement for women who are surviving right where they are. And my daughters think I’m so cool because I’m on iTunes along with their favorite, Taylor Swift. But I love setting an example to them of imagining the life you want and then invite them along  while you pursue it.

Surviving parenthood is hard. It is not for the faint of heart. I am cheering you on as you feed that baby, change the 100th diaper, wipe snot, endure that epic tantrum and given another eye roll. You got this. You are a wonderfully unique masterpiece created for good works. And this job of parenting is a good work.