Helping our kids find role models

When I was a kid, I adored Olivia Newton-John’s character, Sandy, from the movie Grease. I wanted to be her. That perfectly flipped hair. That golden voice. That sweet, upright disposition. Then it all changed in the last scene of the movie. Gone were the sweater sets and pearls and out came the too-tight leather pants and garish makeup. She changed who she was—just to win the favor of some guy. I was crushed! How could I still look up to her?

It’s tough to find good role models, especially for our kids. The “role models” that our society produces—reality TV stars, Hollywood celebs, professional athletes—can have a broken moral compass. Here are a few things to remember as we help our kids find role models they can look up to.

Look for role models outside the norm. Role models can come from all sorts of places: the quiet World War II veteran who lives next door and fought for his country on the beaches of Normandy. The doctor who set aside her six-figure salary and instead chooses to volunteer in a third-world country. The teacher who has spent over half his life faithfully mentoring kids in and out of the classroom. We can help our kids find these role models.

Look for role models in your child’s interest areas. Does your child love science? Encourage her to study the life of someone who made a groundbreaking discovery despite the odds. Does your child love writing? Help him find an author who endured rejection after rejection yet persisted. Kids need role models who can inspire them and show them what’s possible.

Help your kids understand that even the best role models are flawed, and we can learn from that. David—“a man after [God’s] own heart”—had an affair with another man’s wife, and when he found out she was carrying his child, set in motion a series of tragic events that led to the death of her husband and had ramifications on David’s family for years to come. Discuss with your kids why God included flawed heroes in his story: to remind us repeatedly of our desperate need for forgiveness and the power of his grace, and also to remind us that God uses us, flawed as we are, for his purposes.

In the end, we need more than worldly role models. We need a Savior. While we can look to Jesus as a role model, we must first see him as our Redeemer. He was perfectly kind, perfectly loving, perfectly forgiving. He prayed constantly, studied the Scriptures, and obeyed his Father in a way we never could. Praise God that when we inevitably fall short of his perfect standards, we can look to the one who lovingly kept those standards perfectly!

A God-pleasing attitude toward money

As I sit down to write this article, my oldest son is beginning his final semester of college. Our time of instructing him in our home is nearing an end. I’m pretty sure it was only yesterday that I took his little hand and led him into his kindergarten classroom, and today I am facing a bittersweet ending, a closing of a chapter in our parenting lives. On that fall day 16 years ago, and on the many days that followed, it seemed like our years of parenting would stretch on forever. It seemed like there were unlimited days left for teaching opportunities in our home.

So now I have a confession to make. In hindsight, one of those teaching opportunities that my husband, Thad, and I often failed to be intentional about was modeling a God-pleasing attitude toward money and possessions, and better yet—a focus on living out of gratitude for the Lord and all he’s blessed us with. We thank God that, in Christ, he forgives our shortcomings as parents!

Here are some important lessons that Thad and I have learned and are still working to teach in our home regarding our attitude toward money and possessions:

  • Everything we have—from the comfortable house we live in to the stray paper clip at the bottom of the junk drawer—is a “gift from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17). We are simply the blessed and undeserving recipients of these gifts. When we have that attitude, we start to view our possessions as a “privilege,” instead of a “right.”
  • We need to show our kids how to give sacrificially to God in response to all our blessings and verbalize why we give. As parents, we must model how to earmark the first portion of our income to support God’s work. It is a very intentional response to our blessings, and it serves others—and becomes more meaningful than just a few coins hastily shoved into the little Sunday school envelope five minutes before the service begins. (And yes, we did this.)
  • We need to model how to do an honest day’s work—for which we earn an honest wage. We can’t raise the next generation to do nothing and expect something in return. When we have to work hard for something, it carries a higher value.
  • Our value is not dependent on how much money we have in the bank or what brand of car we drive. Quite simply, our value is dependent on who we are in Christ. We are redeemed children of God, and nothing on earth is worth more than that.

Is it too late for Thad and me to teach our kids these lessons in our home? No. Although our boys are legally adults, they are still our children. We are still Mom and Dad, and it is still our number one responsibility to instruct them in God’s truth and in how to view our lives—and all we have—as gifts from a loving heavenly Father.

Modeling contentment

In preparing to write about contentment, I issued myself a challenge. How long could I go without expressing my discontentment in any way? Well, I think I made it about 10 minutes. Sadly, it’s not in our sinful nature to be content. Every day on this earth is a battle as we examine our possessions, home, looks, situation and find them lacking in some way. There will always be someone out there who is healthier, richer, prettier, more successful than we are. How can we cultivate a heart of contentment in our children—and ourselves—in that environment?

The Bible gives some marvelous examples of godly contentment. Take the apostle Paul, for one. The self-proclaimed “worst of sinners” endured some things in God’s name that would send most of us packing. He lived through shipwrecks. Floggings. Hunger. A snake bite. Prison. Throughout all those situations, he “learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11). He even gently reminded Timothy, “If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Timothy 6:8).

Does my family have food? Yes. And we often waste it. Does my family have clothing? You bet. So much that we often puzzle over our options of what to wear.

So, at this time of year in particular, how do we as Christian parents teach our children to be content “whatever the circumstances”? It might sound simplistic, but I believe it is critical for us to model godly contentment in our homes by what we say—and do. There are many ways to do this, but here are a few ideas:

  • Guard our tongues in how we speak about our circumstances. I’m ashamed to admit how often I have expressed discontentment in front of my boys. Our kids are listening and picking up on our attitudes—good and bad. How comforting that we can confess our failings to God and be reassured of his forgiveness.
  • Seek out situations where we can help others and learn to value our blessings. How impactful as a family to volunteer in a mission setting or help our kids donate their gently-used possessions to those who need them more than they do. These teaching circumstances will have a greater impact than just saying, “We are very blessed.”
  • Set aside the first portion of our earnings or chore money to give sacrificially to our church out of gratitude for God’s blessings. We can model that as God has abundantly blessed us, we, in thankfulness, should use our blessings to help advance the work of his kingdom.
  • At the dinner table or in the car, ask, “What are you thankful for today?” Big blessings or small, they are all a gift from our loving Father, bestowed upon his undeserving children. How humbling.

As a parent, I constantly have to remind myself that by being discontent with what God has given me, I am in effect saying, “God, you don’t know what you’re doing.” I pray for the strength to model for my boys that although God doesn’t always give us what we want, in his perfect wisdom, he gives us exactly what we need.

The root of “discipline” is “disciple”

As our kids become older, I have come to realize that discipline doesn’t have to be a negative thing, fraught with tears and drama and anger. After all, the root of discipline is disciplea student who is guided by a wise teacher and spreads that teacher’s beliefs.

What if we start to look at discipline as discipling? It changes the focus. It becomes less on punishment and anger and more on correction and guidance. What a blessing for our children when we discipline in love, according to God’s perfect wisdom! “Blessed is the one you discipline, LORD, the one you teach from your law” (Psalm 94:12).

Do you remember the first time you held your newborn? So perfect. So innocent. Discipline was the last thing on your mind. But then the dreaded day arrived: the first time those pureed peas came flying right back at you. Or the first toddler tantrum, during the quietest part of the sermon. Even our precious babies are sinful from conception (Psalm 51:15).

I admit that discipline is tough for me as a parent, since my nature cringes at conflict. Thankfully, my husband, with his quiet spiritual wisdom and practicality, has balanced me out as we do our best to discipline our boys in love as a united team, using God’s Word as our guide.

As our boys age, our methods of discipline have changed. No longer does a time-out alone in the bedroom cut it. That is every teen’s dream. Our disciplines have taken on age-appropriate forms, like loss of the car keys, not being able to attend a concert or game, or the loss of technology privileges. These disciplines are customized to the age of each child and each situation. They are designed to get this message across: We love you and God loves you, and his Word is very clear on right and wrong. If you break the house rules and God’s rules, there will be consequences. But there is always forgiveness as well.

Parents, let’s hang in there when it comes to discipline in the home! We all want our kids to be honest and hardworking citizens. We want them to be faithful witnesses of God’s Word, living embodiments of Christ. It is our duty and privilege as Christian parents to “discipline those we love” (Proverbs 3:12) as we guide our kids in God’s truth. This is so easy to say but often so hard to do—especially as our society increasingly blurs the lines between right and wrong and dismisses moral absolutes.

As our boys become adults, it is getting even trickier to discipline as their choices become bigger and more life-impacting. And sometimes kids simply make poor choices, despite our best efforts and despite hours spent in family devotions, prayer, and worship. That’s when we need to hang on and pray like crazy. We need to keep showing them our love and forgiveness, while not compromising what God’s Word says, in all its perfect wisdom.

Different parenting styles, same Savior

When Forward in Christ asked if the topic of conflicting parenting styles is something that resonates with me, I have to admit that I actually laughed out loud. Oh, yes, it sure resonates—a little too much. Even after three kids and almost 21 years of parenting, I’m afraid my husband, Thad, and I are still working on this in our home.

I’m convinced that how we parent has a whole lot to do with what my counselor friend, Sheryl, calls your “family of origin.” Were any of us raised the same way, by the same kinds of parents? Unlikely. For example, Thad and I came from very different homes. In his home, you only talked if there was something that needed to be said. In my home, we were stream-of-consciousness talkers who lacked filters. In his home, you didn’t open up more than one bag of chips at a time. In my home, the cupboard contained a whole bonanza of accessible snacks.

So it’s not surprising how our unique upbringings can influence our parenting styles. And when you combine two very different parenting styles into one marriage, there is bound to be conflict. Thad tends to be the no-nonsense disciplinarian; I tend to be the softie who can lack follow-through. Over the years we’ve learned some very tough lessons about melding our parenting approaches, especially when it comes to the inevitable matter of disciplining our kids. Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned—usually the hard way:

  • It is important to agree to age-appropriate consequences ahead of time, as a couple, then stick to them. Putting consequences in place then not following through only causes confusion for our kids and sends the message that we don’t really mean what we say.
  • It’s critical to be a unified parental team in front of our kids. We work to not undermine each other, and to back each other up. If I’m not respectful to Thad, why would our boys show him respect? One of the most empowering things Thad does is say to our boys, “You need to listen to your mother.”
  • We strive to apply a healthy dose of God’s law, when needed, followed up with the soothing balm of the gospel. We are still learning in our parenting journey about discerning the appropriate use and timing of each, depending on the situation.

Even though Thad and I were raised in very different homes, there was one thing our homes had in common. We were both blessed with godly parents who loved each other, shared God’s Word with us, and modeled the importance of faithful church attendance and selfless service to others as a reflection of God’s love.

So despite the differences in how we were raised, the solid foundation of God’s Word was the base upon which our homes were built. And despite any differences Thad and I have in our parenting styles, how comforting it is to know that with Christ at the heart of our home, we will be blessed—and forgiven.

Changes in the way families communicate

I admit that I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with technology and the changes it has brought about for our lives. I love connecting with old friends on Facebook. (Look how big their kids are getting!) I hate the jealousy that so easily flares in my sinful heart when I see someone’s fabulous tropical vacation pictures when we are buried under yet another brutal Midwest winter. (I wish I could go on vacation instead of being stuck here shoveling snow!) I love connecting with my kids instantly via texting and Facebook. I hate that texting and Facebook have replaced much of the face-to-face communication that our family used to share.

At the risk of putting myself out there, let me give you a personal example (with permission from my children). Here is a text exchange that I shared with my son, Micah, one day after school.

Micah: Do you know where Ethan is? I am waiting for him in the parking lot.

Me: No. Can’t you text him?

Micah: I don’t have his cell phone number.

Please keep in mind a few things about this exchange.

  1. My sons, Ethan and Micah, had been riding together to their high school each day for two years.
  2. They are brothers. They live in the same house.
  3. During this exchange, I am at work—miles away from their school.

So what did I have to do? I texted Ethan the following message: Micah is waiting for you in the parking lot. Can you two PLEASE exchange cell phone numbers?!?

As I look back at this interchange, I’m not sure whether to laugh or be a little bit horrified. A decade ago, Micah would have trudged back into school, found his brother, and expressed his impatience face to face. How technology has changed the way families communicate!

So how can families stay connected in this digital age? And how can we make time for the most important connection of all—our relationship with Christ? I won’t pretend that our family always gets this right, but here are a few things we strive for in our home.

  1.  Use technology to build each other up. A Christ-centered text can remind family members that they are close to your heart and on your mind. We’ve sent many an “I love you” and “I am praying for you” text. We’ve also texted Scripture passages in tough times and in times of thankfulness.
  2. Don’t use technology to tear each other down. We all need to be so careful what we put out there via social media. Once it is out there, it is out there. Remember, “The tongue has the power of life and death” (Proverbs 18:21).
  3. Don’t let communication via technology take the place of personal, heartfelt communication. It is so important to share family meals as often as possible, minus the distraction of electronic devices. Sharing the day’s “highs and lows” at meals is a tradition we started when our boys were small. It provides a rich opportunity to pray about each family member’s triumphs and struggles. (But yes, as our boys became teens, we did have to make it clear that “having to share highs and lows” was not acceptable as a “low.”)

Our world is changing at lightning speed, and it can make our heads spin as we struggle to keep up. But we don’t need to. Ultimately, there is only one thing needful, as Jesus gently reminded Martha (Luke 10:42). I think I’ll text my kids that thought!