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Are we modeling kindness for our children?

“Use kind words, gentle hands, and find someone who needs a friend today,” I said to my son as I dropped him off at the gym day care.

“I will, Mommy. I will be kind today. I will share,” he replied as he bounced away gleefully.

Kindness with our children
It is so important to me that my kids are kind; in fact, sometimes I think I place a little too much emphasis on it. In a world that so desperately needs more kindness, I want to make sure I’m raising boys who love God and love others unconditionally.

For as much as I give verbal reminders, true kindness is shown by modeling the behavior—seeing kindness in action. So when my son reminded me, “You need to be kind, Mommy!” when I was asking him to do something, it made me stop in my tracks.

How often am I really modeling kindness for my sons?

“Don’t do that.”

“Hurry up!”

“Get your shoes on, NOW!”

Commands that are often heard throughout our day blare like sirens in my brain when I lay down at night. Am I nurturing my boys and showing them kindness?

Kindness with our spouses
Recently my husband and I—just the two of us—went out on our first date in more than eight months. We have an eight-month-old baby at home, so I’ll let you do the math. To be honest, it felt like a chore to get that date planned. It seems the longer you don’t give a relationship proper nurturing, the harder it is to get back to that baseline foundation. Once we were out, we had a blast, but it’s the getting out that is hard right now.
At one point during our date, I found myself apologizing for not expressing gratitude enough. The truth is he works really, really hard so that I can stay home with our boys. We both work hard to make our home what it is, but stress can take its toll on each of us.

Jesus quoted words from Genesis, “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Matthew 19:5).

When is the last time we felt we were a united front or on the same exact page? When is the last time we were truly “one”?  I wondered.

Like most couples with young kids, we are sleep-deprived and overscheduled. Many evenings and weekends are jam-packed with obligations, home improvement projects, grocery shopping, cleaning, bathing our children, and keeping them alive. I admitted honestly to him, “You know, I wonder what our marriage would be like if I spent as much time working on being a better wife as I do trying to be a better parent.”

Just like my kids feel they can be sassy and defiant to me, I often feel I can be sarcastic and harsh with my husband. That’s never easy to admit, but the more and more I think about the example I want to set for my children, I recognize that I need to start with me.

Power in our weakness
This admission may seem like I’m airing out a vulnerable weakness, and if that’s how you see it, you’d be correct. The truth is there are many days I wonder if God picked the right woman for the job. Raising kids in a sinful world is no joke!

In her book You Are Free, Rebekah Lyons says, “God demonstrates his power through our frailty. In fact, this is the only thing we can boast in: His power is made perfect and on full display in our never-enough-ness. When we are weak, we are actually made strong in Christ Jesus” (see 2 Corinthians 12:9,10).

God nurtures us in the most perfect way. First, when I’m falling short, full admission of my weakness and asking God for forgiveness helps me seek forgiveness from my husband, my kids, or anyone else I’ve wronged. His forgiveness sets me back on the path he created for me.

So, while modeling kind words, gentleness, and love is extremely important in raising empathetic and God-fearing boys, so is admission of sin and forgiveness.

Recognizing that I’m not a perfect wife and mother doesn’t make me want to give up, but rather helps me recognize that I need God more than ever and makes me want to try better next time. A heart full of thankfulness for Jesus’ love on the cross motivates me to display that love in all my relationships.

It’s not always easy to admit weakness (sometimes the list feels so long that I don’t know where to even begin), but I’ve regularly been asking God to show me areas of my life that I need to work on, areas that could use a little nurturing. My son pointing out that I wasn’t using kind words could have made me angry, but it didn’t. I believe God was using that sweet boy to kindly point out that Mommy needs to remember that “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:45).

Lyons also writes and reminds us to take action, “God delights in us. He doesn’t want us to live in bondage. . . . He comes and says, ‘Let’s nail this thing. Let’s not dance around it, perform around it, or seek validation to make it feel better. Let’s just go after it.’ ”

Strength from God
So now, instead of just repeating my mantra when I drop my son off to play with other children, we speak it every morning, together, as a reminder for us both: “Today we will try our hardest to use kind words, gentle hands, and to be a good friend. With God’s help, we can do it!”

God’s calling to nurture and love my husband and these boys doesn’t mean that every day will be easy, but he has fully equipped me with Christ’s example and his promise that we are in this together.

Nicole Smith and her husband are raising two young boys in Sussex, Wisconsin. This article is reprinted with permission from holyhenhouse.com, a blog for “imperfect women spurred on by God’s perfect grace.”

Raising gentlemen

Sometimes we forget that Jesus is both strong and gentle.  

The One who shouted down the wind and waves—“Be quiet!”—also let little children clamber onto his lap for a blessing. The One who started crying at the sight of his beloved Jerusalem also strode into the Court of Gentiles and started slinging a whip, toppling tables, spilling coins, driving out the merchants who didn’t belong there.  

It’s a good reminder that a Christian man can be both strong and gentle, recognizing that strength is not brutality, and gentleness is not weakness.  

I still like the old term “gentleman.” I want to raise up sons who are gentlemen, whose gentleness is actually strength wrapped in wisdom. My picture of a gentleman is based on my gentleman father.    

A gentleman knows he’s physically stronger than most women, so he opens doors for them, carries the heavy boxes, and walks on the curb side of the sidewalk for their protection. Dads, let’s model these courtesies. Moms, let’s sometimes say, “I need somebody’s muscles for this bag”—even if it’s not that heavy. 

A gentleman knows when he has to get physical—as Jesus did. Sometimes brutes only respond to brute strength, and a man has to defend himself, his friends, family, or country. Moms, if God made our little boys the wrestle-on-the-floor type, we can let them exercise that instinct. And if God made them more inclined to defend others with words than wallops, we can let them exercise that instinct.  

A gentleman cries. Let’s never say, “Big boys don’t cry” if crying is exactly what a situation calls for. If we have an overly sensitive child on our hands, though, one who cries at the drop of a hat, well, that’s a whole different article.   

A gentleman respects others. This plays out in a number of ways.  

  • A gentleman gives others room to speak. He doesn’t need to dominate, filling rooms with his mansplaining and withholding praise for others. Instead, he’s a leader who listens. Dads, you can help by leading that way yourself and by refereeing the kids’ verbal tussles: “Hey, don’t interrupt each other . . .” “Try saying, ‘Yes’ first. Find points of agreement before you disagree.”  
  • A gentleman cleans up. Moms, we need to rein in our instinct to pick up every vagabond sock and clean up every mess because it’s faster. Let the lads take responsibility for themselves.  
  • A gentleman has good manners. He looks people in the eye, shakes hands firmly, and says, “Please.” He doesn’t start eating until everyone has their food, and he knows how to chew with his mouth closed. This isn’t pretension. It’s respect for others.  

Finally, a gentleman keeps his word. He’s trustworthy. He has integrity. The whole world can depend on the word of a gentleman.   

Your picture of a gentleman might be different than mine. That’s okay. Hopefully we all agree, though, that our boys can be both gentle and strong, just like Jesus—the One who said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” and also “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.” 

Laurie Gauger-Hested and her husband, Michael, have a blended family that includes her two 20-somethings and his teenage son.  

Balancing strength and gentleness

Teaching our kids to find a balance between strength and gentleness is tough, because there’s a tension, isn’t there? On the one hand we’d like to see our kids strong—leaders making use of their gifts. On the other hand we want them to understand the value of gentleness—a humility, putting others first.  

As Christians we know to look to God’s Word for answers, and what we find is very satisfying. Whether we’re talking about the strength side of the scale or the gentleness side, it’s not about us; it’s about God. That takes the pressure off. 

For example, a child who is strong in an area tends to gain a level of notoriety. If the child takes credit for the strength, there is a lack of gentleness toward other children who don’t have that strength. There is an unspoken condescension, a misunderstanding that she somehow achieved things on her own to be better than other kids. God’s Word tells us that our talents and abilities are gifts from God, and it is God who should receive the glory. A child who properly understands this can be strong and gentle, humbly thanking God for opportunities, and acknowledging that other kids, through their own strengths or even weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9-10), are equally blessed with opportunities to glorify God. 

A child’s acts of gentleness can also be flawed. He may figure that niceness should earn him niceness in return. If that doesn’t happen, the child might decide there is no longer any advantage to being nice. The Bible teaches that since God has shown us undeserved love in forgiving our sins against him through Jesus, we are called by God to show love to friends and enemies alike. A child who properly understands this can be gentle and strong, showing the grace of God even in the face of resistance. 

As parents it’s beneficial to regularly be in God’s Word ourselves and with our kids to really grasp God’s strength as well as his grace and how it affects our lives. The Bible is full of good examples, but perhaps the best place to start is with Jesus himself, our perfect model of strength and gentleness. His Sermon on the Mount offers a great perspective.  

Remember how it felt to be kids dealing with social pressures? We can pray that God through his Word would help us relieve our kids’ stresses by teaching them that they aren’t alone when it comes to demonstrating strength and gentleness. Rather, God through Jesus has blessed us with the privilege of sharing his strength and gentleness with others. 

Adam Goede and his wife, Stephanie, have four children ranging in age from 5-12.  

Finding strength in gentleness

How wonderful it is to have the opportunity to teach gentleness and strength to our kids. However, I have to admit, I wonder how my wife, Kelly, and I are fostering gentleness and strength in our kids within a culture that seems to encourage one over the other.  

“Be strong!” “Be assertive!” “Teach your kids not to cry!” “Don’t give in!” “Win at all costs!”  

Gentleness can be seen by some as weak, vulnerable, or cowardly. Kelly recently witnessed this at our local drug store and shared it with the kids and me when she got home. A customer in line ahead of her became verbally abusive to a cashier when an incorrect amount was accidently charged on her debit card. The customer accused the cashier of intentionally trying to steal money and provided some extra choice words to enhance her position. Kelly noted, though, that the cashier was cool, calm, and gently responded to the customer to acknowledge her concern, reassure her, and make the adjustment or refund—and even thank her for shopping at the store as she left.  

When we talked about the event, I asked, “How did that cashier not get angry?” I think that the cashier was using more strength than the customer in that instance.  

We can appreciate our culture’s understanding of strength—but we shouldn’t use it as an excuse to be abusive and go well beyond appropriate assertiveness. As we consider the example of Christ Jesus and are motivated by his love for us, a simple act of gentleness can be an unselfish act of love that so many people are yearning to see.  

Consider the strength it takes to, “Do nothing of out selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3,4).  

The amazing thing about this is that the strength it takes to be gentle and unselfish is given to us by God—it’s a natural result of our faith and love for him. After thinking about Kelly’s experience, I can now better appreciate the essence of a gentle response in the face of what some view as a “strong” approach. I can’t help but apply this to my own parenting and my temptation to sacrifice gentleness for strength or control.  

I’m convinced that experiences similar to what she saw in the store are all around my kids on the episodes of the latest Netflix series, in school, or on the “funny” YouTube video shared by friends. These poor examples of others being strong or selfishly stronger than others won’t teach appropriate boundaries or proper assertiveness to our kids, but they can be opportunities to give to others what is so desperately needed—an example of strength in gentleness as a result of a loving faith.   

Dan Nommensen and his wife, Kelly, have a teenage daughter and a pre-teen son.