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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.”

What’s the best parenting advice you have received?

Years before I became a mother, I wrote a news article for Forward in Christ in which I interviewed a dad who described his nightly ritual of blessing his young daughter before she went to sleep. He noted, “Blessing your child is not hocus pocus. When I bless Kayla, I am asking the Lord to keep my daughter in the faith forever. It’s another tool that I can use to demonstrate my love for Christ and for my child, based on the love that Christ showed for me.”

That idea resonated with me, and after my daughter was born, I began blessing her each night. I’ve continued the ritual with my sons as well.

Do you have a piece of parenting advice that has stuck with you through the years? If so, please share it with us! Send your advice to fic@wels.net.

And that dad I interviewed? When I started compiling authors for this column, I knew I wanted him to be a part of it. So, you can find his advice below. He’s contributing author Dan Nommensen.

Nicole Balza is staff editor of Heart to heart: Parent conversations, Forward in Christ magazine’s monthly parenting column. She and her husband, Rob, have three children ranging in age from 5 to 13.


There have been a number of people in life who have either demonstrated or shared this important piece of parenting advice that I have kept on my heart.  In our confessional Lutheran understanding of Scripture, we treasure a right understanding of the importance of God’s law and gospel. Yet I must admit that my tendency is to lean on the law side of my parenting approach.  The encouragement that I have received, and try to pass on to others, is not to neglect the importance of the gospel.  The pure understanding that I am forgiven, a saint, a new creation through the work of Christ is what sets my heart looking for ways to demonstrate my love for God—not because I have to, should, or must, but because I can’t help but look for opportunities to be thankful.  This is our treasure!  Don’t leave it to a chance understanding for your kids.

Live in joy with your children and be intentional in sharing the gospel with them so they too can be motivated by Christ’s love.

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


Sam and I have given this some real thought. Independent of each other, we both wrote down the same  parenting  advice my father gave us early  in our parenting journey:

“Don’t sweat the small stuff, and pretty much everything is small stuff.”

Such a seemingly simple saying and yet so full of wisdom!

Mary Clemons and her husband, Sam, have three children and seven grandchildren.


Here’s mine. I got it from a priest named Zechariah (Luke 1).

Take your child in your arms every night and speak into their heart the truth.

Don’t be afraid to tell them what this world is really like. It’s dark and deadly outside, Zechariah said (cf. Luke 1:79). Then show them God’s Son who has come to dispel the darkness. His love arises for us like the sun each day, bright and warm. Say something like, “Tomorrow, my child, you will awaken to a bright new day in God’s love.” Let it be the lullaby of their life that wraps them up secure each night no matter what the darkness.

I’m borrowing metaphors and images from Zechariah’s great canticle and imagining the scene there where he sings by the Spirit, saying, “You, my child” (Luke 1:76). Luke marks it in Scripture as a truly Spirit-led parenting moment.

Jonathan Bourman and his wife, Melanie, have a six-year-old daughter.

What’s the best parenting advice you give?

I have two pieces of advice.

First, I encourage young parents to cultivate a spirit of empathy and service in their children.

Start early by finding a cause that your family is passionate about and volunteer for that cause regularly. Help kids to understand the motivation behind serving others (1 John 4:19) and the joy it brings to all involved. Send a clear message that serving others doesn’t need to come with compensation or reward—we do it out of love for those around us and for the God who created us. In serving, we also come to appreciate all the blessings that God has showered upon us!

Then, I encourage parents to teach children the value of work and how to work, starting at a very young age.

As soon as they are able, give children age-appropriate chores, then add responsibility as they get older. Teach them that all members of a family need to contribute to keep a household running smoothly. Once they are old enough, encourage them to secure a job outside the home to help them learn the value of work and responsibility with finances. After all, one of our main jobs as parents is to raise our children to be productive members of society!

Ann Jahns and her husband, Thad, have three 20-something sons.


My favorite advice: “Say yes first.”

My toddler wants ice cream right before dinner? “Yes! That sounds yummy. Let’s eat supper as fast as we can so we can have ice cream!”

My over-stretched middle schooler wants to take on a paper route? “Yes! That sounds great. What are some factors to think through before you sign on? Can you foresee anything you wouldn’t like about it? And you do know I won’t be getting up to help you, right?”

My high schooler is thinking about studying art or music at a pricey college? “Yes! How could we make it work? And what will you do with your art or music degree?”

When we say yes first to our kids, we’re shifting the responsibility to them.

They have to weigh the ramifications. And if they choose unwisely, they have to live with the consequences. That’s what growing up is all about.

And the best benefit? Saying yes means they’ll keep coming to us with all their schemes and dreams. They know we’re not the dream crusher. We’re the cheerleader! We’re excited to watch them decide how they’re going to take a big bite out of life and make a mark on the world.

Laurie Gauger-Hested and her husband, Michael, have a blended family that includes her adult daughter and son and his teenage son.

A different view of parenthood

Did you hear?

So much for doing away with helicopter parenting. Apparently, hyper-involved parenting works. They’re saying it leads to higher test scores.

Oof.

I took my daughter to our first daddy-daughter dance recently. Before I did, I remember the comments when I told people it was coming. “How special!” “Once in a lifetime opportunity!” “You never get these moments back!” It felt like a lot of pressure for a dad rolling in from a long, long week.

Oof.

And Christian parenting even ups the ante. We don’t just want our kids to grow up and be successful (whatever that means). We want them to serve people with their lives. We don’t just want to love and connect deeply to our kids along the way. We want them to believe in the grace of our Lord Jesus. That’s A LOT!

Oof.

What do I do with that? Punch back with my daddy manifesto. What does that look like?

I will remember: She’s not mine. She hasn’t been ever since Christ claimed her in her baptism. Therefore, I no longer shoulder final responsibility for her. What I will do is be her dad. I will teach her, cuddle her, discipline her, protect her, love her. I will work on her sight words with her. (I’ll obviously have to update this list as life progresses.) I will take her to gymnastics. I will teach her how to work through her emotions, what it looks like for a man to love a woman (her mom), and to understand the commandments. I will work to crystallize in her an identity as God’s child. I will be her dad. I will refuse, however, to be more than that.

I will not take up a God-sized burden I’ve never been asked to carry. I will not expect myself to be there for her everywhere. I will not expect myself to protect her always. That’s too big for me! I will content myself to be her father—not her Father!—which is all my circumscribed, located, finite self can do. I will empower that contentment by remembering who her Father is. He is her Creator and Redeemer who will shape her far better than I can; love her more than I ever will; and protect her everywhere and at all times with so much grace and power that, finally, he will resurrect her.

I actually think that last part is incredibly life-giving even now. I refuse to believe that my moments with my daughter are here today and gone tomorrow. I’m not going to let the heavy tonnage of that thought rest on me. I have every confidence that through Jesus my moments with her will never end. Try thinking about that the next time you’re watching your daughter doing “the floss” at the daddy/daughter dance. It’s an interesting juxtaposition. There I was, this dad weirdly proud that his daughter knows how to do stuff like that and simultaneously divinely happy thinking, My Father has made me a true father to that princess—well—forever. I’d call it a once-in-a- lifetime moment, but I don’t think I should. I have moments like that too often.

Jonathan Bourman and his wife, Melanie, have a six-year-old daughter.

To a new parent

Welcome to the adventure, friend! Parenting is hard and messy, and you’ll never be so tired in your life as you are with a newborn. But it is so worth it. I’d like to share my biggest takeaways from what I’ve experienced with my kids so far (ages six and nine), in hopes that they give you something to look forward to during your sleepless nights.

You will sleep again.

There is a reason that sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture! I remember thinking after my daughter was born that I would be tired for the rest of my life. While my days of sleeping past 9 a.m. on Saturday are long gone, most nights pass peacefully. So power through that fatigue; it does get better.

There’s no such thing as a weak-willed toddler.

Have you ever tried to stuff an angry octopus into a pillowcase? Me neither. But I have a great idea of what it might be like after having to buckle angry toddlers into their car seats mid-meltdown. It’s hard when you’ve gone from having this baby who is dependent on you for everything to this little human with opinions of his own. And if those opinions don’t match yours, it’s frustrating that he can’t communicate with you about why. Patience and more patience will get you through.

This, too, shall pass.

It’s all a series of stages. Tantrums, sleepless nights, leaving church without actually hearing a word of the sermon due to a squirmy, active kiddo—none of these are forever. If you are stuck in the “random nudist in awkward places” stage of toddlerhood and just cannot keep pants on your child—don’t sweat it! All parents have been through this, and it does end eventually. (Probably.)

You and your kiddos were paired by God, and you are exactly the person they need.

God chose us to snuggle, feed, burp, console, teach, and love these specific little humans. He knew they needed us, and we needed them. I hold on to this when stages are particularly difficult (hello, impending teenage-hood!). I am, without a doubt, the right person for this job. Even if I don’t always feel like it. Even if sometimes I want to run screaming into the woods and embrace life as a hermit. I am meant to be their mom, and they are meant to be my kids. Trust in this when you find yourself questioning your parenting abilities. God knew what he was doing when he put you together. He loves you and your kiddos.

Kerry Ognenoff and her husband, Andy, have two young children—nine-year-old Anna and six-year-old Henry.

The years are short, but the days are long

The years are short but the days are long.

Even as a little girl, I knew I wanted to be a mommy. When that day finally came, I was over the moon. We brought our precious baby boy home, and he started to cry and cry and cry. An overbearing relative told me that the baby could feel my nervousness. We had just moved, and since this was 1978, there was no Internet, and long distance calls to friends and family were expensive. I felt so alone and bewildered that this experience was not the Hallmark moment I had envisioned. The days were long. How foolish of me not to quickly turn to the living, breathing help available at my new church. Eventually I sought the counsel of wonderful Christian mothers who had dealt with colic and ear infections.

But I quickly fell head first into the quagmire of parental self-doubt when I met my very first “Supermom.” Her house was always tidy, her children immaculate. They sang hymns in four-part harmony at bedtime. And so I agonized over inviting other moms into our modest and quite often messy home. This was brought home to me rather forcibly after an attempted burglary on our house. The burglars had gotten into our basement but had not gained access to the first floor. A police officer who joined the investigation as it was ending looked around that unburgaled first floor with a horrified expression and said, “Look what they did to your house!” My own mother gently reminded me that nobody does everything. Something usually gives. And the days were very long.

God granted me a wonderful friend who truly loved all children and welcomed them into her totally child-centric home. You can imagine the wonderful jumble of planned activities and the spaces for unplanned creative play. She was totally engaged with the children who entered. My children never wanted to leave her house. And so I felt guilty that I didn’t let my children paint in the living room or drop playdough on the carpet. Guilt vied with yearning as I snuck furtive looks at the clock to see if it was bedtime for kiddies. I was sure that her days were as long as mine, but she was enjoying hers more.

My husband and I thought it was important that we invite children and adults who were not invited elsewhere to our home. As I was explaining this yet again before an Easter dinner, one of my children asked rather wistfully, “Are we ever gonna have just our family for holidays?” I felt I had somehow fallen short in the mommy role. The days were long, and some dinners were extremely long.

And suddenly they were grown, with children of their own. We watch in humble gratefulness as we see our children as loving and already wise Christian parents who continually seek to improve. We admire their willingness to learn from others and marvel at how many seek their counsel. We applaud their prioritization of Christian values in the face of popular parenting myths. We support their efforts to spread the Word to the uninformed or excluded through their love for the marginalized and disenfranchised. We meet the diverse friends they have gathered as family and embrace them as our own. We praise the Lord for his people and his Word in this yet unfinished parenting journey.

The days were long but the years are short.

Mary Clemons lives in Los Angeles, Calif., with her husband, Sam. They have three grown children and seven grandchildren.