A few weeks ago, I was sitting in church with a full heart. We had been trading illness around our house for a few months and hadn’t been able to attend as a family for that long. It felt so good to be there! I had a lot of things on my mind…a special concert, a conference that I was preparing to speak at, and all the things in my business that were laying in a to do pile. At the heart of it though, was my children. I’m good at spreading myself thin, so thin that I wondered if they were getting enough of me.
I closed my eyes in prayer and then words started coming. I grabbed a stub of a pencil and started writing in the margins of all the bulletins I could find. The kids were passing me scraps of paper so I could keep writing. I wrote down the notes I needed for the conference and then something new….the things I wanted for my children.
This wasn’t a prophecy, but more a spirit led clarity of thought. I started listing things and then realized it was “How to Make a Difference in the Life of a Child.” These are the things my parents and other loved adults did for me. These are the things that make up the positive parts of who I am today.
1) Delight to see them. When I was sending invitations to my wedding, my must include list were the ones who made me feel like they were blessed by my presence. Their delight to see me was a gift that made me feel cherished. A smile, a gasp of delight, arms ready for a hug. That’s who I really wanted to be there for my important day.
2) Listen to what they have to say. The adults that made me feel the most valuable as a person were the ones who stopped to really listen to me without interrupting or thinking of a response, especially the ones who listened to my crazy ideas without listing all the reasons I would fail. My favorite response to a crazy idea: “If anyone can make that work, you can.”
3) Tell them stories of their childhood (or baby years.) These are the days they can’t remember well, but long to hear about. They want to know: Was I cute? Did you love me? Were you excited about me? Was I smart? Was I good?
4) Tell them stories of your childhood. It helps kids to know that you were once like them. That you made mistakes and learned from them. They hear your stories and think they are going to be ok too. They like hearing about grandma and grandpa when they were young parents just like you. Our favorite time to tell stories like these are at night right before prayers. That way it’s not directly tied to a time when the kids are in trouble.
5) Be gentle but firm about the boundaries. Rules and boundaries make kids feel secure. They need to know they are the boundaries are the same all the time and for everyone. Some kids test just to make sure the boundaries are still there to keep them safe.
6) Teach them about God. They need to know they have a Father in Heaven who wants to hear from them and be involved in their life.
7) Require respect from them. It’s so good for kids to know how to respect. When they are young and say something disrespectful, it’s easy to correct by saying “Remember who you are talking to,” in a tone of voice that says, “Hey, I control your destiny.” We like the kids to say Yes, Sir and Yes, Ma’am not just to us but to all adults. I can’t help but think they will have a better time getting and keeping a job if they respect authority.
8) Eat Dinner Together. This one is soooo huge. I can’t tell you how huge. This one thing builds family relationships like no other. Just do it. Whatever it takes. And make sure there isn’t TV, computers or any distractions in the background. If you don’t know what to cook, I can help you with that. #shameless I still LOVE going to my Mom’s house for a family dinner. Those are some secure, happy feelings right there.
9) Share Experiences. That’s fancy talk for spending time together. Experiences can be stirring together a batch of cookie dough, going to the library or the zoo, or a trip to the Grand Canyon. Make sure you are part of their memory bank and they are firmly in yours.
10) Require Their Best. My dad was a genius at this. I would bring home my report card and he wouldn’t even open it before asking me, “Is this your best?” He would say it with a look that meant he expected the truth. If I told him it was, then he could honestly say how proud he was, without ever seeing the grades. I want my kids to always do their best as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:23.) Competition is tough out there and if they are trying for a spot for a job with 3,000 applicants, being a slacker or fair weather worker won’t be in their favor.
11) Believe they can do anything. The truth is they can. They are created in the image of God and he has given them their passions and the tools they need to realize them. Sometimes all they need is someone to believe in them hard enough. If I’m not that person, who else will?
12) Provide Opportunities. This could be music lesson, sports experiences, art mediums. For us right now, it means elective medical therapy. Without therapy learning and life would always be a struggle for the affected kids. The public school has declined helping, because they don’t believe the potential is there. (See #11) I’m willing to sacrifice anything to make sure these kids get every opportunity I can give them. If I don’t fight for them, who will?
13) Teach Proper Behavior, Ahead of Time. Kids are born clueless about everything. (Mine didn’t even know how to eat!) It’s such a bummer to get reprimanded for doing something you didn’t know was wrong (like trying to help the bride open gifts at her shower.) It’s so much better to think ahead what kind of situation you are taking the kids to and to practice proper behavior at home with a let’s pretend game. We had a blast when the kids were young wrapping stuff around the house in blankets and then practicing opening them and saying something gracious. We also had to practice how to walk in a grocery store (not like mob blocking the whole aisle, lol.) And how not to beg for stuff on the shelf. They LOVE playing games like these, especially when Mom plays too.
14) Praise and Encourage Them. When I’m just trying to survive, I tend to cut out the non-survival things. Reprimands are survival, praise…not so much. My poor kids can end up only hearing negative things from me if I’m not careful.
15) Teach them how to present their best selves. I’m talking physical beauty here. Of course the inner beauty is the most importnat, but outer beauty is what the world looks at first to judge your child. Show them how to wear their hair in the most flattering style, take care of acne problems, eat to sustain an appropriate weight, show girls how to wear makeup properly when the time is right. Let them develop a sense of style (appropriately.) And do it while letting them know God made them marvelously. There’s a line here that can cross into criticism–I don’t mean that. It’s just as a teenager growing up, I remember wishing that someone would have shown me how to be beautiful.
16) Provide Healthy food and teach them to enjoy it. Picky eaters should be checked for allergies and then taught not to be picky, for their own good, and for the good of their future spouse and children. Pickiness prevents a balanced diet and is rude to the person who prepared the food. This is still a work in progress at our house…but I’m on a mission ;).
17) Teach them to care for those weaker than themselves.
18) Teach them to respect and cherish the elderly.
19) Teach them to forgive, pray for and treat with kindness those who are unkind to them.
20) Teach them life skills like cooking, cleaning, sewing, and organization. (I LOVE that my mother-in-law visits weekly for bedroom inspections and bakes a special treat for the kids who did well. Ahead of time, I sat with each child in their room and helped them think through and set up an organizational system. I’ve always been challenged in this area and have been studying professional organizer blogs for years trying to learn what comes naturally to them.)
21) Pray for them both when they can hear and in your quiet moments. Pray about their character, their choices, their friends, their spouses, their health, that they will be friends with their brothers and sisters….
22) Model Happiness Show them that happiness is a choice and can be held onto in trying circumstances.
23) Be committed to your spouse Kids need to know their Mommy loves their Daddy. It is the CENTER of their security. And even if it’s not their own family, any breakup of a marriage effects the people that see it. Especially when families are crumbling around you, reassure your children that you are committed to and love their Daddy.
24) Teach them how to handle money
25) Trust Them. As I went through my teen years, I had a lot of tough decisions to make. I often found myself face to face with Dad asking for advice. He would always say, “What do YOU think you should do?” He was saying, “I’ve raised you well. You have good character. I trust you. Whatever you decide I will stand by you. You will ultimately bear the consequence of your choices. Choose well.”
So that’s my list. What do you think? Is there something you would add, or something you disagree with? What made a positive difference in your formative years?