I have referenced the concept of “child-training” multiple times here on the blog (obviously, I didn’t come up with that, since it’s Biblical). I’ve even answered a lot of specific questions (here are part 1 and part 2) with things that we do in our house to point the kids toward the Lord and help them be consistent every chance we get.
BUT! I’ve never actually sat down and written a post that puts our child-training philosophy and practices in a nutshell (ha…as if…more like a Christmas-sized bag of walnuts…the “nutshell” approach is not my forte).
One reason? For every one of you that has specifically asked me to do this (and there have been a number over the years), there are at least as many who are thinking, “Nah, I’m good. I’ve got our routine down. Not interested.” And that’s FINE. My blog may be called M is for Mama, and I may talk a lot about motherhood, but I am in no way deluded into thinking that I’ve got this all figured out or am doing it perfectly. AT. ALL.
Another reason? The internet can be a bit of a scary place filled with people who come into a blog post (sometimes without ever reading a single other post you write) with all kinds of assumptions and baggage. There’s no guarantee they’re going to read my words as I intend them or to even read them correctly. Example: a while back, I stumbled upon a message board about my blog in which a woman criticized me for my extravagance in choosing a Viking stove because she had seen a picture of one in a design board I’d thrown together and had not read the sentence immediately following the picture, which said it was just there as an example and that I would never actually pay $13,000–or anything like it–for a stove.
It took me a long time to even consider the possibility that I might have anything helpful to share and to feel confident enough in my mothering to recognize that my fear of being seen as “bossy” or a “know-it-all” was just a (potentially) selfish excuse to keep from getting yelled at (virtually or not). Because people get touchy about this momming stuff, yo.
But then I shared this on Instagram last night and had several young mamas ask me again about my “methods,” so I figured I would woman up and just write the post already. I hope it is helpful to at least one of you. 😉
This morning, I woke up almost sick with exhaustion after a week of house projects and Honor’s waking up multiple times every night.
I lay down on the couch after I’d fed Honor and put him down for his morning nap, and before I even realized it, I’d dozed off.
I woke up periodically to the sounds of the kids playing upstairs and Theo’s squawking, but all was mostly calm.
After about an hour, I got up to check on them and discovered them deep in hush-hush discussion. They begged me to go get in my bed and wait for them.
So, I got Theo down for a nap, then lay down again and caught up on Instagram.
15 minutes later, the twins came and “took my order” for drinks and lunch, and 15 minutes after that, all of the (awake) kids (not pictured, but awake: Honor) brought me lunch in bed.
They informed me that, while I napped on the couch, they had convened a “kids’ council” in which they had discussed ways to be a blessing to me–landing on making my bed, preparing me lunch, and giving me a “mama spa” (hand and foot massage). That’s not even the best part, though.
During their kids’ council, Ezra had read them all a devotional and taught them a new memory verse. Which all of them, including the twins and Theo, practiced together.
You guys. This is the kind of day that brings me to my knees in tears in worship of the good God who has allowed me to be mama to these precious creatures.
Only He is great, and His love endures forever!
To say that I was touched by and proud of my kids’ sweet actions doesn’t even begin to describe it.
And I can honestly say that, while this kind of behavior doesn’t surprise me that much now (although, it’s certainly not an everyday occurrence, and it thrills me to no end), 5 years ago, I couldn’t have even fathomed such a thing (because my oldest would have been 6, and, while they can do fun things like bring you wildflower bouquets, lunch + massages + devotionals aren’t really in their wheelhouse yet).
So, the questions that I get the most are: 1) What do you do to instill a servant heart in your kids and 2) How do you get them to be self-motivated to do right?
I’m definitely still learning, but the things that seem to “work” best are:
Every day, I thank the Lord for my children in their presence. They hear me tell God how grateful I am for them. And they usually hear me tell him that I need his help being patient and kind and using gentle words (pretty convicting when I stop, mid-prayer, to snap at the toddler for pile-driving me from the arm of the couch).
Throughout the day, I thank the Lord for good moments, repent of bad ones, and ask for his wisdom and help.
At night, I thank him again for my children when I pray in bed with my husband.
Am I perfect at this? Hardly. I miss many, many opportunities to pray over my children. It is actually a very specific mothering goal of mine to get better at this.
But I can tell a big difference when I’ve been slacking off in this area–if nothing else, in my attitude towards all of the little blessings who can start feeling much more like burdens when I don’t have prayer to clear my vision.
2. Family Bible Reading.
There’s a reason Ezra thought to do a devotional during their “kids’ council.” We do family Bible reading (using www.oneyearbibleonline.com) pretty much every day. And we’ve been working on memory verses more faithfully for several months now.
All of my kids are required to participate. Everyone but Theo has to sit still with no toys and listen. And if he can’t play quietly or mostly stay in one area, then he has to sit on my lap (which is sometimes more punishment for me than anything). I act like this is no big thing. But it, like pretty much every other aspect of child-training, is sometimes grueling, frustrating, and infuriating. Not giving up is the key.
It did my mama’s heart SO much good to know that this habit is one that my kids have latched onto and that they chose to do it for themselves even when I wasn’t leading it.
Their knowledge of the Bible (beyond the obvious stories like David and Goliath and Jonah and the Big Fish) has grown so much over the years, and their insight astounds me sometimes. Even when I don’t think they’re listening, they come up with some pretty deep stuff and show a really good grasp of the Gospel–both in the Old Testament and New.
3. Practice makes consistent.
You know that phrase, “Practice makes perfect?” It’s not true. Perfection isn’t attainable this side of heaven. Not only that, but it matters very much what you are practicing because what you practice, you will consistently repeat. Not perfectly. But on a daily basis.
So, really, practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes consistent.
If you practice complaining and disobedience, you will consistently whine and disobey. But if you practice gratitude and diligence, they will become (something much closer to) second nature.
To me, this is THEE most crucial, practical aspect aspect of child-training. You cannot.give.up. Period. It may take a week, a month, or three years (or more) for kids to get something “right,” but until they do (and even after), it is your job to remind, encourage, admonish, discipline. REPEAT. Even when you’re just too tired to do it again. Even when they don’t seem to get it yet. Even when they fall on the floor and melt down in a puddle of frustration that they still can’t get away with ____________.
4. Routine is key.
This one is another mothering goal of mine. Because, while I’m really good at some parts of this, I’m more lax in others, and guess which aspects of our household suffer more than others? (Yup, the ones for which I don’t have a routine).
Example: all of the kids who are capable have a simple “morning routine.” For the boys, it’s an alternating cycle of sweeping/wiping down the breakfast table and morning dishes. For the girls, it’s picking up the living room. I still have to remind the little girls, but the boys treat their morning routines like breathing at this point (ha! this morning, I came downstairs after feeding the baby to find them chilling on the couch, without have made any effort to do their routines, so I guess it’s not foolproof). It just happens. It’s taken years (literally) to get it to this point of effortlessness. But it’s worth it (and how!).
When your kids know what you expect of them and when, they will do it. Usually with a decent attitude (because, duh, this is my contribution right now, and is nothing to whine about).
5. Teach actions “as unto the Lord.”
This one probably should have come before routines. We talk constantly about “being a blessing” to each other and others. Why? Because we are doing it “with our whole hearts…for the Lord, not for men.” If my kids do a sloppy job, I *try* not to simply harangue them for being lazy (although, I do use that word) but to point out that every single thing we do throughout our daily lives can be a testament to the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. I think our next Bible verses to memorize will be these:
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about you,q we have not stopped praying for you.r We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his wills through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,e t 10 so that you may live a life worthyu of the Lord and please himv in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,w 11 being strengthened with all powerx according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience,y 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father,z who has qualified youf to share in the inheritancea of his holy people in the kingdom of light.b 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darknessc and brought us into the kingdomd of the Son he loves,e 14 in whom we have redemption,f the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:9-14
People notice my children everywhere we go, just for the sheer number of them. Often, they also notice them for their obvious joy in being around each other. The olders take care of the youngers (true of Ezra and Simon with the twins…true of the twins with Theo and Honor…and so on). They notice when they help me load the checkout belt and bag the groceries. I will almost always get a comment or two on how well-behaved my children are when we are in public. Which is great and all but a completely lost opportunity if we are only “being good” for head pats or man’s praise. So, every chance I get, I take the opportunity to 1) tell people what a blessing my kids are to me and 2) tell them how good the Lord is to us.
I know it sounds like I am bragging, and I always shy away from talking about the fact that my kids are “well-behaved” or “good.” I know that I’m supposed to tell you that they are wild and out of control and “stinkers” and all that. But it’s not true. Nor do I want it to be. They are not perfect, nor am I. Not by a long shot. But the fact of the matter is that our goal is to act the same way in public as we do at home (and yes, I meant to put it in that order). There is no perfection, only progress, and the more we’re aware of why we’re doing it and for WHOM, the more progress we make.
Part 2 coming soon.