I have four children and 168 hours every week.
Time spent sleeping or at school/activities cuts that down to roughly 50 hours each week that I am physically WITH my children.
That’s not much.
Meals and snacks and martial arts and music lessons and church and I’m in charge of all of it. My mental capacity to care about all the things has been spread thin over the last decade, and I’ve had to let go.
Here are three things I no longer care about, followed by three that I do.
To be honest, this one should maybe have a BIT more attention.
I have been known to eye those smart-looking kiddos whose mamas always seem to be up on the newest trends, but we have never had a budget that allowed us to update wardrobes every season. My daughter dresses her 4-year-old self in mismatched socks (by choice and laundry options) and my boys’ pants have perpetual knee-holes. They wear hand-me-downs often and each of my three guys have a favorite sweatshirt that they wear every day. Every. Day.
They are all clean and groomed and if we are going to church or an important event, I make sure they look nice(r), but for everyday, school or errands? *shrug* I just can’t care. (Though I do draw the line at obnoxious high waters and holey socks.)
This one was big with my firstborn. He was going to obey right away, all the way, WITH a cheerful heart. I mean, that’s how Christians do it, right? I am not sure where this came from, but I cannot find it in the Bible. It would be a lovely habit, no doubt, but I find it rather unrealistic and certainly not worth my energy to maintain.
My husband and I do expect our children to obey, but not ALWAYS with a cheerful heart or immediate action; there is room for some conversation following a request. There is no hard and fast rule here, and we approach it differently from time to time, but we look more for heart attitudes than outward actions.
I might have the most picky eaters on the planet. I wish this were not the case—I take full responsibility for not eating healthy while I was pregnant and not keeping gummy bears out of their lives when they were toddlers. But, between my four children, one or more of them does not like: lasagna, pizza, grilled cheese, mac n’ cheese, ANYTHING green, cookies, bacon, carrots, oranges, almond milk, beef quesadillas . . . I could go on. (And yes, I have a child who does not like cookies.) We have tried all the methods and spent all the time and tears on trying to force balanced meals into their sobbing mouths.
I no longer care.
I mean . . . I care a little bit.
I WISH they ate more adventurously. But they would rather go to bed hungry than eat a meal they don’t like. So, in an effort to keep some measure of peace and sanity, when they don’t like what I make, they can have something like bread or fruit. It’s not ideal, but it’s not a hill I’m willing to die on anymore. Been there, died there, still threw the one-hidden-spinach-leaf-in-the-taco away.
There are, however, three things I will pursue relentlessly and unapologetically:
This is huge. I pray that my children will be caught in any lies in which they participate. I do not care how embarrassing or uncomfortable it is to be caught lying—the cost of dishonesty is more grave. Being fully in the light, putting our souls in the searchlight of God’s mercy is the safest place to be. Lies are cowardly and destructive. They fix nothing and offer no value to life.
My husband and I are raising people, not robots. They will have anger toward one another, frustration toward us. We will fail and they will fail and our home needs to be full of grace. But not the cheap kind.
This is hard to define—much like the obedience issue—because it involves matters of the heart that are sometimes beyond tangibility.
While we always encourage open conversation (ie: “Mom, it frustrates me and feels unfair when you . . . ”) we absolutely won’t allow disrespect to be a part of our children’s attitudes toward us. This comes in many forms, from intentional ignoring to a tone of voice to an eye roll to a slamming door . . . these things show a lack of self-control and maturity, both of which are supremely important in a respectful relationship.
I save this for last because it carries the most weight. Nothing—NOTHING else matters if this is not first. They need to know this, and so do we. My mom said once, “You’ll never be a perfect enough parent that your kids won’t need Jesus.”
I strive to expend energy on the things that matter. My life is mostly spent on their behalf during these young years. They are constantly on my mind. But I cannot save them, which is the SINGLE most important foundation in their lives. And not just the initial justification by faith, but the working out of their salvation as well.
My ultimate hope is that they know Christ and Him crucified. That they know the power of the Gospel and their absolute dependence on Jesus to live and love well in this broken world. I cannot give that to them through all the love, hugs, clean laundry, balanced meals and sleepless nights in the world. But I can pray it—and I can entrust them to Christ.
In the end they hug us tight and walk out the front door carrying the invisible weight of our instruction on their backs. They find their place outside our home and they fill that space with their very selves—the person God has designed them to be. At that point, I don’t care how many carrots they obediently ate in their matching socks.
Do they love well?
Are they kind?
These are kingdom matters of supreme importance. We will do well to let this mindset permeate our parenting.