Like many parents, Bill and I tend to feel pulled in several directions all the time. We have work, extended family, personal health, friends, kids’ extra-curriculars, neighbors, and various things we want to learn about or get involved in. That’s all fine and dandy, but when you have kids, there tends to be this low-lying guilt we feel that we aren’t spending ample energy on our kids.
First, stop it! Often that guilt isn’t a biblical guilt but a societal guilt–a guilt that comes from what articles say you should be doing as a parent, what your friends are doing as a parent, what your favorite bloggers post about (wink wink), or your own self-made laws about how much time you should spend on your kids. Don’t turn something into sin that was never sin in God’s eyes.
Second, though, evaluate to see if there’s merit to the guilt. While guilt can come from social pressure, sometimes it’s a reminder from the Spirit that we’re pursuing something lesser than the glory God has prepared for us. Are other things, even good things, putting your kids close to last place on your list of priorities? If so, repent, pray for wisdom to see how that repentance should look, and rest by faith in the blood of Jesus which washes away that sin, too.
For the Bell parents, we’re in both camps several times every day. Especially me. And each year we look at things we need to drop along with ways we can improve our time with our kids.
Enter this past year’s theme: Almost everything we do is centered around discipling our kids, which we then invite others into.
This sounds so duh now that I’m reading it. But it’s been huge for our family. In the past, the way we decided if we could add something to our calendar looked like this: We had a few things that were priorities for our family. As long as the new commitment didn’t mess with that, we usually said yes. This meant that our core activities involved the kids, but just about everything else didn’t. What we realized was how many opportunities we were missing to teach our kids, because many of those commitments pulled us away from our little disciples.
Now, we ask ourselves some questions to evaluate if we should commit:
- Can we bring our kids into this activity? I focus on this below.
- If the kids can’t be brought in, will it still be for the overall benefit of the whole family? One instance of this is Bill’s seminary classes. Bill is a better leader in every way when he’s reading challenging books and writing. He gets more geeked about Jesus and bleeds the gospel most when he’s immersed in this kind of deep thinking. He would also tell you he isn’t self-disciplined and that he works best with deadlines. Enter seminary, where he’s pushed to do both of the above. Though, funny enough, he’s even talked about taking some of the older kids to class with him since his professors are usually good with it. A couple of our kids go crazy over this stuff, too.
- Is this worth the temporary sacrifice of family for the sake of the gospel? There are some things that will fit here: helping a friend on a house project, counseling a brother or sister in a sensitive situation, very early/late commitments, etc. But I would also say that I think we probably use this question too often to justify the discipleship of others at the expense of discipling our own kiddos. Often we need to understand we aren’t Jesus and can’t save everyone (even Jesus didn’t “fix” everyone he came in contact with, and he was fine with it!), and we may not be in the right season for that. There are also many times we actually can bring our kids into these situations if we’ll think outside the box.
Here are some ways we’ve tried to bring our kiddos more into our world this year. None of this is necessary for any family to incorporate, and it certainly may not be best for yours, but maybe it will help some of you incorporate ways to do more life together as a family. And lest you think we’re a Leave It to Beaver-like family who has their crap together, please let me be the first to inform you we frequently look much more similar to the Simpsons in real life. We strive toward this but fail constantly, mainly because Bill and I prefer to be by ourselves with no kids around and ridiculously often give in to that desire when we’ve committed to be with the kids. Our posts are honestly written more as reminders for us than for you guys.
- Exercise is important to both of us, and I push myself to run (yes, you can note the absence of the word “enjoy” in that statement). Every time, though, that would take away an hour of my time. One hour is not a big deal, but I was ending up with several hours like this each day or week. We decided to see how our kids would do with the Couch to 5K program. Well, they rocked it! Seriously, even the smallest Bell can run circles around me. Two of our kids had a hard time with it (not the smallest might I add) after a while, so they ride bikes along with us. We run the distance of a 5K 2-3 times per week, and it’s been such a sweet way to learn working together (instead of competing), encouraging one another, and persevering when things are hard. The kids have also learned some life lessons. Ha!
- I open my bedroom door during my personal Bible study time. The kids are asked to respect me by not being Chatty Cathys, but watching me has encouraged my kids to study for themselves. My girls frequently ask if they can highlight in their Bibles, too, and they’ve come up with some great questions from their own study.
- The kids sit with us during our church gathering and participate in our church’s Bible study. I know this can seem intimidating for a while, especially if your kids are in tyrannical ages (aka 3-5; OK that’s not a rule, just my own personal opinion of 3- to 5-year-olds). We’ve found that our kids, even the little ones, catch a ton of what’s going on. Our church has welcomed our kids to the adult Bible study we attend, too. They treat them like mini-adults instead of under-humans. They let them read the Bible passage aloud, answer their questions without mocking them, and even humble themselves to learn if one of my kids has wisdom they want to share. It’s been beautiful. We almost always talk as a family after both of these. Since we’ve shared the experience together, our talks go deep quickly since we don’t have to ask what we all did in our separate classes.
- We bring the kids with us to music practice. They don’t participate here, but they learn the songs by listening and sing them constantly since we shared the experience.
- I used to teach a neighborhood women’s Bible study. Some of my daughters began attending, and they were treated with respect there, too.
- This one’s probably obvious, but if Bill or I have an errand to run, we almost always grab a kid so we can get some one-on-one time, or we just all pile in the van just for kicks.
- We take neighborhood walks when the weather’s nice to see and meet neighbors together.
- We throw block parties with our friends. The kids help plan, cook, and set up. They are wonderful hosts–better than I am, actually.
- If we’re hanging with another family, we encourage our kids to be part of the adult conversation. One of my sons recently told me he prefers talking to adults, and he’s my most social kid who fiercely loves his friends.
- One way we’re trying to push ourselves more is simply inviting others along to our everyday stuff. Outings, game night, watching a movie together. We have much room to grow here.
- If a woman asks me to mentor her, I almost always just invite her to come be part of my everyday world once a week. She simply comes over to hang, let her kids run around with mine, help out where needed, and chat when we can. This has proven to be much more effective than sitting down privately once a week over coffee to discuss a good book.
- If Bill goes to play sports with friends or a meeting with other men in the area, he takes our oldest boys.
If your children are very young, this is going to look different for you. We found with the very little ones that out-and-about commitments were next to impossible to accomplish as a family. For instance, our church building at the time was in a low-income neighborhood. Every once in a while several members would walk around the neighborhood offering to repair gutters for free. We loved this idea but couldn’t imagine how we could actually help with four kiddos under the age of four. Um, no. And at a time when it was already hard to connect as a couple, the idea of one of us leaving the other to do this good deed felt horrible. As I mentioned above, I generally think this season in your life isn’t right for tons of things that will take you away from each other. Rest in Jesus as Savior, knowing he put you here in this time. And that’s beautiful. Even in that season, though, Bill and I spent much time with friends, counseled many couples, mentored friends, and trained small group leaders. It was just all in our home after the kids were in bed.
Let it be said that I DO NOT think every moment of your life should be with your kids. In the words of Luke Skywalker, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!” There’re still many things I do apart from them. Date nights with the man, coffee with friends, weekly walks by myself, personal prayer, and doctor’s appointments to name a few. The kids also have their own things. I’m a selfish mom, though, who’s always looking for ways I can get away from my kids to do the things I want, dang it! And I find there’s always room to include them more.