balancing act

Parenthood isn’t hard just because of the sleepless nights, the worry, the constant activity of little kids and the constant shuttling of older ones. Parenthood is hard because we’re trying to instill in our kids a value system, the foundations of their faith, character traits like courtesy, respect, commitment, integrity, kindness. It’s not just balancing their meals, but their priorities…and in doing so, teaching them how to do those things for themselves.

Parenting is not for the lazy.

It’s the start of a new school year here at the Cozy Cottage*. As one enters and one is on his way out of the middle school years, it’s especially important to me and the hubs to make sure that this school year is less about getting A’s and more about the values that bring about the A’s. We’re so burdened to make sure that we’re keeping up our end of that promise we made to God to “train up a child in the way he should go”.

So, last night we sat the boys down for one of our family meetings to make sure we’re all on the same page with expectations and responsibilities. We were talking to them about being respectful and how the school year will go balancing time with friends, time for responsibilities (chores, homework, activities) and time for family. Hubs was doing a great job of explaining the need to balance plugging in at home and plugging into electronics. Although our oldest is 13 and does have a cell phone and an iPod touch, and an email and Instagram account, he does not have a facebook account. (We’re trying to ease into the social media stuff, toe into the water first.) The talk was going pretty well, even for our middle who was not as affected since he doesn’t yet own his own tech. (Little Miss was busy chasing the cat and ballroom dancing with her Dad’s old ET doll – seriously.)

Oftentimes, while Dad is delivering the lesson, I try to focus on praying along in my heart – for wisdom, for God to give him clarity and for the kids to accept the advice, the teaching, even the rebuke, with open hearts that are willing to learn and especially change, when needed. So, last night I was praying that God would really help us drive home this important lesson of balance, that it wouldn’t be just another “lecture”. This is a tough one for all of us, and Dad was sharing that, too. We all have things that pull on our attention and we can enjoy them, when appropriate.

Then, all of the sudden, I had this example come to mind –

I asked Simon (our 8th grader), “if the family is together on a Saturday night and we’ve popped some popcorn and picked a movie, would it be appropriate for (insert friend names here) to just walk in the door and sit down on the couch between us and start talking to you over the movie?” Of course, he didn’t think it would be. Then I said, “well, that’s essentially what you’re doing when we’ve carved out some family time and you’re texting away with your friends.” It’s not the texting or the friends, but the disrespectfulness to his family, that he’s non-verbally telling us that we’re not worth his time. He admitted that he’d never thought of it that way. (Honestly, neither had I.)

Then, because God is the source of all of our teaching, I shared this verse from 1 Corninthians –

“Everything is permissible”–but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”–but not everything is constructive.”

You see, spending time with friends (outside or via text or Instagram) isn’t bad and we aren’t anti-conversation, it’s permissible, allowed. But, not everything is constructive or appropriate at the time. When spending time outside with friends is interrupting family time or homework time, it’s not constructive. When you put all your thoughts on display, 24/7 for the world to see, it’s not constructive. It’s not the basketball game or the texting that’s bad, it’s the inability to prioritize time or filter your thoughts to keep some things private.

Although the conversation got a little specific with appropriate times to text and being respectful to one’s older brother when he is left in charge, the greater concept was balance and character. Each of us, whether we’re 10 or 38 has to find the balance between responsibility and fun. Each of us has what’s expected of us and our own agenda to enjoy our time, a season for everything, and God understands this, too. Each choice will present us with an opportunity to act loving or hateful, responsible or childish, helpful or selfish, respectful or rude, godly or sinful. We explained that it’s our job as parents, to point out the pros and cons of each situation to teach them how to do that for themselves. We won’t always be around to weigh options and make choices for them. We won’t always be here to walk them through the process, so we use family meetings to teach, to talk and to encourage them to be young men and a young lady of character.

Lessons in parenting always shine the spotlight on what we do right and where we need to grow. It’s all in the being willing to let God use our lives as examples to our kids to set the bar high where we’ve had success and (more often) even serve as a cautionary tale when we’ve fallen short. We’re living it out in front of them to show them that Christianity isn’t a destination, but a journey, and we’re walking it just ahead of them.

Hopefully, these lessons help them avoid some of the hurts and consequences along the way and lead them to joy in the journey.

* Cozy Cottage is my affectionate name for our very small 1,200 sf home that houses two parents, a teenager, a linebacker, a dancy-pransy toddler and a cat who is under the impression that he’s a dog.

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