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A FRESH LOOK AT YOUR FAMILY
Encouraging Word:Your family life can be more joyful.
Everyday Step:Give thanks for your family each morning.
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you."
The long carpool line at school winds out into the street and parents politely wait their turn while impatiently looking at their watches. Adults talk on cell phones while waiting for children to appear, masters at whipping into the drive at just the right moment.
From school it's off to dance or soccer or art or guitar lessons, or you name the activity. Some people zoom between multiple schools. Parents juggle work schedules to pick up and deliver. They coordinate rides with the precision of an army general, depending on neighbors, family, after-school programs, and prayers to handle the logistics. Some families practically live out of their cars. And this is just part of a typical busy day. By the time the weekend rolls around, everyone is worn out and trying to figure out how to fit everything into the Saturday and Sunday schedules.
Shaping a loving, contented family is probably the most important job you will ever have, and perhaps the most challenging. Being part of a loving family adds richness to your world. Leading a loving family is both an honor and a gift. You may feel blessed beyond belief at the joy of your children, and scared, on some days, that you are not up to the job.
To hurry less and worry less as a family, you must:
Decide what is most important to you.
Make daily decisions that support those priorities.
Adjust as needed.
You can't do it just once; you have to try again each day. But the great thing about that is that you get new chances every day. Thank goodness!
Most parents know what they want. They are hungry for their children to know they are loved. They want happiness for their families and to help their children recognize what is truly important in life. They watch eagerly to see how their kids develop and try to give them what they need to be safe and healthy.
That is the Big Picture.
Then come the details of each day. Those can be tough.
Teaching children requires consistency and commitment. You must try to make good decisions each day, decisions that support dreams, goals, and priorities for your family.
As you take a fresh look, consider daily steps that can help you reach your goals. Often these are little things, such as sitting with your child on the floor laughing at a game, playing catch in the yard, or avoiding an evening meeting to have supper together as a family. Small actions can yield big changes.
Ask. Seek. Knock.
Guidance and wisdom are needed, each and every day, to help your children become the people they were created to be. Some moments will be joyful and seem easy. Others will call upon every ounce of patience and resolve you have, and they will surprise you with their force. Along the way you have to dig deep to do your best and forgive yourself when you falter.
To identify what is most important for your family, turn to God. Ask: for support in shaping your family. "Help us, Lord!" Seek: divine instruction. Seeking is a process, not a one-time-only deal. Life unfolds in unexpected ways. Knock: on the door every single day, inviting God's divine awareness in your life. Don't be distracted by your flaws or weaknesses. Ask God for forgiveness, and say thanks for the gift of your family.
Perhaps you try hard every day but feel as though you are in a big muddy bog. You hit the ground running in the morning and scarcely slow down until you fall into bed exhausted.
Many moms and dads grade themselves harshly. But ease up on yourself. Sure, you have made mistakes. But you have done many things well and can build on those successes.
Perfect parents do not exist, so you do not have to try to be one.
Assess both what you have done well and what you would like to change.
Consider how to do things better, starting now.
Fast forward: for example, picture a family milestone you anticipate, such as a child's high school graduation, a daughter's or son's wedding, or your child's first job.What do you want your children to carry with them into these times? What might you do now to help them find their way?
Think anew about what you want your children to remember about childhood. What are the lessons you want to impart, starting now? You can make changes no matter the ages of your children.
Consider your philosophy of parenting and how you came up with it.
As one father says: "I want my children to remember the happy times and feel like they were loved, nurtured, and appreciated for the individuals they are. We have tried so hard to provide that kind of environment. I do not want their collective experience to be based on material things, but instead to be based on love and understanding."
What do you want for your family?
Setting the Pace
The tone for families comes from parents. Your approach will have a long-lasting impact. "Parents definitely set the pace," says a Texas family counselor. "If you are stressed, it carries over to the family. Children learn some of their coping skills from parents."
Teach your children, through your words and deeds, to be calm and relaxed. Help them learn to solve problems and face the hard parts of life.
Take a Fresh Look
One of the most important things you can do is to pause from time to time, identify goals and dreams for your home and your family, and then step back for a few minutes to assess.
You know how easy it is to get so wrapped up in "doing" everyday life that you don't stop to consider what you might do differently. Carefully answering questions about goals can shift your approach to family life. It's amazing to watch this happen.
Think about what is most important for your family. This will help clear out unimportant matters, those little things that drain you and hold you back. Be specific. Customize goals, and don't try to make your family look like someone else's.
First the What, Then the How
As you consider hurrying less and worrying less with your family, begin to identify what you want and what you do not want. When you know what you want, you can begin to figure out how to get it.
This is a tried-and-true strategy: first the what, then the how.
You do not have to start from scratch, organize a family retreat, or come up with a bound volume of family values. Instead, consider basic questions:
How would you describe your enjoyable family life?
What steps are you taking to help shape it that way?
No matter what ages your children are, how do you want them to feel about home and family?
These questions can raise fears. You may second-guess yourself on not having done well enough or started soon enough. You may even worry that children in other families have better lives or kinder parents or a more creative home.
But stop. You are doing many things right!
As you search for strategies in your life, remember the ancient parenting manual, the Bible. God's word is full of stories of families, both good and bad, and it contains parenting advice that has withstood the test of the ages. Woven throughout the Bible is the message of God's special plans for each individual, a reminder of the responsibility of wise parenting. "Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs'" (Matthew 19:14 NRSV). This is a reminder that what you are doing does indeed matter.
So here you sit.
You have the best intentions. You know you want to make changes. But you can't get off dead center.
Perhaps you are in a rut with your family, doing the same things all the time and not being satisfied with how that feels. Maybe job demands or money worries or health challenges distract you. You realize you have not thought enough about the kind of parent you want to be or considered small changes you could make for big rewards.
Often in our busy lives, we have trouble getting started. The big task or goal seems overwhelming, so we do nothing. Procrastination only adds to our burdens and makes us tired.
Take a deep breath and plunge in, and do not expect to do everything at once.
You may often come up against the expectations of others—demands from your own parents and friends, requests from church and civic groups, and others. To wisely deal with these conflicts requires knowing what you want for your family and making daily decisions accordingly.
Keep bringing yourself back to what is most important: your priorities. It would be nice if you could list these priorities once, and that would be that. But you have to keep focusing on them.
Consider the verse from Romans 12:2, a favorite passage for shaping a less-hurried and less-worried life: "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." When most families around you are hurried and worried, they will expect you to act likewise. You can begin to change the world when you show a different way of living through your own family. Think of the power of your little brood influencing the people you encounter and transforming the world.
A mother on the East Coast has made a conscious effort to slow her family down and to have rich, calm time with her husband and three children. "My biggest challenge is that other people want us to be busy," she says. "Our society from all aspects is telling us we must be doing this and that, and that we aren't really being productive if we are not filling every moment with something."
Imagine how your priorities look in daily life. Be as specific as possible. Once you begin to see your priorities in your mind, you will begin to appreciate more fully why they matter. What activities will you need to stop doing in order to focus on those that really are important to you?
Almost without exception, families hurry too much and want to spend more time together. So "hurry less" can be a basic goal, with "having fun family time" as a priority.
Next, parents worry. They are fearful and lose sleep over their children. Perhaps you need "worry less" as a goal, with "solving nagging problems" as a priority.
Finally, parents tend to expect the worst. Most people live by Murphy's Law, believing that whatever can go wrong will go wrong. Maybe you want to be more optimistic or hopeful in your family, with "creating an encouraging home life" as a goal.
Shape a Philosophy of Parenting
Different people have different approaches to parenting. Some have a specific philosophy, while others have a general idea. Your parenting philosophy needs to suit the vision you have for your family and your life.
Maybe you drifted into where you are. Maybe you were strategic. Perhaps you are among those mothers and fathers who know what they want for their children and who try to make decisions accordingly. Or perhaps you are a bit unsure.
Decide what works for your family, and build upon that.
One mother in her twenties sums up her philosophy of parenting in one word: "simple." She explains: "I like my life to be as simplified as possible, so it came naturally to do the same in raising my child."
Another parent has a similar view. "I work from the future back," she says. "I know what I want for my children's future, and I always frame my decisions around that. And I always try to keep the idea that my role is to be their parent, and my job is to give them the tools to do well in life, and I try not to worry about the things I shouldn't worry about."
A busy father of three sons says he and his wife apply the "divide and conquer" philosophy to parenting. "It takes teamwork and strategy to get all tasks accomplished and to keep everyone in sync. We both sacrifice less-important things to make sure that more-important things are taken care of."
A teacher who is a single parent says that she wants to teach her children to make good choices. This guides her parenting style. She uses that goal to keep the family from being on the go all the time. "I don't overschedule. It's important not to just do and do and do all the time. It's up to us as parents to figure it out."
As you step back, use prayer to help. Offer thanks for the joys and distractions, for your children, your parents, and all those in your family, for the way each day comes together. Ask God for help, for wisdom and patience, and for direction in matters large and small. Surrender concerns to God, knowing that the Creator's power will sustain you.
Remember: Ask. Seek. Knock.
One working mother puts her house slippers a few feet away from her bed. As she walks over to them each morning, she prays, building the habit with which she wants to start every day. Do whatever works for you!
Accept parenting as a fun and challenging journey. You have an important mission with your family, and challenges are part of it. Keep that in perspective.
Even Christ's parents faced challenges. Remember their annual trip to Jerusalem for Passover, when Christ was a boy? When the festival ended and they started to return home, twelve-year-old Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was somewhere among them in the large group of travelers, they went a day's journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found Jesus in the temple, "sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions" (Luke 2:46).
I can picture the scene—the annual trip, the preparations, the commotion, and the parents assuming that Jesus was somewhere with the group. Can't you just imagine the panic when they realized their son was not around and were unable to find him for three days?
It is hard to get it right all the time.
Consider this parent's words, and see if they sound familiar at all: "There is no magic answer. We struggle daily to maintain a proper balance. We try (and sometimes fail) to keep God at the forefront of what we do—stressing to our kids the importance of faithfulness and harmony. I don't feel like we do a great job of balancing; we struggle just like everyone else. We certainly make plenty of parenting mistakes, but I feel like our kids are well adjusted despite the hectic nature of our family and professional lives. We have had to come up with our style on our own, each borrowing pieces of what worked in our personal lives growing up."
Do you wish for a magic answer? Are you trying to find what works for you?
Families are different. Shape what works for you.
"I believe our children are gifts from God. They belong to God. We are answering the call of service for his children," says a longtime director in children's ministry and the mom of young children. "I believe our children should be raised in a loving, faith-filled environment balanced with respect for both parent and child. With the love comes discipline, which doesn't always mean punishment, but a way to be respectful, trustworthy, caring, educating, responsible human beings."
Some families have Mom and Dad together. Some homes are led by one parent after a divorce or the death of a spouse, which can make it even more difficult to juggle schedules. Some parents work outside the home, while some have a fulltime job working inside the home. Some families are noisy, and others quiet. One parent may love the outdoors, while another may prefer indoor games and reading. Some welcome travel, while others like to stay put. Families come in so many forms these days—with varied circumstances—and we need not expect ours to look like the family next door. Our families are different, and we can give thanks for that as we look to God for guidance.
How about your family? "One size fits all" does not work when it comes to making big life decisions and setting goals.
Excerpted from Hurry Less, Worry Less for Families by Judy Christie. Copyright © 2010 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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