The buzz in the media is all about the bribery scandal: Parents bribing their kids’ way into college. I don’t know about you, but when I heard it, I said, “What kind of parent does that?” Certainly a rich one, but aside from that, what kind of parent feels compelled to go that far?
Everyone has a different style of parenting. Some are over- or under-protective. Some parents are strict disciplinarians from the cradle forward. Others follow the philosophy that you only have one chance to be a child.
It’s a rare opportunity. I have a prodigal son, soon-to-be-released from prison, who is clear-eyed, grown up, sober, and has returned to the Christ he has known all his life. In a phone call last night, I asked what advice he would give to parents.
So, you’re a Default Mom. You have taken on the responsibility of parenting (or co-parenting) someone else’s children. You might be a stepmom, a foster mom, or a full-time caregiver. With Mother’s Day this weekend, your children will probably be with their biomom, and you’ll be hosting your annual no-presents-again pity party.
Put down your carton of ice cream and listen to me. This lesson is all about you, and how to be the Best. Default Mom. Ever. This is about changing your perspective and expectations, and it comes to us courtesy of a first-century writer.
Your teen or young-adult child has gone off the rails. They have rejected you, your values, or their former friends. Maybe they’ve dropped out of school or taken up a dangerous or defiant behavior. You feel as if you don’t know them at all–or that you didn’t really know them in the first place.
When you’re under three years old, life moves around you on a big, confusing turntable. Most experiences are brand-new to you, and your mind is just beginning to catalog, organize and make sense of these experiences.
That is why toddlers often seem cranky, picky, or just a bit stunned! All this stuff coming at them is as confusing as heck, and they become overwhelmed and exhausted with the hard but necessary work of sorting it all out. They want to learn how to live in our world, and they are eager to find out everything they can.
You see, play is the child’s work. It’s important for sensory and motor development, language, and cognitive growth. This is why your toddler needs a wide variety of real objects and materials to explore.
First impressions are lasting
Think about the first time you saw a lion at the zoo. It looked, smelled, and sounded a whole lot different from the ones you saw in books and movies. It suddenly became real to you in a way it hadn’t been before.
This is why real–or realistic–objects and experiences are so important to toddlers. They will get their best impressions by touching, tasting, smelling, hearing, and seeing the real thing, whenever possible. This gives their brains a chance to understand what things really are. Plastic has its place, but no one should have as much plastic stuff as the average American toddler has. I could go on and on about this, but let me give you a few suggestions for bringing the real world to your child.
How to keep it real
Real tools and utensils. Give your child real tools and utensils to use. Get a good-quality child-sized rake or broom. Give them a plant to care for–one that can take a lot of water, then have them use a creamer-sized pitcher to water it. They can use a butter knife to slice a peeled banana or a cheese stick. You can downsize a mechanical carpet sweeper by removing a section from the handle to make it shorter. These are just a few ideas. Montessori websites such as www.carrotsareorange can give you loads of ideas for real activities.
Nature experiences. You don’t need to be fancy with this. Your backyard or local park has plenty of things to touch, smell and see. Winter weather? Spend some time playing in the snow. Bring the outside in, too, by giving your toddler objects from nature, such as pine cones, seashells, and bird feathers.
Photographs instead of drawings or cartoons. Find some books for toddlers that use photographs instead of goofy, cartoonish drawings. You could also print out pictures of familiar people and put them in a small, sturdy photo album. Look for some small flashcards that use photographs or realistic drawings. You don’t have to completely re-vamp your child’s bookshelf. Just find a few things to balance out the images of dogs driving fire trucks or ducks in raincoats.
Real language. Give your toddler the gift of language by talking to them in clear speech. Provide them with names for objects, movement, and feelings. Give them short sentences that are simple commands, such as “Please pour the sand into the pail.” Use pronouns correctly, especially “you” and “I”. Please stop referring to yourself in the third person, as in “Mommy is going to the store.” When you grocery shop, tell your child what you’re buying and allow them to hold or touch things like oranges, potatoes or carrots. Let them smell the onions and the herbs, and tell them the names of each one.
Real work and contribution to the family. There are lots of ways your toddler can help around the house to feel like a true member of the family. Cut a kitchen sponge in half, get it wet and wring it out, then let them clean the table or counter. Folding laundry, matching socks, dusting, tearing up lettuce for a salad, and scrubbing potatoes are all things your toddler can do. I’m sure you can think of more.
Why Plato thought this was important
Plato once talked about having the idea of a cup in one’s mind before one could fully understand what “cup” meant and how it applied to all kinds of cups. He called it the “essence of cup-ness”. Maria Montessori agreed. For your child to truly understand and incorporate the essence of the real world, they must have as many real objects and experiences as possible.
The true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground. — G.K. Chesterton
Americans appear to live in a culture of rudeness these days. Between social media, politics, and the news media, everyone seems to be willing to argue with everyone else. How are we supposed to teach our children to use good manners in this social climate? Everyone is either offending or being offended, and common courtesy is just not that common anymore.
I’m stepping into the breach to remind everyone to mind their manners, and teach their children what those manners should be.
Let’s start with two basic principles
Respectful behavior is one of the most important skills your children need to acquire. This begins with you. Set high standards for yourself in the way you speak to your children. Treat them with the same dignity you would expect from them. Discipline privately. Don’t talk about them in front of them. Don’t label them, as in, “she’s my stubborn one” or “he’s shy”. If your children see your respectful behavior, it will be much easier to enforce this standard with them.
Respectful behavior should extend to pets, possessions and others’ property. We show respect by not littering, by taking care of our pets, and by being careful with our belongings.
Consideration for others. This sometimes seems to be a dying art. Consideration for others is different from respect. It carries with it a willingness to assume that other people may be affected by your words or behavior. It takes into account that others’ time, space and feelings are as valuable to them as yours are to you. Consideration is what allows us to hold the door for someone else, or to give up our seat in the waiting room for someone who obviously needs it more. To sit down at the ball game or concert so the people behind you can see.
Considerate people are always on time. They step back and let someone with fewer items go ahead of them in the checkout line. They see someone struggling and lend a hand. They don’t talk during the movie or text at the dinner table.
If you teach your child to have respect and consideration for others, the skills I’ve listed below will be much easier for them to understand.
Shake hands and make eye contact. Children as young as 18 months old can learn this. When they meet an adult, ask them to shake hands and look at the adult’s face. Adults will always help out with this by putting out their hand to your child. Don’t force your child, but model the behavior by shaking hands yourself. Your child will soon catch on.
The universally-important “please” and “thank you”. From the time they can speak, children can learn to say please and thank you. Practice at home. You know how to do this.
I live in the South, where every adult is addressed as “sir” or “ma’am”, including parents. It may not be as important in other parts of the country. The key here is that your child should address others with respect. “Hey, lady!” isn’t ok.
Sharing v. waiting your turn. I have often seen parents tell their children to “share”. It is impossible for two toddlers to share one sand shovel. Instead, they need to learn is how to take turns. Your child can even say, “When you’re finished, may I have a turn?” You can teach your young child how to take turns by playing simple board games with them.
Interrupting. If you are speaking with someone else, your child can learn to put their hand on your shoulder or arm and wait for your attention before speaking to you. Practice this at home before expecting this in public.
Listening and talking. Similar to turn-taking, this is a learned practice of having a conversation. You can teach this to your child by putting down your phone and having a conversation with them. Show them how you listen to them by actually doing it: Make eye contact and react to what they’re saying.
Limit screen time! A corollary to my last point. Stop using your phone or i-pad as an electronic babysitter. Admit it, many times you just want your child to be quiet when you could be teaching them how to have a conversation.
Sitting quietly. Whether it’s at church, the movies, or a waiting room, there are some situations in which your child has to be quiet. You may want to provide them with a quiet activity to do while they wait. As they get older, you will be able to remind them beforehand that “this is a quiet space”. You may have to carry them out a few times before they understand where your limits are.
Table manners. Simple things like keeping your lips together when you chew, putting your napkin in your lap (and using it), and not talking with food in your mouth can be taught beginning at about 18 months of age. By the time your child is about 10, they should be able to cut their own meat, know which fork to use, and be able to order their own food in a restaurant.
Take time for training
Remember, none of these habits or behaviors are natural to us as humans, and they have to be taught. Be patient with your child–don’t make every meal an unpleasant nag-fest or force him to shake hands with his own grandparents.
Good manners, rooted in respect and consideration, will go a long way toward making your child feel comfortable and welcome in any social setting. Who knows? Maybe it could even cause an outbreak of respect and politeness right here in America.
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. –Proverbs 22:6
Time. We never seem to have enough of it. Between raising families and working, the days and weeks fly by. Sometimes it feels like we just closed our eyes and the alarm clock is going off again.
That’s probably why, these days, everyone has a planner–or three. Our lives have to run like well-oiled machines, and when there’s a glitch (a sick child or a dead car battery) everything breaks down.
Let me apologize right now. I am not writing this to give you a new planning system that’s going to make you more productive or find you extra hours in your day.
Nope. I’m reminding you about the one thing you can’t put on a checklist.
Spending time with God. I mean hanging out and reading his Word. Some people like to call it “quiet time”. Those people are usually the sweet ladies in church who say, “In my quiet time this morning, God…” Don’t you always feel just a little judged, and just a little irritated that they have the luxury of time with God and you don’t?
Quit making excuses. To paraphrase James, you do not have because you do not ask.
This is about priorities
If you’ve got your planner handy, let’s look at what exactly is consuming your time. When you look at your daily schedule, is every moment filled up? If so, maybe you could pencil God in for a week from Tuesday. Or how about meeting up with Him when you are having a pedicure or going for a run to “clear your mind”? Or when you’re waiting in that long line at the Starbuck’s Drive-Thru?
Do you see where I’m going with this? If not, let me spell it out for you. If you have time to have a pedicure, run five miles, or wait 20 minutes in line at the Tabernacle of Coffee, you have time to hang out with God.
Not about shame
I’m not trying to shame you or make you feel guilty about how you spend your time. I’m just suggesting that you take an honest look at what is important in your life. We all need those little breaks and treats in life, but when you add up all the time you waste on social media, binge-watching tv shows, and flipping through Pinterest, it comes to a pretty significant chunk of time.
Seriously, is watching back-to-back episodes of “Game of Thrones” more important than having a meeting with the King of Kings?
Let’s not get carried away, here
Let me hold your hand and guide you through the process of prioritizing God. Don’t be afraid. This won’t hurt a bit.
Analyze your day. What small adjustments can you make in order to take the first step? Getting up a half hour earlier? Only going to Starbucks once a week? Brown-bagging your lunch so you can have a few quiet minutes to yourself while everyone else is out spending fifteen bucks on lunch?
Hang out anywhere. You don’t need a cozy chair, a mug of tea, and a War Room to spend time with God. He’s not worried about the decor. He’ll meet you where you are.
What should you read? You can start by reading daily devotions in print or listening to them online. Everybody’s published them in some form, from Charles Spurgeon to Tim Keller. You could also choose a particular theme, like grace, or a book of the Bible, like John, that you want to learn more about. There are Bible reading plans available online, or your church library may have materials you can borrow. Don’t overcommit at first, though. You can’t run a marathon on the first day.
Silence your phone. I mean it. Put it away.
Pray for God to open your heart to what you’re reading or listening to.
What to expect in the beginning
At first, you’ll be distracted by the thousands of other things you have on your plate. You didn’t put your phone away, did you? Do it now; I’ll wait. Thank you. A habit takes time to establish–anywhere from five days to three months–so be patient and listen for the Holy Spirit.
What to expect long-term
As you start rockin’ and rollin’ with God, He’ll be really excited to show you stuff. Don’t be surprised if you start to see, as the days go on, how what He said to you in your time with Him seems to crop up everywhere in your life. A scripture passage might become an earworm, or a confusing concept may suddenly strike you with blinding clarity. This is the juice that will keep you going. It’s the leading of the Holy Spirit all those “spiritual” people talk about at church.
The new discovery
The best part of this is that you will eventually want to spend more and more time with God in His Word. He wants to be with you, to love you, to teach you. The more you let that happen, the more excited you’ll become by what you learn and how it applies in your daily life. This is just a part of the process of sanctification.
And now a Word from our Sponsor
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. — 2 Timothy 3:16-17 | ESV
Corporations have them. Professional organizations have them. Sports teams have them. A code of ethics is a list of standards and expectations for the daily behavior and morals of a group of people working together.
Like any team, a family needs a set of standards for what is acceptable and what is not. I’m not talking about rules, but more about a set of guiding principles that everyone–parents included–sticks to. Your own ethics have probably grown out of a set of standards you have internalized throughout your life.
Having a family code of ethics, written and agreed upon by the family working as a team, helps our children make sense of the why of things. It gives them a filter by which they can judge their decisions and interpret the moral rightness of them.
How to write a family code of ethics
What topics should you include? Here are some general ideas to get you started. You know what your values are and what you want your children to learn:
Respect (for ourselves and others)
Stewardship (taking care of resources, maintaining possessions, etc.)
Service to others
First, have a family meeting, during which you talk about the definition of a code of ethics, and begin to brainstorm some ideas of what it should include. Write down every idea, without editing them. All ideas are welcome.
Give everybody time, a few days to a week, to mull over the list from the brainstorming session.
Get back together to narrow down the list. You may have to combine items, remove some, or make some suggestions more general.
Finalize the list. Stick to fewer than 10 items. Try to state each principle in one sentence, if possible [ Ex.–We have respect for ourselves and other people.]
Post the list in a prominent place, like the refrigerator door, where everyone can see it.
Refer to the list when conflicts or questions come up. Talk about how an issue or decision fits the family’s code of ethics. Talking about it can lead to better decision-making skills.
Remember that it’s a standard of behavior for everyone, not a rule book to hold over each other’s heads. The rules for proper behavior in your family should–and probably will–grow out of this code. The bigger picture is that it will help grow in your family an understanding of the importance of being true to what they know is right.
As it says in Micah 6:8
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?