Many of us assume that our job as parents is mostly corrective in nature. We think our primary focus should be providing consequences and telling our children what they can and cannot do. Think about the nature of the majority of your interactions with your children. Do your kids only come into focus when they are misbehaving? Do you tend to mostly interact around negative situations? If so, you are not alone.
But let’s now consider this passage from Deuteronomy 11:18-20 as it relates to our role as parents:
“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates (verses 18-20).”
From this passage, we can understand that our main parental goal is not corrective nature. Rather, our goal should be to immerse our children in an environment rich with the values we hold dear.
For Christian parents, this will include the foundational truths of the faith (to love the Lord God above all else, to love your neighbor as yourself, to be humble and contrite in spirit, etc.).
Here are some practical ways to help you do this.
Determine your values
This is an intentional process, so it will need to be an intentional discussion with your spouse or partner. You can start by brainstorming together and see what comes up for you both. Ask yourselves, these questions, “What is important to me?” “How do I want to be in the world?” “What values are essential for me to pass on to my children?” I suggest you start here and if you get stuck you can use tools like the lists and worksheets below if you get stuck.
Give yourself time for this discussion and plan to revisit it over a number of days until you finalize your list. Listen for “shoulds” in your mind or conversations- judgements that pop up such as, “Well I really should value xyz, so I guess I will put that down.” This list is for your family and and no one else. It will be so much easier and more authentic to re-enforce values that come from your heart, rather than someone else’s.
Values typically don’t change over time – they are constants and can anchor your direction in life, even when things get difficult. They are not age-dependent. For believers, they are backed by biblical principles and demonstrated in the life of Jesus. Prayerfully consider what God would have you include on this list. If you get stuck here are some resources:
Include your kids
Once you and your spouse or partner have determined your family values, it’s time to open the discussion up to your kids. I think a great starter question is to ask your kids, “What do you think is most important to Mom and Dad?” Their answer will illuminate what they see you focusing on. This can be a wonderful starting point for a discussion. If you children pointed out a value (like, treating other people kindly) then you can ask them to explain what that looks like in day-to-day life. If they say something that is more rule oriented or superficial (like a possession or keeping the rug clean), you can tell them that you are planning on focusing more on things that really are important to you, and read the list.
You can ask your children what they think if your list, and answer any questions they may have. Inquire about what is important to them. And if they come up with something you would like to add, then do it! Sometimes our kids make wonder teachers. You can use one of the resources above to help them explore what is important to them.
This worksheet for kids might help if you want to explore this further with your kids.
Post and use them!
Once you have identified a list of family values and everyone knows what they mean and look like in every day life, create a poster or list (depending on children’s age and preference). Post it some where visible and refer to it often.
You can start to use language that will reflect these values. For example, if one of your values is “helpful to others,” you can focus on using words that exemplify that value during your day like, “thoughtful,” “considerate” or “serving.”
Ask God to show you when these concepts are being played out in real life scenarios and then point them out to your children at every possible turn. If you see someone holding a door for another person, whisper, “How thoughtful of him. That’s important to us too, isn’t it?” If you see one of your children serve a sibling before himself, say, “That was a wonderful demonstration of serving others.”
Values are the foundation of a family. They create the framework we need to know where we are headed and who we want to be. Instilling values through example and direct conversations, will orient you and ground your parenting – even in the difficult times.