Self-Evaluation in Christian Parenting

If you’ve been doing this parenting gig for any length of time, you know without our telling you that there’s no such thing as perfect children. Not only that, we’re never going to be perfect parents. So how do you know if what you’re doing is working? Is there any basis for evaluation until you’ve successfully raised your children…or discovered, too late, that they’ve got major character flaws, aren’t walking with the Lord, or can’t hold down a job once they’ve reached the magic “age of emancipation”?

We’ve always believed in “iterative parenting;” that is, ongoing self-evaluation in the target areas that we’ve self-defined as “successful Christian parenting.” These goals will obviously differ from family to family. For some, academic achievement is important so that their children will be able to successfully compete in the global marketplace. For others, it’s having children that will work well with their hands and be able to provide for themselves and their future families in this way. Some have specific spiritual goals and milestones they’d like their children to achieve (i.e., baptism) while others take a “wait and see” or “let them decide for themselves later” approach. Regardless of our long-term goals and how we feel we’re tracking in meeting them, there are always ongoing character issues that we see the need to work on, both in ourselves and our children (because, as we all know, the apples don’t fall far from the tree!).

Some character deficiencies  in our oldest son (now 16) were recently brought to our attention. And guess what? Because we practice iterative parenting and are constantly self-evaluating and making changes in ourselves and in our parenting, not one thing on that list was a surprise to us. In fact, we agreed with just about all of it. So what did we do? We shared the observations with our son and asked him to self-evaluate and make any changes he felt necessary, knowing that these character deficiencies were obvious to others and also to God. Does this mean we are failing, or have failed, in our parenting? Far from it. In fact, we were encouraged. Why? Because our son has made a commitment to following Christ. In sincere repentance, he has been baptized within the last year, and we’ve seen the fruit of true repentance in his life. Yes, he’s struggled with some things, and people can observe those weaknesses. But what others don’t see is our ongoing communication with our son regarding these issues; his desire to honor God in these areas; his active repentance, asking for forgiveness, and steady growth in grace to overcome in his areas of failure. So rather than admitting defeat in our parenting, we see much victory and are thankful for how God has guided us along the sometimes-difficult paths of Christian parenting.

And alongside our son, we’re growing too, because we know that (unfortunately) many of our children’s struggles, failings, and weaknesses come from things that we, as parents need to change in ourselves. How willing are we to humble ourselves and admit to this? How able are we to “forget what is behind” and “strain toward what is ahead,” pressing on toward perfection in Christ Jesus? (See Philippians 3:12-16)

Here are some honest questions that might help you in your ongoing sef-evaluation as a Christian parent. These are just a starting point; God and others may reveal others which are specific to your needs or circumstances.

  • Do our daily routines and activities reflect the priorities we profess?
  • Am I willing to do the hard things, and ask my children to do hard things, to overcome character deficiencies?
  • Am I consistently training my children in God’s Word and “practicing what I preach”?
  • When I fail to be the example I would like to be in my parenting, am I able to humble myself to my child or others, confess sins, and seek God for lasting change?
  • How open am I to receiving correction or suggestions from others?
If you like a more concrete approach to evaluation, take at look at our free “Family Planner for Character Growth and Development,” available for download here.

Remember that children’s growth in all areas is a process that requires patience, prayers, and ongoing effort on our part as parents. Though there are many things, both practical and spiritual, that we need to invest in and focus on, never forget the most important thing: bringing honor and glory to God and raising our children to do the same. I like how the apostle Paul viewed his work with the church in Galatia, with whom he was “perplexed” at the time of his letter writing: “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you…” (see Galatians 4:19-20). Let us similarly encourage ourselves as parents; whether we are blessed or perplexed with how things appear with our children, we must continue on in the process of laboring for the formation of Christ in them. Blessings to you as you press on in your parenting, for God’s glory!

Random Thoughts on Children and Chores

Last week I received an email from a friend who expressed some concerns about her 12 year-old son’s laziness and lack of desire to help with work around the house, and asked for my advice. In her comments, she said, “I get concerned because he doesn’t want to go that extra mile. He doesn’t even want to go the first mile!” I sent her an unexpectedly long response with my thoughts on the topic of children and chores. Figured it would make a good blog post, since the blog muse rarely hits any more and, when it does, time to write is often elusive. So here goes…

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I was chuckling reading your question, as I have often found myself saying to various children at different times, “Never mind going the extra mile–you’re not even going the first one!” I think it’s just human nature to be lazy and unfortunately, it’s our job as parents to conform those tendencies into something useful. Some of my children are good workers and look for ways to help/things to do, others will do anything upon request but rarely voluntarily, and then there are those who grumble through the most basic chores, as if it were the end of the world. (Of course, sometimes all the kids show these various character traits at various times.) We try to teach frequently about the value of work/the importance of diligence (either family devotional times or my time with the kids during the day/homeschooling, etc.) and at a time when they’re not being defensive/rebellious and feeling like I’m correcting them because they’re NOT doing what they should. As for correction when needed, it depends on the situation/reason.

If they’re not working due to a bad attitude, I do try to be encouraging rather than just corrective (“I know you want to do your project rather than what I’m asking, and I’m sorry. But we all need to do our part and serve one another. Try to do it cheerfully as unto the Lord, and you’ll find that you can back to what you were doing pretty quickly.”) Then I tend to leave them alone and let them have a bad attitude if they want to. It surprises me the number of times my encouragement leads to (eventual) repentance over the bad attitude towards work.

If it’s an ongoing problem with laziness, I tend to be a little more firm. (“It’s my job to prepare you for adulthood and if you don’t learn to work you will not be able to provide for yourself, never mind for a family if you should have one. That would be shameful, as our witness to others often comes from our example in working hard with our hands–1 Thessalonians 4:10. So you’ll have to learn to do the job and do it well. I expect you to do your work in good time and do it thoroughly, or you can expect some spankings.” Sometimes the admonition is enough (though the work might then get done with a less-than-stellar attitude) but other times they do need that spanking. If not a spanking, definitely consequences (such as other chores to complete so that they can “practice” working hard!).

Of course, sometimes even my best workers “don’t feel like it,” and I understand that because occasionally I feel the same way. In that case, I usually pitch in and lend a hand, as “many hands make light work.”  I usually find that the example helps and they often get right back to working cheerfully and I even find them “going the extra mile.”

In all cases, I try to model hard work for my kids and almost always refuse to ask them to do anything in terms of work if I am not also working alongside of them (if not on the same task, at least *something.*) Then if they are complaining or not wanting to do a job, I can gently remind them that we ALL have a responsibility to pitch in and they are not being asked to do something that others are not also doing. Sometimes the team mentality helps to encourage. Exceptions are if someone is sick or unable to work (even me!), in which case everyone is encouraged to pitch in and serve to help out for those who are unable.

Though it is hard and I sometimes am too distracted/busy, I do try to check all the children’s work as they finish. Anything that is not done well gets a verbal correction or  “reminder” for what to do differently or better next time. If the job quality is really unacceptable (standards vary according to age an ability) and I think it’s because of laziness/desire to get back to playing or personal projects, I have them re-do the job and sometimes even follow-up with an additional task “because they obviously need practice with how to work hard and do an acceptable job.” This usually keeps things running smoothly.

 

It helps to have times devoted to work when everyone knows that they will have responsibilities, but as you said there are inevitable times when other things need to get done. Don’t be too discouraged about what you perceive as a character deficiency. Just keep on teaching in a positive manner and correcting when needed.

Some questions to ask yourself/things to consider…these are ways that I self-evaluate, which may or may not be applicable in your situation:

–are you investing in your relationships with your kids so that they feel valued and loved  by you, and not just that they are appreciated by you for the work that they do?

–Are you modeling cheerful labor and encouraging a positive attitude in various ways, rather than making household jobs seem burdensome?

–Are you encouraging good work and helping the children see the benefit and blessing of what they do, instead of only correcting problems when they arise?

–Are you being realistic in your standards in regard to quality of work and ability in doing various jobs?

–Boys really are different than girls. I find that I am asking my boys to participate less and less in kitchen work (especially dishes) BUT they are the ones who do the shopping, which is a big responsibility…My oldest son is the plumbing and electrical “go-to” and he often does repairs to bikes and other things around the house, so I think that’s a “fair trade” in releasing him from more of the mundane household tasks. My next-oldest boy is not as mechanically inclined as his brother, but he does enjoy cooking so I’m trying to teach him more in the kitchen (still need to devote more time to that) and he willingly takes care of the animals and works in the garden. So, does your son have work that he prefers, which you can delegate to him “in exchange” for other people doing tasks that he doesn’t like so much? Not that this is always possible, and I think all children need to have proficiency most things. Not to mention, often in life we must do things we don’t “prefer,” and that’s a good lesson for children to learn–even my oldest does dishes from time to time!–BUT, in the short-term sometimes it does help attitudes about work if one can take a break from chores that are particularly burdensome.

–Generally speaking, do you have regular and expected times for chores to be done? We almost always do “wake-up jobs,” something small after breakfast and family devotions (breakfast dishes, quick clean-up to make the house presentable, etc.), and then afternoon jobs (supper prep, clean-up from the day’s activities, bringing in the laundry, etc.) If the children know to expect this, they are less inclined to feel frustrated about projects/play time interrupted, etc. Of course if you always felt that what you were doing was being interrupted, you wouldn’t like it either. If you are asking for an “unexpected” job to be done, a “five minute warning” if they’re in the middle of something is usually appreciated and makes the work less offensive. And although I do expect children to obey a request “just because” and not always need to know “why,” they certainly respond much better to those big or unexpected jobs if you can provide some reasoning and encouragement. (“I know weeding the garden is a big job, but those weeds are going to be flowering if we don’t take care of them and that will give us even MORE to keep up with! We’ll all work together and try to make it easier for everyone.”)

–Do the children have a good balance between school, chores, and personal free time? Of course we are preparing our children for a lifetime of work, but they are children, after all. At age 12, your son should be investing perhaps 3-4 hours in “school” (I find that my older children can complete all their assignments in that amount or less *IF* they are being diligent…which sometimes they are NOT). Then, a roughly equivalent amount of time in actual work, if you have enough for him to do (indoors, outdoors, or in serving others in some way). Of course you have family times where you do various things, and meal times, but that should still give him a good couple of hours of personal/free time during the day. Of course, it’s important to intersperse work with appropriate short breaks, etc. For example, even though our mornings are devoted to “school” (roughly 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM), I tell the kids that they should do their math or language arts first, then they can have a 10-15 minute break. After that, they get the the other primary assignment done and move on to whatever is scheduled for “electives.”  If we’re working on a long job (like harvesting maize/beans or weeding the garden or our Saturday whole-house cleaning), we usually work for 30-45 minutes then take a 10 minute break. Sometimes a cup of juice or a small snack goes a long way. 🙂

I admit, I used to be a bit more of a “drill sergeant” in regards to the children’s work…I think I have become much more gracious in how I ask the children to do things, more realistic in my expectations, and a lot more encouraging of sincere effort, as well as more instructive in taking advantage of “teachable moments.” I have definitely seen that my approach and attitude affects a lot in terms of how the children respond. It is true that they choose their own attitude…but if they “choose” a bad one, I can either exacerbate it or reduce it by how I respond. This has become more than obvious throughout my oldest son’s early teenage years.Re: boys-turning-into-young men…which your son is… they definitely don’t like to be tied to Mama’s apron strings (*wink*). So, is your son spending good time with his Dad? Does Dad give him jobs to do so that he can feel like he is contributing in a “manly” way to the household? In addition to the things you are asking him to do, is he learning practical skills that will help him feel productive/grown up? (I’m not meaning for this to sound sexist, which it might…but boys and girls are definitely different and I think it is important to acknowledge that in our parenting.)  I struggle with this a little more with my second son than I did with the first, as my oldest has always wanted to do the things his Dad does and has just has a mind/aptitude for various skills, which his brother has little interest in and aptitude for. However, I’m not too worried about it. I’m keeping focused on the primary thing (“seek first the Kingdom of God!”) and I figure the future will unfold itself. He generally has a cheerful attitude about work, and although he doesn’t have a penchant for manual labor (particularly things like weeding the garden), I do find that he is particularly meticulous in his work, which I try to encourage and compliment. If the two boys are “sharing” garden weeding, the oldest gets twice as much done in half the time (to his brother’s frustration), BUT the younger one does a much more thorough job, whereas his brother just “gets the job done.”

Whatever the issues are, remember that you can only do your part in training, encouraging, and disciplining, and there is much that you have to leave to the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. There is seed time and harvest, and we are given our children for 18-ish years for a good reason…they need that long and that much ongoing work on our part.  And as you know by now, each one his his/her strengths and weaknesses, so we need to encourage the strengths and work on the weaknesses, without expecting that everyone will be of the same ability/personality, etc. For example, one of my daughters, at only age 9, is a VERY capable household helper. She knows what generally needs to be done and jumps in to help. She can prepare complete meals on her own and willingly does so. In fact, if she is “bored,” she typically looks for work to do. Since her personality is somewhat like mine and I definitely appreciate her help, it is easy for me to encourage her, but I find that it somewhat embitters her older sister (age 11) when she gets too much complimenting (from me or others). My oldest daughter just doesn’t have that mind or that work ethic in regard to many of the household tasks (though she generally does whatever she is “asked” to do and does it fairly well) BUT she is an excellent seamstress-in-training, a great artist and storyteller, and generally very creative–all gifts which I know the Lord will use in His special way.

 

I hope you have been encouraged, or perhaps challenged, by these random thoughts on children and chores. Feel free to add your own thoughts (or questions) in comments!

“Idleness Teaches Much Evil”

I’ve often heard the expression, “Idle hands are the devil’s work,” and wondered where it came from. I hear it quoted like it’s Scripture (similar to phrases like, “the Lord helps those who help themselves“), but I never knew the origin. So I was intrigued when we started reading the Wisdom of Sirach (from the Septuagint) and we stumbled upon this: “Put him to work that he may  not be idle, for idleness teaches much evil” (Wisdom of Sirach 33:28-29). I’ve often seen this to be true, and the Scripture I usually remind our children of when they start having “too much fun” is Proverbs 29:15 (ESV): “a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” That’s usually followed by a request for help with some chore or another.

Case in point: our almost 14 year-old son. He’s had some difficult moments…okay, maybe days…in the transition to Africa. He has a sharp mind and has always needed a project to work on. When he’s left idle, he complains of boredom and here, where good “project materials” are in short supply, that boredom has often turned into a general bad attitude. I understand it and have made many suggestions for profitable things he can do, but mostly I’ve just prayed that God would bring a solution.

He’s taken his own dirtbike completely apart and done quite a few repairs. Other times, it’s been another motor bike in need of repair–along with a driver that lacked the money to pay for parts or service. Most recently, it’s this:

Marc decided that the time has come to get our family a vehicle. We didn’t think we would; we’ve made do quite well with public transport and Marc’s motorbike. However, since his accident he’s needed to hire a car more than once, and when he takes a large team (4-6 people, who lead the Luke 10-style eveangelism teams) out for KDM missions, transport gets expensive. So it seemed that the time had come to get a car–now one of two in our little village!

However, it’s in need of some TLC and, as we’ve discovered, mechanics here leave much to be desired. Marc grew up working on cars with his Dad and has taught Isaiah quite a bit but they’ve never been able to get their hands dirty together very much–until now. They spent Monday and Tuesday at work over the car, and yesterday when Marc left for a training meeting, Isaiah spent the day solo doing some more repairs. He was in his element, and pretty much only took a 20-minute break for lunch. Oh, well, he wasn’t exactly solo–he had a frequent little helper:

Grabbing tools

"Helping"

As parents we are often limited and can’t always give our children what they need. But God can. My son has a heart for God, but he also has an analytical mind and a need to do something productive. Though our opportunities here have been limited, we’ve grown in grace as we’ve weathered all the bumps in the road and the Lord has been faithful. I’m thankful.

The Consequences of Cheating

Do you remember doing SRA in grade school? You would select a numbered card from the box, read a story, and answer some questions. The stories and activities progressively increased in difficulty from 1 through 100.

I have such fond memories of SRA, I was excited to get a box when we were still young homeschoolers.

There is an answer booklet in the box. At first, I did all the correcting myself, but over time I’ve allowed the children to self-correct. They come to me if they have questions as they read or if they don’t understand the follow-up activities. I always check their work and go over anything they’ve gotten wrong. We do this not only with SRA but also with math textbooks, for which we also have answer books.

Today, for the first time in…how many years of homeschooling?…our first instance of “cheating” was brought to my attention. One of the children caught a sibling in the bedroom with the SRA answer book.

In deciding how to address this issue, I realized that I don’t think this child has ever been told that it’s wrong to copy answers out of the answer book. We’ve talked about lying and other forms of deception, but not directly about cheating as it pertains to schoolwork. So she got off with a very gentle rebuke and explanation about why her behavior was wrong. What did she do? She cried. But not because she felt bad for cheating. Instead, she was overwhelmed because…”it’s so hard!” That’s why she chose to copy answers in the first place–and it had been going on for some time before she actually got caught.

I consoled her with the fact that SRA isn’t about getting all the right answers–it’s about learning. And I would have been happy with her progressive learning, even if she got some wrong in the process. And in fact, by cheating she was making it harder for herself, not easier. Because now when she was on a certain number and difficulty level with her SRA, she really wasn’t equipped to do it on her own because she’d been cheating for so long. No wonder she was upset!

So I tried to determine how long this had been going on, and we went back. Back to a much simpler lesson, one that she and I worked through together. She did the next one on her own. And next time, she’ll continue from there. She’ll learn what she was supposed to learn the first time around.

It struck me that we sometimes do the same thing in our spiritual walk. How often do we try to get out of doing hard work, struggling through, and learning lessons that are, in the end, of great value to us? Sometimes we can claim ignorance, but other times we’re just lazy. Or it may be that the standard of perfection scares us. And yes, that is our standard (see Matthew 5:48), but God is infinitely gracious in getting us to that point. Our goal is to grow, not necessarily to get everything right the first time through. God expects us to make mistakes, He frequently gives us second chances, and sometimes we have to go back to a place we thought we’d never see again, just to learn lessons that we ignored the first time around.

I don’t ever want to presume upon God’s grace, or make excuses for my sin. Still, I am thankful for second chances and for a Father who is gentle in teaching me. I hope that as I resolved this issue with my daughter, and re-started those SRAs, she learned something–even if she didn’t get all the right answers.

 

Grumbling, Complaining, and Bad Attitudes

I don’t know about you, but all three of these (grumbling, complaining, and bad attitudes) are an occasional reality at our house.

While in America, we dealt with these issues much less than we do now in Africa. I recall a conversation I had not too long ago with my oldest son, in which he confessed that he had been struggling with his attitude–something he said he didn’t feel he had a problem with in America because we had so many distractions. For example, if the overtone of our home was negative, we might put some praise music on a CD while we did our morning work. Our daily chores were a regular part of our routine, but they had a definite beginning and end and we could look forward to some free time when we were done. We had NetFlix on-tap for both education and entertainment. If we were having a rough day, we could jump in the big red van for a trip to the museum or library. Even if we were stuck at home (though we tried to be wise and reasonable about our possessions), the children never lacked something to do.  All of these “distractions” have been removed since our arrival in Africa. Couple that with a marked increase in daily labor, and certainly, grumbling, complaining, and bad attitudes should be expected.

In spite of taking advantage of as many “teachable moments” as possible in an effort to encourage the children in a more positive direction, I admit to feeling occasionally discouraged about the lack of progress in this area. It seems that while one child might show some improvement, another falls off the wagon and there are constantly one or two (or more) among our brood who just don’t like the way things are, don’t want to do what they’re told, or can’t get along with someone else in the family. So I hear grumbling and complaining and see those bad attitudes.

But I must confess, I have not been immune to the temptation. Perhaps that’s why we have all struggled so much. I realized in conversation with Isaiah the other day just why I fall prey to grumbling every once in a while–and just like any other character deficiency or sin issue, it’s interesting how that root cause analysis really leads you to repentance. It’s not that the work bothers me or that I’m particularly overwhelmed. Though that is sometimes the case, it’s more often that I fall victim to what I’ve heard called the “Mommy Martyr” syndrome. I feel that I work harder, serve more, and benefit less than most other people in the household. And it just wouldn’t be fair if they didn’t know it. So I sigh while I wash that second sink full of dishes. I mutter under my breath about how if the girls didn’t keep throwing clean clothes on their dusty concrete bedroom floor, I wouldn’t be forced to wash them a second time even though they hadn’t even been worn. I sit the children down for a  lecture about how it would be nice if they could notice how I’m doing jobs they normally do, just so they can enjoy a break–and wouldn’t it be nice if, just for once, someone offered to help?

Why? Because I want someone to notice my efforts. Occasionally, some unsolicited help would be nice. Even better, an encouraging word would be so appreciated, given how hard I labor on their behalf. I want that proverbial “pat on the back.” And while it is true that we should encourage and help one another, there is a not-so- fine line between appreciating a positive response to our service and trying to force it upon those around you by making them feel guilty. As I said to Isaiah, cheerful service (“as unto the Lord”) brings us a reward from God, but in seeking praise from men, we have already received our reward in full (see Matthew 6).

I don’t think that all of my grumbling, complaining, and bad attitudes can be attributed to selfish manipulation or a desire for attention. However, when it is, I want to to repent and learn to seek my rest and reward from God. Just one more issue where I’m thankful for God’s grace and in which I want to press on to perfection.

 

“It’s Just that I was Right in the Middle of my Chapter…”

Mornings are always busy here. We all get up early and, like it or not, seem to hit the ground running. Jobs, breakfast, usually more work, and then schooling. I try to balance the kids’ busy-ness with some little “breaks” built in, but sometimes there’s just too much to do!

When the children first get up, they’re expected to make their beds and get themselves presentable for the day, then have some Bible time or quiet reading time until we are all ready for family devotions. Lately, one of my children in particular has been absorbed in a personal reading book that apparently has been very captivating, so when we’ve asked them to “put the book down” to do the next thing, we’ve been met with a rather sour attitude in response. Unfortunately, the overtone tends to permeate the rest of the morning’s activities. Much gentle encouragement and prayer have been the general prescription, and usually after a while I get a hug and and apology.

Today, more of the same. After trying to get the kids to pitch in and work together to clear the table (while each one wanted to just do their own thing and let everyone else shoulder the burden), I assigned morning jobs and got some flack from said child who lately has been struggling to have a positive attitude about work responsibilities. After a short conversation (in which I didn’t really feel like being kind, but forced myself to anyway), the child said to me, “I’m sorry I had a bad attitude. It’s just that I was right in the middle of a chapter!” To which I could only express my agreement, because I’ve felt similar frustrations in being interrupted. Another opportunity to be reminded of the power of sympathy.

It has seemed to me that this particular child has had a bad attitude about work, and I’ve been trying to address it as such. Yet all the while I was missing the mark with my encouragements because I failed to see the “root cause.” It wasn’t laziness, as I assumed…it was just frustration in not getting to finish something started. Granted, we all must learn to sacrifice our personal preferences and serve others in love…but that is a process, isn’t it? So my lesson this morning is this: just as I need to address the “root causes” in my own spiritual growth in order to see victory, in the same way I need to commit my children to prayer and seek wisdom so that I can identify the root causes that drive their behavior, and address them effectively. Something else that I suppose I knew, but needs a reminder every once in a while.

(And, the “5-minute warning” prior to a change in activity never hurts, either. I tend to forget about that, too…)

Our Day, as of 1:35 PM

I usually get up early for my morning Quiet Time (the baby normally helps with that) but today it was, quite unusually, raining a bit in the early hours and I wanted to stay in bed. I got up at 6:10 when the baby cried, which is when all the bigger kids also started rolling out of bed. I fed the baby and handed him over to Deborah, who was the first girl up with hair brushed and ready to go for the day. She entertained Enoch in the living room while I got dressed.

I sent Isaiah next door to collect our two liters of milk and began setting the table for breakfast (cups for tea, a peanut butter coffee cake made the night before, and some bananas). Pastor David arrived from Nairobi at about 6:40 AM, having taken Easy Coach through the night. (He’s joining Marc and Tonny on a training mission…somewhere…for the next few days. Tonny had stayed overnight and surprisingly, even with all our noise, wasn’t up yet.) By now all the children were up and gathered in the living room, either having Bible time or chatting with their Dad and Pastor David. Thankfully Enoch, who had started the day rather cranky, was now pleasantly entertained by Pastor David’s charming smile and soothing manner.

By 7:10 Isaiah arrived with milk, which I boiled in preparation for making tea. Tonny finally got up and everyone washed their hands while I finished getting breakfast on the table. I emptied out the pan of coffee cake and everyone probably would have had more if there had been any. Afterwards, Marc left on his motorbike with our 11 year-old to pick up the battery he had left at the charging station over night. Isaiah chatted with the guys outside while Hannah cleared the table, Rebekah started dishes, and Deborah began the task of washing clothes. Our neighbor, Jane, had arrived to complete the task of transplanting some onions in our garden, which she had voluntarily begun the previous afternoon. Micah (4) and Jubilee (3) went out to “help.” I sat at the table and checked my email and Facebook while feeding Enoch. Then I sat on the couch (still with Enoch) and turned on the Kindle for some Bible reading (Psalm 31).

I swept out the kitchen, especially all the mud that had accumulated by the back door with just a few early morning trips to the out house. Tonny interrupted my task to ask if I could help him prepare a bath. I put on a big pot of water to boil, had Deborah take a break from laundry so I could borrow one of the big wash basins, and gathered all the supplies Tonny would need in the bathroom. Meanwhile, Baby Enoch entertained himself by playing with the piles of dirt that Hannah was sweeping from under the table. When moved, he would find his Dad’s Bible on the coffee table. When moved again, he meandered into the kitchen and discovered the electrical wires left disconnected when we had removed the battery the previous day. Then back again into the sitting room to find more trouble…

After setting Tonny up to bathe, I got the bin of clean laundry that had been taken in the previous afternoon but not yet put away, and I sorted it into piles. By now Hannah (after a few gentle reminders to stay focused on her work) had finished cleaning up from breakfast and I asked her to put away the folded and sorted clothes. Isaiah, temporarily distracted by a low-flying agricultural plane, was now reigned in to empty the indoor “pee bucket” that we keep in one of the stalls of our bathroom. (Now that the mosquitoes are out when the sun goes down, we use the emergency bucket as needed!) I also instructed him to roll up and shake out the throw rug in the sitting room and prepare for floor washing (which involves putting coffee and end tables up onto the couch and moving the toy box, shoe bin, and carpet out onto the veranda, then doing a thorough sweep of the concrete floor.) By now Jonah and Marc had returned, so I sent Jonah out to burn the garbage.

Marc, Pastor David, and Tonny left at about 9:00. Not much later, Jane came in from the garden and asked if I needed eggs. She scored really big last week in finding a place where we can get eggs in quantity–we got FIVE DOZEN and wasted little time in consuming them. We’re down to eating meat about once every 2-3 weeks, so eggs are a preferred source of protein. We normally can only get 3-4 eggs every few days, though. Anyway, I was happy to give her some money for another  four dozen, and the two older girls begged to go with her, so I agreed. First I had to scrounge a 5-gallon bucket from the veranda and clean it out for egg transport.

Meanwhile, Micah and Jubilee had begun playing but their diversion was neither messy nor loud, so I let them continue. Isaiah had finished clearing out the sitting room, so I put him on the mission of entertaining Enoch while I prepared to wash the floor (a task I had intended for Rebekah, who was now gone. But both girls had at least gotten through the laundry and dishes!) I set Jonah to cleaning his room and Hannah to washing about four pairs of very dirty flip-flops (necessary for using the outhouse, but not so nice to use when they leave your feet muddy.)

With everyone occupied, I was able to wash the sitting room floor and decided to do the bathroom and hallway as well. I started cleaning carrots, tomatoes, and peppers in preparation for supper, which will be vegetables and ugali. Realizing that lunch time was rapidly approaching, I put Jonah on prep duty, skinning unripe “cooking bananas,” which would be mashed and added to  rice for our meal. I asked Hannah if she could pick skuma (collards) to add to my veges for dinner. I confirmed that she knew how to do it, recalling that she had done so before with her sisters. Meanwhile, Jane arrived with the big girls and the eggs. Rebekah said that Auntie Jane’s “not too far” walk turned to to be pretty far, indeed, but…she wasn’t really tired. In a moment of distraction, Micah asked if he could go help Hannah cut skuma, and I agreed. Jane bounced Enoch and Jubilee in her lap while I put the eggs away, freeing Isaiah up to look for a recipe online, at my request. Today is one of our two weekly dessert nights, and I was unusually enticed by a recipe for Kentucky Butter Cake that I had seen on Facebook earlier.

Jane said her goodbyes and I began cleaning the skuma that Hannah and Micah had now brought in. I asked Rebekah to set the table, gave Isaiah permission to do some work on the computer in Excel, and gave Jonah direction on completing lunch preparation. Deborah entertained Enoch, who was now apparently complaining about Jane’s abrupt departure. A few minutes later, Jane returned, and in broken English explained that evidently Micah had gotten a little over-zealous in his skuma-cutting and  stripped about a dozen plants of all their leaves. I thanked her for the information and went inside, rather ungraciously reminding Hannah of her responsibility to supervise and direct her little brother, and Micah to slow down and (for the thousandth time?) please wait for directions instead of just jumping in to do the work!

I finished cleaning the skuma and then collected Micah and Hannah for hugs and kisses and an apology (will I ever learn?). Then, finally, we were ready for lunch–a rather late 1:20. And I sat down to blog, wondering if anyone would be interested in the minutiae of our day and realizing that schooling hadn’t been a thought in anyone’s mind…but, praise God, we’ve almost finished our 180 days anyway…

How do you Like Being in Charge?

Our thirteen year-old son has long been given responsibility beyond his chronological age, because he’s always proved to have the ability to handle it. He’s taken on advanced projects of all sorts, interacted with a variety of people, and successfully navigated his way through potentially challenging situations. His Dad has had never had any doubt about leaving his oldest son “in charge” when he’s gone away for work or on-mission. This week was no exception, except that things were a little more involved this time around.

We were in the middle of trying to salvage a botched bore hole and well-development project. The man we’d hired to take the job was a known drinker but no one who recommended him to us bothered to tell us that part; perhaps they didn’t feel it relevant. After all, he had the knowledge and experience to successfully complete the project. They were apparently unaware that we put integrity first.

The man had quite an interesting personality as well–as best we could describe it, it’s “intense.” He also seemed to prefer talking to working and, being the man in charge of the project (with two others working alongside of him), it seemed as if the other two guys spent a lot more time digging and hauling dirt from the bore hole than he did.

We were also overseeing a repair to our chimney, which resulted from a bad concrete job when it was installed. Unbeknownst to us, the man we hired to do the work was the one who originally messed it up in the first place.

Then there were the cultural differences to navigate: they asked for food at lunch time, even though all of them live within walking distance. Was that normal, or were they just taking advantage of the mzungu? OK, and in America a work day is 8 hours; here it’s apparently 6 or 7 or however long they feel like working. Finally, the matter of paying in advance of the actual labor being completed, because there are doctor/hospital bills to be paid for sick children,…and so on.  And don’t forget, another frustration in all of this is the language barrier–our Swahili is still limited, as is their English, so that’s been an impediment to progress as well. All little matters needing oversight and attention.

Marc had been dealing with all of this, with no small stress, when mid-week came and he had to go off on-mission for training. He made sure our son understood his plan for the well development, told the head worker that, yes, our 13 year-old would be supervising the work, and…off he went.

Our boy spent about two-thirds of yesterday dealing with people conflicts and getting dirty helping with the labor just to keep the guys on-task. We all had lunch at 12:30, and…he tried. As he dealt with distraction after distraction, I heated up his favorite cream of tomato soup about three different times, and he finally got to choke it down at about 2:30 while he was “organizing” to get a load of sand delivered for the chimney repair.

As he sat down to some luke-warm soup, I asked him casually, “How do you like being in charge?” As one who usually likes being the top-dog among his siblings, I was kind of curious how he would respond. He shook his head emphatically and said, “I don’t like it!” He expounded on how much easier it would be if people would just do their jobs and how frustrating it was to work so hard and barely get to eat lunch when everyone else was already done, and…he hadn’t yet had a bit of free time!

I hear ya, son…welcome to adulthood.

 

Our First “Self-Sufficiency” Day

Marc and I have noticed that here in Kenya, children are very often left to themselves. Usually, this is by necessity, because work for daily bread (whether working in the fields and at home, or wage-earning work, when it is available) is typically so demanding that parents aren’t left with much choice. In America, we took things for granted, like having a vehicle to hop into and a supermarket a short trip away. Here, you walk. Sometimes far. We always chuckle when we ask Jane how far away a particular destination is. She often shrugs and says, “Not far.” But it could be several kilometers–“not far,” indeed! We don’t leave our children home alone, but a single mother with few resources (or mom at home with Dad at work) sometimes has little choice.

When Marc went to Nairobi with our 10 year-old son a couple of weeks ago, he came back more than once to the house where he was staying to find the three children (ages 9 and under) home alone. He remarked that they were very well-behaved: no bickering, faithful behaviors (for the most part), and younger children who respected the authority of their older siblings in the parents’ stead.

We agreed, this would probably not be the case if we left all of our children home alone. My 10 year-old noted, “Well, they probably didn’t bicker because they had no toys to fight over.” Good point. As well, I don’t think our children have had enough opportunity to prove themselves responsible in taking care of their own needs for any extended period of time. They’ve only been apart from both of us a handful of times (usually when we go out to dinner to celebrate a birthday or anniversary), and the longest has been for the weekend, when they stayed with some friends of ours. Although we teach and train them in all things vital to home management, and they generally know our routines and expectations, they certainly derive a level of comfort in having an adult to fall back on. Unfortunately, I was sure that if left to their own devices, there are some things that they take for granted that would fall through the cracks.

So, with Marc and our oldest (a take-charge kinda kid) off to Nairobi for a few days, I decided to call a “Self-Sufficiency Day” for the rest of our crew, with the 10 year-old in charge. I thought it would be a good exercise for all of them. We went over the expectations, and I even wrote them on the chalkboard for reference. Things like:

  • Do it God’s Way! Love and serve one another. Please God with your attitude and your behavior.
  • Keep yourselves clean (hair, faces, feet, teeth) and LOOK AROUND to see what needs to be picked up around the house.
  • Remember to change the baby’s diaper.
  • Big kids, supervise little kids even if you are doing something else. Little kids, respect the authority of your older brothers and sisters.

And so on. They knew they would be responsible for their school work as well as home management, child care, and meal preparation. I would be closed in my bedroom and only available to receive meals or to feed the baby. (I also came out a couple of times to hook up the laptop and charge it on the inverter, but I told them to pretend I wasn’t there.)

My ten year-old spent part of the day before planning out AM and PM jobs for all the children, as well as meals. I have to admit, his choices were a little starchy (mandazi and tea for breakfast, beef broth with rice for lunch, and pasta for supper along with fried bananas and honey for dessert); however, I’m not sure how much better I would have done. The only fruit in the house was bananas and tomatoes. What can I say? We need to go to market! (That’s tomorrow…)

The morning went very well. My ten year-old kept everyone on-track and motivated in a very encouraging way. My oldest daughters teamed up to care for  the littles and did a super job, even when multi-tasking  to do their school work. My seven year-old did an admirable job with the laundry. (The only thing I had to return to the wash pile was a pair of jeans that needed a lot more elbow grease than she could muster. Ahhh, those boys of mine!)

The afternoon left something to be desired. The in-charge ten year-old got caught up in reading a new Thornton W. Burgess book that I had downloaded on the Kindle and before he knew it, it was 4:00 and everyone had far over-shot their afternoon “Free Time.” I actually had to prod them to move on with their afternoon responsibilities (including finishing their school work), which was a bit disappointing. I wondered what would have happened if I had not intervened? I guess I didn’t want to find out! However, after the reminder, things slipped back into gear. Jobs got done, supper got started, and school assignments got wrapped up.

I had given my 10 year-old a budget for the day of 200 shillings (roughly the equivalent of $2 and change, which buys quite a bit here). That would cover any supplies that we unexpectedly ran short of (such as laundry soap) or he could use it for some limited food items that could be purchased at the little shop/restaurant across the street (mostly staples like flour, oil, etc.). He considered buying the favorite “mandazi” from the restaurant at 50 shillings per bag of ten (and we’d need at least two bags); however, he did the math and realized that making them was much cheaper (and the recipe made a lot more–about 50!), so he was excited to make them himself. He ended up spending 18 shillings for 6 beef cubes, which he used to make broth for the lunch time rice, and he got a bag of sugar for 65 shillings to replenish our supply. Also, he ordered a litre of milk for 35 shillings to have tea for the next day. All in all, a total of 118 shillings spent for the day. Not bad. I had to chuckle, though, when I overheard him preparing breakfast in front of an audience of little people saying, “It’s almost ready! This is just taking a little longer than I thought!”

I sat down for supper with the crew and asked for their reactions. Over all, everyone was pleased with the day, though they admitted it was hard work.  Since this was the kids’ first “solo” day, I had made some suggestions for AM and PM jobs, but I’m hoping that after some repeats of this type of training they will be on the lookout for what needs to be done and will need less direction. A good first stab at self-sufficiency. We’ll keep practicing. My 9 year-old daughter can’t wait for the day she’s “in charge.” She’s pretty sure she can handle it.

 

Carrying Water…and Complaining

We are blessed to have a very healthy spring within about a 1/2 mile, but…the water doesn’t bring itself to our house! One of our most important (and time-consuming, and difficult) tasks here is water-gathering. We see Kenyan girls, from the youngest age, carrying water in small jugs on their small heads, so that by the time they are adults they can carry 5-gallon buckets (or larger) with NO cover WITHOUT SPILLING  A DROP. It is truly amazing. However, we have not been trained that way, so we depend on arm, leg, and back muscles for lugging containers–and we’ve not been well-trained even for that.

Unfortunately, because the task is one that we are not used to, and we must do it multiple times per day in order to do laundry, wash dishes, bathe, and cook food (not to mention drink!), it often involves complaining on the part of the children. They generally start off with the best of attitudes and intentions, but somewhere between the first and second trip of the morning (or maybe during the afternoon run), they begin to whine, bicker with one another over who carries what, and feel sorry for themselves over the trial that they are suffering.

We’re working on it. It is a character-training opportunity at its best. I’m reminding the children that we should “consider it all joy when [we] face trials of various kinds.” That God works all things for good, and that through adversity we are conformed to the image of Christ. Also, I’m trying to remind them (in an encouraging rather than condemning manner) that we are “supposed to” be a light and a witness to this community, showing the character of Christ so that people will see the Gospel of the Kingdom in action. It’s difficult, because when we go to gather water, it’s typically with an entourage–often as many as 20 children and usually an adult (one who has been more than helpful in fetching water for us, praise God!). They see when we do the task in a manner that glorifies God…and when we don’t.

I was very disappointed yesterday to send four of the children to the spring, with two of them tasked with trading off a large container of water between them, only to have one of them have a bit of a temper tantrum and (according to the siblings’ reports) “scream and cry and throw the jug on the ground” when said child felt that his/her sibling was not taking an appropriate turn. I find that it is sometimes difficult, as a parent, to balance challenging children in their growth and character, with potentially frustrating them with unrealistic expectations. It is necessary to discern what is a character deficiency, and what is simply a knee-jerk negative reaction to an excessive demand. There is a need for wisdom, as well as grace, to navigate these situations and redeem them for the glory of God. I pray that we are doing this successfully.

Please share your thoughts on how you have successfully (or unsuccessfully!) balanced these aspects of child training and made the most of every character-training opportunity.

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