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…


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!

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.


The Lord Knows What we Need

For quite a while now, we’ve felt like we really needed to get away as a family. Sometimes living here as the only wazungu in town is like living in a fish bowl.  Just a quick illustration:

In discussing the issue of being home-bound yet again with Marc, suddenly he had an idea. Silas owns a large shamba—several acres of farm, field, and trees bordering a river—not too far from our house. He wondered, why couldn’t we go there, spend a few hours and enjoy a picnic lunch? Silas was agreeable to our going and we decided, to everyone’s excitement, to try out a trip there are a family. I was certain that this would help fill in the gaps in terms of what the children felt they had been missing, and I was thankful for the opportunity for some fun family time. Truth be told, the daily grind and Marc’s busy schedule sometimes leave me wishing for a bit of a “Sabbath rest” for all of us, and I hoped this would be it.

We had fun just getting there. It wasn’t “too far,” but a bit of a stretch for lots of little legs to walk comfortably. Isaiah stayed at home with several of the children while Marc, Micah, Jubilee, and I (with Enoch in the Ergo) zipped down to Silas’s on the motorbike. Marc went back for the girls while Isaiah and Jonah rode down on their little Suzuki dirt bike. Of course we had to greet Silas’s mother (who in Kenyan culture is just called “Mama Silas”). She spoke not a word of English but was happy to welcome us to her shamba.

Silas showed us around and, to my disappointment, the river at the back of the property turned out to be at the bottom of about a 10-foot drop-off. Instead of letting the kids leisurely explore as I imagined they would, I nervously kept a grip on Enoch and watched the littles to make sure they didn’t wander too close to the banks. The overgrown fields were fun to explore for a while, but there weren’t as many good climbing trees as the boys thought—those were closer to the house, so back we trekked.

Unfortunately, by the time we made it to the house again, an entourage of about 30 children was watching us like hawks and trying to meet up with us at various points. It seemed there was no  “getting away.” And once we got back, Silas unexpectedly told Marc that he had been committed to sharing about the Gospel of the Kingdom at a “Christianized” circumcision ceremony at the house of his neighbor. It was expected that he would stay to eat, but simultaneously Silas’s Mom was also preparing lunch—pulling out all the stops and sending someone to get what was, for them, very expensive fish because she knew the wazungu liked it. By now the children were eager to go home, the morning not turning out to be what they thought, but there was no way we could offend Mama Silas. It seemed we were in a “lose-lose” situation. Ultimately, our fun family day ended up with Marc going next door (for as short a time as possible) and the rest of us hanging out much longer than planned at Silas’s. We ate a lunch of fish which, while tasty, was certainly not accommodating to our mzungu sensibilities. (Whole fish, having been dried and left in the sun at the market, often ends up with maggots in it, and we found some floating in the fish broth. Not to mention, the experience of eating fish whole was not quite appetizing.) We were thankful for the hospitality and were truly blessed that Mama Silas wanted to give us her very best; however, we were also glad to return home after an unexpectedly…interesting morning.


So you can see, we were all out of ideas when it came to what to do to enjoy some time together as a family.

I don’t want to make a long story longer, so I’ll spare you to details of how our family was connected with a group of Mennonite missionary families here in Kisumu–but of course, it was a “God thing.”

Much to our delight, we were invited to their compound for a few days following Christmas. They said we could stay in a guest house there, be well-fed, and have transportation at our disposal to visit the local museum and zoo. After a long but uneventful ride in a semi-private matatu we were warmly welcomed, fed lunch, and enjoyed the company. There were lots of children for our kids to play with and the adult fellowship was a true blessing to me. I don’t think I had realized how much I missed it.

During our first full day we visited both the museum and zoo, so the second day was spent just enjoying the company of several of the families and relaxing. I even got to do two loads of laundry in a washing machine! Needless to say, I felt incredibly spoiled and it was so nice to get a break from that day-in-day-out manual labor. I was equally blessed that they made sure we ate well for every meal—a much greater variety of food than what we have available in our village and even in the next big town. Not to mention, refrigeration meant an opportunity to have cold smoothies and homemade granola with cold milk! It’s amazing how much you take those little things for granted—and what a blessing it was to enjoy for the short time we were there. Most of all, we were blessed by the obvious love of all of these Kingdom Christians and their willing generosity.

Here we are in Kisumu–a rare photo of the whole family, in which *almost* everyone is looking cheerfully at the camera–and only three takes, I think:

(I’m sure you can’t help but notice Micah’s new haircut in the photo. When Silas told us that “Africans no care about quality, they care about price,” he wasn’t kidding. We bought a set of clippers here and I decided to cut Micah’s hair. He likes it short, so opted for a “1,” which has always been super cute on him. Much to my horror, the comb fell off the razor as I was buzzing by his ear, so he was shaved almost to the scalp in a split second. Convinced that I could somehow rescue it, I put the comb back on and continued, only to have it happen again. So, Micah got totally buzz-cut but he had a super attitude about it, praise God!) Now, for the conclusion of our story…..

I came away truly refreshed from our mini-vacation, the burden of discouragement which I had been feeling at that time greatly lifted. The family was likewise encouraged, and we returned to home and “normal” with a renewed sense of God’s grace and goodness (in spite of another round of illness that hit us almost immediately upon our return!) I share this not simply to relate our experience, but to encourage you to consider how you might spur someone around you on to love and good deeds (see Hebrews 10:24)—even if, to you, what you offer seems small.

We are thankful, and God is good.


Whatever is Praiseworthy…

Every day I expect to do at least two loads of laundry–one mixed, cold water wash and one hot water wash of diapers. Sometimes, like today, I have to do a third load. When that happens, I’ve been known to get a little irritable. Not just because I’m doing a third load of laundry, but because I’ve been up since the baby’s early morning feeding at 4 AM, don’t have breakfast ready yet and am hearing nothing but “What’s for breakfast?”, “What are we having to eat?”, “When are we eating?” and so on, from plus or minus seven children in turn. Not to mention that as I’m scrubbing over the tub, everyone has already gotten water or finished their morning jobs and really needs some direction in at least starting their school work, which I don’t really want to take a break to provide. Because if I don’t get the laundry done it won’t get hung out in time to dry before the afternoon rains come. And that would be terrible, seeing as how I really only have enough cloth diapers to get me through ONE DAY. (“Give us this day our daily bread…” or clean diapers, as the case may be?)

So. When I have a third load of laundry to do, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. But it’s not all about the laundry. I’m sure you can relate.

Today, the baby woke up with a total diaper blow out, which necessitated changing the blankets in the Pack & Play. My four year-old decided to have another go-round with the amoebas and threw up all over himself and the couch, too. So not only did the third load of laundry come into play but also I felt bad for the sick littles on top of it all. However, there was much to be thankful for in this morning as well…

A nine year-old who is happy to read and “do school” with her four year-old brother. A baby who is content to play with a cooking stick instead of trying to drink my wash water with his fist (like usual). A seven year-old breakfast-preparing helper. TWO clothes lines to keep up with the demand in clean laundry.  AND, a new gutter system and holding tank which, coupled with the afternoon rains, means many fewer trips to the spring to collect water!

A verse we’ve all probably memorized or meditated on in this regard is Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” I have to remind myself, though, that thankfulness isn’t just about enjoying good circumstances. That’s a lesson that keeps repeating itself lately. It’s necessary to be thankful for the good, but even more important to praise God for the not-so-good, too. His ways are higher than our ways, and He works all things for our good and His glory–even if we don’t see it as we go through it.

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
The Lord GOD is my strength,
And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet,
And makes me walk on my high places.

Habakkuk 3:17-19

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.

Home Sweet Home: Creating a Joyful Home Atmosphere (1)

(Excerpted from Home Sweet Home: Creating a Joyful Home Atmosphere)

I once heard taught that “The woman sets the tone for the home,” and I believe that this is, in large part, true. Though a husband’s leadership affects much and children’s behaviors are unpredictable, it is how we, as women, respond to these things that dictates what our home atmosphere will ultimately be like. We are the managers of the home and usually the primary caregivers, teachers, and trainers for our children. It is our domain! So of course, we have a great deal of influence on the atmosphere of our home. For this reason, you will notice that in this [seminar series…or paperback book, coming soon!] we will focus on ourselves, as wives and mothers. …

A joyful home all comes down to attitude, and most especially OURS! Whether our house is messy or clean, we determine how we will respond. When our children are whiny, will we encourage them lovingly? If they have misbehaved, will we correct them gently? If our husbands aren’t taking the leadership role that we’d like them to, will we harbor resentment or seek to build them up in love, submitting to them as unto the Lord? I want to emphasize that attitude is a choice—and the Bible says,

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)

Is your attitude like that of Jesus? Do you willingly humble yourself to receive from God’s hand whatever HE has ordained for your day? Personally, I was more prone to planning my own schedule and then refusing to bend to the work of the Holy Spirit in changing it—or I would give in, but with complaints and frustration. I had my own ideas about how the house “should” look or how the children “should” behave…but God’s standards for these external things often differed from my own. Eventually, God showed me that, very often, the heart of my bad attitude was my own pride and desire for control. And James 4:6 tells us that God actively opposes the proud, but gives His grace to the humble. No wonder I felt like (and often said!) that getting things done around the house was like pulling teeth! I was seriously missing out on the grace of God, which He gives us to make us able to do His will.

Encouraging words

I would say that I come off as more critical than encouraging (others may disagree, but I know my heart). Cindy is like that too. Comes mainly from the feedback and environment we had as children. As a result, we have to be proactive in encouraging our children, and each other. I for one am a man of few (encouraging) words. Cindy knows she is loved and appreciated, but not told or shown nearly as much as she should be, I suppose. Likewise, it doesn’t trickle down as much as it should.

One awesome trend I see is that when we get encouragement from all of YOU, our readers, we, in turn, keep it going. Sometimes it comes the other way around–when we are more proactive, we get a lot of encouragement from those the Lord is ministering to through our ministry.

I certainly want to encourage all of you to proactively encourage those around you. It is amazing how much impact a few kind words, a brief phone call, or a quick note can have on an individual, and as a result, all the people in their sphere of influence. Here are a few words of encouragement we have received from out there in cyberspace.

Here are some notes from our readers (all from 2008)–numerous thank yous and God bless yous also. We get thousands of visitors and really appreciate every single encouraging comment. Although we serve an audience of ONE, it’s really nice to hear that the resources are having an impact. Thank YOU from all of us at Values-Driven!

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The Necessity of Encouragement

“….encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” Hebrews 3:13 (NIV)

We are very aware of the importance of encouraging our children. Culturally speaking, I think it’s easy to get the idea that “encouragement” is synonymous with “praise” or for the purposes of “building self-esteem.” However, the Greek word translated as “encourage” in Hebrews 3:13 (above) is found in the KJV as “exhort,” which is further defined in the Vine’s Expository dictionary as (and this is not a direct quote, but my paraphrase) calling to a person to urge them to pursue a particular course of conduct. It is not comfort given as the result of a trial, but is prospective and looks to the future.

So encouraging our children isn’t about making them “feel good.” It isn’t even necessarily about giving them a “rah-rah” speech about coming out on the backside of a difficult circumstance. It’s about what we do and say in the “midst” of a trial to help our children to pursue a particular course–in our case, God’s desire for their heart and behavior.

I was reminded of this distinction today. It was a day full of encouragement! Not because things were looking up and there was lots to praise the children for; no, in fact, just the opposite. We’re coming off of a week of vacation (which is never easy, mind you), AND we were jumping right in to an early morning doctor’s appointment and several stops for grocery shopping while were were out. These days are also never the most anticipated.

We left the house on track for being about 5 minutes late, and it was raining. We were eating bread and drinking apple juice in the van on the way there, having not much else for breakfast and no time to sit down. (At least it was whole wheat bread, though). The boys had a few pages from their math workbooks, but weren’t really interested in working on them as we traveled. (“Can I do these later, Mom?”) Of course we were at the doctor’s office for just over an hour for a simple “weight check,” with all six of the children in tow. And we hadn’t even gone shopping yet! When we did make our stop at Sam’s Club, we did our shopping (being thankful for “Click-n-Pull” and most everything ready when we arrived!), but then we left a small box of things in the bottom of the carriage. I realized it just as we were pulling out of the parking lot, but by the time we got back around to where we had left the cart, someone had returned our things to the service desk. Well, praise God that they had been safely returned. BUT I still had to lug all of the kids out of the van AGAIN, and it was nearing lunch time, with still another stop to make.

Long story short…I was praying myself through the day and trying to keep up with that attitude of praise. The attitudes of the some of children, on the other hand, were wanting…exacerbated as the day wore on by the extended time of the errand-running and their tiredness, then hunger…occasional difficulties with self-control…there were LOTS of opportunities for encouragement! I did get to praise them for certain behaviors, but more than that I was mindful to exhort them as needed. To gently, lovingly, and PERSISTENTLY remind them of the benefits and blessings of surrendering to God’s will for their day and of seeking to “make every effort” to do the things that show that we are His servants.

And no, it wasn’t a perfect day. But it was very good. Why? Mostly because at a couple of different points when I was sure that a child was going to give up “trying” to do it God’s way, they would come back and say, “I’m sorry, Mom. I know I need to do better.” Or, they would begin encouraging each other, which was a real blessing to me. For all of us–my children included–it’s about direction, not perfection…and I definitely saw some progress today.

I have to be honest, I have a hard time dealing with bad attitudes on the part of my children. It’s probably one of the areas where I’m most likely to fall short in my response. I think it’s because it’s not just a behavior that you can discipline and be done with. It has to do with the mind, will, and emotions–it’s about the heart, and spankings don’t touch that. Spankings are easy to administer for different kinds of behaviors, but when a child needs to have his heart ministered to, it takes a tender touch, a kind voice, and persistent encouragement. Not just a “way to go” pep talk, but something that reminds them what it’s really all about. I have seen that my children can really develop that “hard heart” that gives in to sin (which is what I think of when I read Hebrews 3:13, cited above) if I am not proactive in encouraging them in a godly direction when I see those heart troubles beginning to surface.

It’s worth every effort we make as parents to get to the hearts of our kids. So I would just encourage you to keep on encouraging your children today. Use every tool in your tool box. Talk to your kids. Let them know you care. Live an authentic Christian life, and be willing to be honest about your own shortcomings. Pray together. Do life together. Then when you’re exhorting them to “pursue a particular course of conduct,” you’ll have the credibility to speak that influence into their lives. Most of all, pray that God would do what you can’t. He will. He is faithful. When we do our part, He does His, and it’s awesome.

"I Just Want Somebody Else to do it!"

Somehow, yesterday afternoon I started feeling a bit tired. Probably not too physically tired, but–you know–just “tired.” Tired of going from one mess to another, keeping constant tabs on the little trouble-maker(s), bouncing from activity A to child B to child C and back to activity A. Have you ever had one of those days? Yeah, leaves you feeling “tired.” And in spite of getting one of the better night’s sleep I’ve had in recent memory, I still felt that lagging feeling when I got up and got going this morning.

The feeling was exacerbated by my oldest, who felt it unfair that he had to lug a heavy jug of WARM water out to the chicken coop, because the animals’ water had frozen overnight. And clean the leaves out of the outdoor water container. And, to top it all off…IT WAS COLD OUT!

So we made it through breakfast with a few complaints but for the most part OK. After breakfast I asked my 3 year-0ld to bring me her toothbrush so that I could help her brush her teeth. She said, “No.” So I asked, “Why?” (which I usually don’t bother asking, since “no” is just, for the most part, not an acceptable answer.) But I did ask, “Why?,” this time, to which she responded, “I just want somebody else to do it!”

Well, my thoughts exactly! I just hadn’t articulated them quite as well as my three year-old. I think my oldest son would have seconded the notion as well.

When the fussy toddler is stuck in her high chair waiting to be cleaned up after a meal and the baby starts crying because he is hungry and the table still has food on it that needs to be put in the fridge and there is a big mess on the floor to be swept but all of the floor-sweepers are suddenly nowhere to be found and the kids forgot to feed the dog and then the phone rings...I just want somebody else to do it!

And all you fellow homeschooling moms out there…let’s face it, we’ve ALL had thoughts about sending our kids to public school. Why? Because we just want somebody else to do it! Let them deal with the bad attitude, the laziness, the complaining, the distractability, the look that says, “I just don’t get it!,” the explaining and re-explaining and drawing a picture, and all the while the baby is crying or the meal is burning and of course the other children need things, too…yeah, sometimes I just want somebody else to do it.

And we take very seriously our job as parents in discipling our children in the Lord. So we teach, we train, we discipline, and we encourage…all the time, every day. We model Godly living, to the best of our ability. And when we fall short, we share that with our kids, too. It’s not like they don’t know it, anyway. But, you know, on days like today I just want somebody else to do that, too. It’s a lot of work!

Sometimes, frankly, it’s easier to just “not” make the effort. But if I don’t nurture my children in the Lord, there’s no one to fill that gap. Nobody else can do it like we parents can. That’s why God gave us that responsibility (see Deuteronomy 6:6-7)! Oh, but I just want somebody else to do it, Lord! I’m tired today…

Funny how at times like this the Scriptures we read each morning just scream with relevance. I recall yesterday my husband sharing from Hebrews, and we talked specifically about verse 14 (NIV): “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” We discussed the importance of holiness, and being set apart for the Lord–which means that often we will do things that aren’t considered “normal.” And doing things differently–and diligently, at that–takes effort. It’s not easy!

So whether you’re a stay-at-home mom when our culture says two incomes are necessary, or whether you make all the sacrifices associated with homeschooling, or whether you simply recognize that your children’s discipleship is your responsibility–and you take it seriously–likely you will look at how others are doing it and you’ll want to go the “easier” route, from time to time. You’ll be tempted to say, I just want somebody else to do it! But, let’s face it, our children deserve our best effort. The pay off is well worth the investment, if we can just stay the course. So as I write, I’m trying to encourage myself–and I hope you will, too!

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:3-8)

Altering the Atmosphere: RE-BOOT!

Yesterday was “one of those days” for us! It wasn’t a BAD day, by any stretch of the imagination, but it wasn’t super, either. The kids were “off,” and I was “off,” too. We were all putting in a good effort to “do it God’s way,” but it probably wasn’t our BEST effort. I can’t say that the kids were arguing with one another (as we are quick to discipline when they do), but they just seemed to be talking a bit unkindly. Certainly not the “gentle answer that turns away wrath.” They weren’t neglecting their chores or getting distracted by play…but they weren’t moving as quickly as usual, either.

It seemed like everything I tried to do experienced problems of one sort or another. (Particularly, computer problems of all sorts…AND I was tired, anyway!!) Although I wasn’t YELLING at the kids, my younger son told me I didn’t have a particularly “gentle and quiet spirit” either. 🙂 I think my communications were a bit abrupt–I can’t say I was in the mood for conversation, and the constant correction of different things started to wear on me by mid-morning.

All of us were sort of expecting the “off” day to take a turn for the worse and become a BAD DAY at some point. So, thankfully, I remembered our strategy for dealing with these sorts of days, and implemented it before it was too late!

We talk about this effective “mood-altering” method in The Values-Driven Family, but I’ll summarize it here as well, just in case you haven’t yet read the book. Actually, there’s no point in re-inventing the wheel, so I’ll just paste in an excerpt directly from the book… 🙂


“…when everyone is worn thin and everybody is in a bad mood (frustrated, tired, or just plain irritable), things do not just change by themselves. In fact, you can expect the tone in the home to go from bad to worse, if left unchecked. After this incident, I talked to my wife, all the while thinking that the situation was somewhat what it feels like when my computer is acting up. It can be painfully slow or some features can simply stop working. So how do I respond (being as patient as I am with computers)? I click faster and harder and get frustrated that things just seem to slow down more—or, ultimately, the computer just seizes. How do I get things back to normal again? Reboot: Control—Alt—Delete! Immediately I saw how the concept can also apply to the family.

First, control the situation. Recognize that the environment is not healthy and that the team can’t continue down this path. In our home, we stop everything and call a REBOOT. Everyone gathers in a room and sits down. I (or Cindy, if I am not there) tell the family that the mood is dismal and must change.

Next, alter the path. Ask the family if they want to have a blessed day. Ask them if they feel blessed now. Then tell them that we need to start over and live by the core values so that we can experience the joy, peace, and success God has in store for us that day.

Finally, delete the past. All misdeeds are forgiven. Children receive a clean slate for their encouragement charts and full opportunity to get all their marks. Every person (moody adults included) must give every other member of the family hugs and kisses and tell them they are sorry for being crabby or for doing whatever it was they had done to contribute to the mood crisis.

This method is exceptional! It really works. We have done this and have turned the tone 180 degrees in our home. Rebooting is a staple part of maintaining peace and joy in our home. It helps parents and children alike to recognize that peace, joy, and success are a choice. We as a family unit can set a joyful and loving tone in the home. Implementing this method encourages everyone in the family to come on board as a team and choose to take advantage of the new start offered.

This is a great reflection of the grace that God extends to us through Christ, offering a fresh start when we’ve chosen the wrong path and come to him in repentance. We urge you to try this method in order to reduce the expression of negative emotions that threaten to wreak havoc in your home. The Bible says, “Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting with strife” (Proverbs 17:1)—this is so true! Little else matters in a home with a negative tone.

And, true to form, the re-boot was a success! I wish I hadn’t waited until lunch time to do it. 🙂 God was nice enough, afterwards, to remind me just how long it’s been since we’ve needed to use the “RE-BOOT.” But it’s a really good tool to have in your parenting tool box. We all have “one of those days,” sometimes.