For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
– 2 Peter 1:5-9
As a parent I find myself constantly wanting to bring my children back to the songs, games and even life-style we had as children. We read the classics (Wind in the Willows, the Secret Garden, Doctor Doolittle). We watch old episodes of Mr. Roger’s and the original Disney classics like Dumbo and Alice in Wonderland. We listen to Free to Be You and Me. We play old games like Dominoes, Mastermind and Children’s Authors. We play disconnected out of doors and spend lazy days without so much scheduling and noise. I love this. Yet this is not the reality of most kids today. So why does it seem so important?
Recently a friend introduced me to the podcast Raising Girls and Boys hosted by three lovely Christian counselors in Nashville, TN. The focus of the current season (where I took this blog’s name from) is on helping parents instill character into their children. It occurs to me this is exactly what I hope to bring to my children – the idea of building character – a character based in Truth and in the Christian Values of Christ. When I was growing up in the 80s and 90s the idea that there were character traits we wanted to instill in our children was a given whether you were religious or not. Nowadays everything seems relative.
Finding the Right Balance
I know I struggle to find the right balance in our modern day world of how much to connect with modern culture and how much to hold back. I grew up in an Old Calendar – headscarf wearing – Russian Orthodox church and I still cherish the many ways in which it sits apart from the forward momentum of the world. I love certain aspects of the counter cultural. Yet we also live in a modern world which we are commanded to be a light unto and which we can only influence by engaging.
The question of how to engage and how much is still a huge one, especially in the shifting culture of our world today. How can we walk alongside our children as they learn to be loving and accepting of all people (just as Christ was) while helping them order their own lives rooted in Christian values, customs and culture? It is a massive and fundamental question that we must be intentional about. If we are not we will easily be swept along in the current of the day.
Focusing on Character
Finding a way to teach Christian Values through character traits which still resonate with the modern world’s values I think is an interesting place to start. Our small Christian school uses the Character First Education elementary curriculum which outlines a series of character traits to be discussed and internalized throughout the school year. Some examples we have already done this year: Patience, Discretion, Self Control, Conservation. A free example from their site on the topic of responsibility is available here. Through choosing a character trait to focus on each month or so we begin to verbalize and internalize the importance of that trait to our lives and we can further connect it with our core values as Christians.
Creating Family Rules
Another beautiful way to be intentional about your family’s values is to come up with a list of Family Ways or Family Rules. Family rules can create structure and set expectations. They can serve as useful catch-phrases in heated moments – “in our family we use encouraging words”. They can help children to understand their family has it’s own set of values that may or may not always align with their friends’ families. The CDC along with many organizations focused on the health and well-being of children recommend coming up with family rules.
The process of coming up with family rules is also really important in helping children feel a part of the process as well as helping them take ownership for the rules you choose. We follow a weekly family meeting format designed by Positive Discipline educator Jane Nelson which has been priceless in terms of helping engage our children in problem solving and family decision making. We are in the process of using a similar format to come up with our family rules – not too many, but not too few. It is a work in progress started earlier this month – right now we have too many and yet not enough oddly. Perhaps I will share when we are done. But family rules are personal. Love God and Love People should always be #1 and #2 (love this song of the same title), but from there make it personal to your family – even if only in the way you state it.
As always setting the intention is the first step along with bringing it to God in prayer. Even just choosing to focus informally on a virtue like humility or patience throughout the week or month can be a very enlightening practice and help slowly with the beautiful and lifelong education of bringing ourselves and our children into an understanding of living as a part of the body of Christ in the modern world. I’d love to hear how you do the same.
With love in Christ,