I know the title of this post sounds like a cliché. But it is something I have been reflecting on a fair amount recently. What kind of values do we seek to instil in our children? What kind of attitudes? We might be able to answer that question to an extent. But how do our own attitudes influence our children? Jesus taught that ‘a good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of’ (Luke 6:45) And clearly, the transformation of our hearts is a work of God as we trust in Him daily to renew us, to forgive our sin, and to help us be more like Him. So first of all, we should pray that God allows good things to overflow out of our hearts, through our mouths, to influence our children in a way that is good.
But it can be easy to shirk our own responsibility. The balance between how much is God’s work and how much requires our human effort can be summarised in Philippians 4 verses 12 and 13: ‘...work out our own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure’. It is primarily a supernatural work of God that brings about good fruit in our lives, but we also have choices to make daily.
Further on in Philippians, we are encouraged to choose: ‘Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy –meditate on these things’ (Philippians 4:8). It might just be me, but it seems that people are generally quick to be negative, quick to be critical, quick to find fault, but much slower to give praise and celebrate the good things in life. I am not suggesting that we should sugar-coat everything, and of course it is important that we teach our children to be discerning. (Jesus Himself counselled His disciples to ‘be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves’ (Matthew 10:16). But the church doesn’t seem all that different to the world. We are warned in 1 Corinthians 15:33, not to ‘be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character”’. Some people I am thinking of would be shocked if they knew I felt that way about their company! But you must know people who inspire you, whose presence just makes you lift your eyes up to God and worship; whereas others almost induce in you the same negativity, the same despondency, the same lack of faith. When I had my youngest son, whenever I commented that the older boys seemed to adore him, and were not at all jealous, the almost invariable response was, ‘Ah yes, but just you wait’. Or, if I choose to speak positively about my children, I receive comments like, ‘Ah yes, but you have such easy children that’s why’. Or sometimes it is a more subtle sense that somebody just thinks I am naive and will wake up to the ‘real world’ sooner or later! But along the same line, and perhaps even more so, we must take care that we as parents are not ‘bad company’ corrupting the developing character of our children through careless speech betraying negative and godless attitudes.
I think this is an issue that we should pro-actively consider. I started to think about it more after reading ‘Loving the Little Years’ by Rachel Jankovic (http://www.lovingthelittleyears.com/the-book/). One simple thing that stuck with me was how people would often say to her, ‘You’ve got your hands full, haven’t you?’ or words to that effect, and how she used to feel this was negative so chose to flip it on its head by saying, ‘Yes, with lots of good things!’ I think I must receive similar comments almost daily as I walk around or catch the bus with a toddler in each hand and a baby across my chest, and I’ve prepared some similar phrases to use (yes, I admit, there are days when it’s pouring with rain, the boys are tired and hungry and things have not gone to plan, when it is tempting to roll my eyes and murmur agreement; it actually helps to have a few rehearsed replies!) It’s astonishing how being positive really turns people around and changes the whole dynamic of the conversation. Also, it seems to be presumed that my children won’t hear and won’t notice the implication that having lots of young children is somehow irresponsible or burdensome!
Most parents spend a fair bit of time trying to teach children to say, ‘Please’ and ‘Thank-you’. But how often do we praise others in earshot of our children? For example, do I make it clear that I am grateful when my husband has done something very helpful around the house? (He is extremely helpful and practical, but can I take this for granted? Can I forget to thank him? Do my children know that what he had done is not an obligation but a kind act? Do they hear me thanking him? When I notice something that he has done, do I draw it to the attention of the children, saying, ‘Hasn’t daddy made a delicious dinner?’ or ‘I’m so glad daddy brought the milk home last night.’) When somebody has been to visit, do we talk about things positively after they have departed? For example, ‘I love the way grandpa tells stories’, or, ‘I love the way Susan has such a confidence in God despite her circumstances’ (rather than, perhaps, dwelling on those circumstances and the questionable choices which may have contributed to them)? What do we discuss as a family on the walk home from church?
This is another post which underlines the fact that home education involves more than simply ‘school’ subjects, but our whole lives. Many people choose to home school because of issues relating to worldview and values, but do we soberly consider our own hearts and pray that we influence our children in a way that brings God glory? It is my prayer that as you read this, you know the transforming power of God in your life, and particularly in the area of your speech. I pray that as you reflect a ‘gratitude attitude’, your children grow with a propensity to praise and to ‘give thanks in all circumstances’ (1 Thessalonians 5:18).