I wish so badly that there was some sort of formula for parenting.
That if you fed your kids a certain number of vegetables, took them to church a certain number of times, and gave them a certain number of goodnight kisses, you could guarantee that things would turn out the way you wanted them to.
Unfortunately, like so many other things in life, there is no one clear-cut way to guarantee results in your parenting. The longer I serve the Lord, the more I realize that beyond the basic right and wrong, it is absolutely essential to be yielded to the Lord’s leading in all that we do, especially in parenting.
Remember what Mary said to the servants at the wedding in Cana? “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5).
Mary knew Jesus. She knew his authority and his power. She trusted that if the servants followed his guidance, Jesus would make things right.
So before I share about the ways we are building a strong family, I want to preface it with this: do whatever he tells you. I really think that these pillars of our family culture are beneficial for all kids, and research even backs up how important and foundational some of these practices are. But you have to start with the vision God gives for your own family. If one or more of these doesn’t resonate with you in your season or particular family dynamics, and most importantly, if God is leading you to do something different, then by all means do that.
But like I said, I think for most families these three things will help, over time, to build a foundation for a resilient, close-knit, healthy family.
Stories matter. Did you know that one of the biggest predictors of a child’s ACT scores—more than race or gender or socioeconomic status—is whether or not that child’s parents read to him or her? But even if it didn’t virtually guarantee academic results, I’d still read my kids stories. Jesus told stories. The Bible itself is a story. Stories show us who we are and who we can be like nothing else can, and being able to pass that on virtue and character to our kids through stories is a priceless gift.
Share meals together
There are so many studies that point to the overwhelming importance of regular family meals. Kids whose families eat together are less likely to be overweight or become addicted to drugs. They are also more likely to do well in school, and be resilient in the face of adversity. But again, I think there is a strong case for eating with your family even if these factors were not in play. Food plays an extremely important role in the Bible, and if Jesus spent time eating with his disciples, shouldn’t we eat with the disciples he has entrusted to our care?
I know that, at least for me, the time and effort it takes to make regular family meals happen can be a challenge. Soon, I’ll share some more strategies for making this a little easier, but there’s one big thing that really helps us make family meals a priority: we eat breakfast together.
Several years ago, another pastor’s wife shared with me that family breakfasts worked better with their weird schedule, and I instantly realized what a game-changer that would be for us. Now, I feel more off-kilter when we haven’t had a sit-down breakfast in a few days, than when we’ve missed a bunch of dinners in a row. If dinner works for you, that’s awesome. But if it doesn’t, know that it doesn’t have to be at night to count as a family meal.
Share time in nature
Kids absolutely need time outside. Period. Not only does it help their physical bodies, but it’s so much easier for us to wonder at the mystery of God’s creation when we are out in it. Standing at the edge of the ocean, climbing to a mountain peak, sleeping under a canopy of stars—these are the things that absolutely take my breath away at the beauty and majesty of our God. I want to pass those same experiences on to my children, so we try as much as we can to explore and camp and go on hikes.
And one more, as a bonus:
I would be remiss if I left if out because this is such a big part of who we are as a family. Jason and I both come from game-playing families, and playing games together was an early part of our relationship. We love sitting around the table and playing games with our family (the big people) and we would love for that to be true with our own kids when they are grown. I don’t know if there’s any research backing up the importance of a regular family game night (something we’re trying to get more consistent at doing), but playing games teaches kids to be gracious winners and losers, to cooperate, to think strategically, and a host of other skills. Plus it’s tons of fun!
So, that’s what we are doing. Like I said, there’s no formula, but I think if I can do these things consistently over the next decade or so, these habits will eventually bear good fruit in my kids’ lives. So now you tell me: did I leave anything out? What do you do to build a strong family? And do you have any tips or tricks to make it easier to implement these habits? Let me know!