One of the most startling things about bringing home your first child is how unprepared you feel. I remember standing at the changing table, holding our baby, and realizing we had no instructions. The hospital sent us home, with a tiny human who is completely dependent on us, and we were on our own! Now that we’re almost a decade into this parenting thing, I’ve been thinking about what the most important things are that we do with our children.
To be honest, I’m not a list person, but sitting down and thinking about the essential parenting practices we do on a daily basis took some effort. The list came out with some really deep ideas on it, and then some really practical ones.
We’re not perfect at any of these things, but we’re trying to make them priorities.
1) Having a Consistent Bedtime
Ever since our kids have started sleeping through the night, they’ve had a pretty consistent bedtime. Right now, with three kids under 10, we shoot for 7:30 every night. I think there are a few really good reasons to make this a priority. Not only does it give the kids structure, but it’s good for their health. As our kids go back to school, and we see how tired they are, it’s important that we’re getting them in bed, and letting their little bodies recharge. They do better in school, and they’re better behaved when they’re rested.
Another good reason for a consistent bedtime is that it gives my wife and I some alone time. Even if it’s only an hour, that time is good for our marriage.
2) Eat Dinner at a Table and Do It Together
Another routine we have is eating dinner together, at the same time, and in the same place. During the week it’s almost always at home, but even eating a restaurant counts. The main thing is that the family comes together, with no other distractions, and spends time together. We’re not watching TV, but talking to each other. We’re not playing on phones, but asking how your day was. We’re telling our kids that our time together is important, and being together is a priority. Even in the midst of our busy lives with school and work and activities, we can make time to be together at the table.
A new thing we started doing as a suggestion from a friend is “two things.” We go around the table, and everyone has to say two things from their day. It forces you to think about your day and say what happened. It’s a lot better than asking someone how their day was and getting a “good” in reply. The kids actually tell us things about their day, and it leads to some real conversations.
3) Normalize Prayer as a Regular Conversation with God
Not only do we sit at the table, but we start dinner off with a prayer. We take turns, and sometimes there is arguing about who gets to pray (so we do tag-team praying), but the main thing is that we’re praying. The prayers are about as deep as you would expect from a 5 year old, but they’re still prayers. I want our kids to see us praying, and I want them praying. It’s so easy to wait for that emergency before we start having a conversation with God.
We want to normalize prayer. Sometimes we think prayer has to be a big deal, and you need to have the perfect words when you come to God. I want us talking with God and having a constant conversation. I want us asking him for guidance, and bringing our worries to his feet. I want the kids to know that our relationship with God is all the time.
4) Watching Our Language in Front of the Kids
Our kids are always listening to how we speak to each other, and what we speak about. I want them to see mom and dad talk to each other and see love in the words we’re using.
Whether your arguing style is loud and in your face, or passive aggressive and sarcastic, we need to be careful of what we’re teaching them. Maybe disagreeing in front of the kids isn’t a bad thing if we’re disagreeing well. That can teach them how we speak considerately to one another, even when we don’t agree. But if our attitudes and words turn negative, not only does that affect the security our kids need from a strong marriage, but it tells them that way of speaking to others is OK.
Not only should we watch how we talk to each other, but what we’re talking about. This is becoming even more apparent to me with an almost 10 year old. He doesn’t miss anything, and he’s learning from us all the time. Whether it’s talking about their teachers, our family, or our friends, if we talk about someone behind their back our kids will hear it. If we put down groups of people, our kids will hear it. We’re at our most honest when no one else is around, and I want the honesty our kids are hearing to be full of love.
5) Accept Spiritual Responsibility For Your Kids
I’ve written a little about my faith journey, and having kids had a big impact on my faith. Not only was being involved in a church important for our marriage, but we knew our kids needed that community. At the same time, it’s really easy to think that we got our kids to church, and our job is done!
In reality, it’s our responsibility to train them and set them down the right path (Proverbs 22:6). It’s not enough to simply bring your children to church. The church should support and reinforce what we’re teaching them at home, but we can’t abdicate our responsibility to raise children that know Jesus and love others. If the only place our children are reading the bible or talking about Jesus is at church, then it starts to tell them that church is the only place you read the bible and talk about Jesus. I want us to pray, read the bible, and talk about Jesus all week, and then church shows them a community of believers that do the same.
I’m sure as we continue down this road of parenting that some priorities might change. We’re getting close to the teenage years, and I know lots of parents fear those years, myself included. The important thing is that we have priorities, and we’re actively considering what is important and what we’re going to make time for. If we’re rushing through life, something will become a priority, whether we choose it or not. I want us to pursue things that will have lasting value, and that we’ll look back on years from now and be glad we made them a priority.
When it comes to your kids, what priorities are you making? Let me know, because I’m sure I missed a good one.