When the young women get together on Thursdays for Bible study at our house, we often discuss issues of parenting as well as general Christian living. Last week as we talked about leadership in the family and modeling service, I was reminded of a couple of conversations in our own family.
Once when our adult son was visiting during a snowstorm, he was shocked that we were down to one snow shovel. “But how do you help each other shovel the snow?” he asked, and then laughed, realizing that his dad or I was capable of shoveling snow alone. Not everything had to be a team effort as it was when they were children.
But the conversation made me think of families as either one-shovel families or multiple-shovel families—families that work together or those that work separately. I see families where the parents do all the work and wonder why their children lack the work ethic they were taught.
How can parents demonstrate to their children a life of service without spoiling the children? The service can certainly be to those outside the family unit, but within the family, serving should be expected and directed.
Effective families are organized by rules, often unwritten, but understood by all family members. Collecting trash from wastebaskets in the house and taking it to the garbage bin can begin early. Loading and unloading the dishwasher or simply picking up their own stuff gives opportunities for accepting responsibility. Seeing their parents cook, clean, or do laundry together fosters a sense of stability in their lives.
Children accept such responsibilities when accepting responsibility is the norm in the family. When children see parents cheerfully sharing duties, this is what they imitate when encouraged to do so.
Conversely, when children experience parents who constantly complain about what the other parent is not doing, they are confused and have no clear indication of what mature behavior is. Parents who keep their word to their employers, their friends, their spouses, and their children set the example their children will—usually!—follow.
When our children were young, we were not always consistent about service, but we were consistent in trying to be servants. We tackled many tasks together. I well recall the brisk autumn day when my husband took a phone call from our next-door neighbor whose home was down the hill from ours.
“Mr. Parker says our leaves are blowing down to his clean yard,” he explained without rancor. “Let’s all get out there and rake!”
At least two of us had allergies to dust and grass and knew we’d suffer, but no one complained. Our family standard was to be good neighbors, and there was no doubt for us about what we had to do. And from then on we were diligent to keep our leaves raked or blown away.
Family teamwork goes beyond the home environment. When a school project is due, giving a child support without doing the project yourself is sometimes a narrow line to walk. Providing materials and verbal encouragement—even ideas—is a way to show your confidence in your child’s ability to complete the project himself or herself. Of course it will be better if you do it, but that tells the child to always be dependent on you, which is surely the opposite of your goal for your child.
Soup kitchens usually need helpers and are great learning experiences for both children and adults. We’ve worked in various ones over the years, which brought us greater appreciation for the lives we lead and the place we live. Seeing small children get excited over a simple dessert of vanilla pudding or an elderly man give a toothless grin at the prospect of meatloaf and mashed potatoes heightens our own gratitude for small things.
Working as a family team offers benefits now, but they are small matters compared to how family teamwork helps your children to grow into admirable, mature adults.
Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:5