Family planning doesn’t end with determining the number of kids we’ll have.
Even more important than the spacing of our kids is developing a plan to raise them well. Personally, I want to see more parents raise kind and compassionate kids who invest in what matters most—people.
If a plan freaks you out, trust me, I get it. I remember the long days of raising little ones and how sometimes it feels like we’re just trying to make it to bedtime. In the midst of the chaos, it’s easy to lose sight of the long-term goals. But keeping the end in mind helps us be more intentional about how we spend time and resources now.
As we consider who our kids will be as teenagers or (gulp) adults—what traits or behaviors are important? What values are important to us that we want to pass on to our kids? Once we nail those down, we can start training now. While it might feel like an overwhelming extra on your parenting plate, long-term planning for your kids’ character development actually brings an order to your home and your relationship that makes everything work better.
The truth is, our kids are watching us and forming their beliefs based on what they see—whether they see a kind compassionate person who cares for people or a jerk who is rude to telemarketers is up to us.
I heard a story that’s been passed down for years that illustrates that point. A woman was fixing ham for dinner, and as she cut the ends off of the ham, her husband asked why she was wasting perfectly good ham. She explained that her mom always had the best ham, and this is the way she prepared it. She called her mom to find out why, but neither one of them actually knew the reason. Finally, Grandma was able to clear up why cutting the ends off the ham was so important ‘Because that’s the only way the ham would fit in the pan.” So for years, the perfectly good ham was thrown away because that’s what had been passed down without anyone understanding the reason why. This story makes me wonder what things are our kids learning, maybe unintentionally, from us? What beliefs or behaviors are being formed as they observe the way we live our lives and interact with others?
If someone really knew the “real” you - what would they say is important to you? What would they say you are investing in? In this commercial age, it’s easy to invest in stuff. But we’re taught in the Bible that investing in stuff of this earth is futile. It’s going to rot away. It won’t last. A part of the Bible found in Matthew 6:19 says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.” The book of Ecclesiastes calls it “chasing after the wind.” But the investment we make in the life of a person will last long after we are gone.
Years ago, I read an article where parents were asked, ‘based on your conversations with your kids, what do they think is important to you?’ I realized that if importance was based on what took up most space in our conversations, academics and cleanliness would be near the top of the list. Which is hysterical because my house typically has a very “lived-in” look. And while I wanted them to do their best in school, I really cared more about how they treated others and what their relationships looked like. It turns out this is something parents still struggle with today as illustrated in this recent article in The Atlantic. “When our own kids started school, we noticed that many of our questions at the end of the day were about accomplishments. Did your team win? How did the test go? To demonstrate that caring is a core value, we realized that we needed to give it comparable attention.”
One of the most important things to teach our kids is to invest in is people. Using our financial resources as well as our time and energy in the life of others can have an eternal impact.
Here are some things to consider about the way you invest your time into people.
The way you use your home says a lot about your priorities.
Is having people at your house a normal part of what you do? Are you more concerned with a clean and tidy house or a house that is used? Knowing and communicating your values (like saying, “We use our home to be a blessing to our neighbors”) will drive our behaviors. More importantly, it will help to form our kids’ values and influence their behaviors now and in the future.
A meal is an easy invite and an easy investment.
What relationships are you investing in? When was the last time you shared a meal? To make it easier and, therefore, more sustainable to regularly invite neighbors over, consider “lowering the bar” when it comes to the food you serve. The quality of the time together is rarely determined by the level of difficulty in preparing the meal. Boil some hot dogs or throw some frozen pizza in the oven. If you love to cook and have the capacity, put together something fancier. But don’t let food preparation be a barrier to extending invitations.
Who has “fridge rights” in your house?
I was recently at a friend’s house for a party. Towards the end of the night, a guy came up and said, “You know where her trash bags and silverware are, don’t you? You know your way around her house?” To which I replied yes, because I did! He thought that was so cool and wasn’t sure if any of his friends knew where his basic household supplies were. This was not about me being able to take out the trash or cut up an apple but about the familiarity that is born from relationships.
Bring your kids along.
Celebrate when they do something consistent with investing in people. Do stuff for others. Volunteer. Collect toys. Rake leaves of people on your street. And talk about it! Ask your kids questions like, “Why do you think we should help others? What can you do to help others? Are there situations where you should put others’ needs over yours? Like what?”
Make a family mission statement.
One thing that helped our family determine what we were about and where we wanted to invest our time and energy was coming up with a family mission statement. First, we considered things we may want to be about and attributes we wanted for our family. There are all kinds of tutorials out there. Start here or here for more. Ours? We are a fun, adventurous, and invitational family that cares for the fatherless.
Clarifying our mission helps us make decisions and plan our calendar. For example, one night at dinner, we were talking about a family friend whose adopted daughter was struggling and needed some expensive treatment. We discussed if we should help financially, and our daughter reminded us of our mission statement, and how our family mission fell in line with that. Another time we got a call from a dear friend who was adopting a baby from out of state. This child needed medical attention, and in order to get home so they could all be in the same state, it required expensive medical flight. Guided by our mission, we helped.
Just as important, a great thing about clarifying our family mission is that it helps us say no to the millions of great things we could do and focus on what is best for our family. As our kids are now raising their own kids, they’re formulating what’s important to their family and are making investment decisions based on their priorities and mission. Don’t stress out about creating the perfect mission statement. It will probably evolve and change over the years.
In fact, as your kids get older, lots of things will change. Regardless, intentionally talking about what you’re about will help your family focus your finances, energy, and creativity. Because the truth is, parenting is about so much more than just making it to bedtime.