Small disciplines = Big character

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One of the greatest things I have learned as a parent since homeschooling this past year is that I waited until the big stuff happened before I gave the little stuff any attention. Our homeschool year was one where I intentionally focused on the little stuff, to be more proactive rather than reactive. What do I mean by this?

It makes enough sense to us that if our child comes and says they want to be a professional hockey player, but don’t know how to skate, the first thing to do would be to put them in skating lessons. After one week of lessons, if they come crying because they are distraught they haven’t gotten into the NHL, we would easily see why that was. They are just learning how to skate, they have never played hockey before, they need more practice, camps, games, etc. to reach NHL status. They haven’t invested enough time, energy, money, and focus to reach that goal.

We as parents sometimes focus so much on the big things like, “I want my child to be a good human being”, “I want my son to be a good husband and father”, “I want my daughter to learn how to be a good wife and mother”, “I want my children to know and serve the Lord”, “I want them to have empathy towards others and be generous”, “I want them to know how to steward money wisely and know the value of a dollar”, etc.  Now, don’t get me wrong. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with those. Those are wonderful aspirations for children! However, we have those lofty big ticket items without teaching them to be kind to those who are mean to them, to greet their father when he comes from work, to respect their mother when they are wanting to temper tantrum, to attend church weekly as a demonstration of faithfulness and commitment, to start with a one dollar allowance and teach them the value of patience, savings and cost, or to give them daily chores to teach them contribution to a family. Even these small things seem agreeable at face value, and perhaps even doable. But where we as parents fail them, is when we ourselves are not disciplined to hold them accountable to these things CONSISTENTLY.

We dream and hope big, without having the discipline as parents to train them in the little things that will get them there. I have been hugely guilty of this and have become acutely aware of how I need this discipline in my life, for the benefit of my children, and in setting them up for success! Because of this, our children are not properly trained, equipped or prepared to achieve big things…both in life, but more importantly, in character.

I understand parents! It is exhausting. We have a hundred items to accomplish in a day. Some of you moms work outside of the home. Some of you stay at home and engage in a lot of volunteer and ministry. Some of you work at home while trying to balance homeschool and housework. The variety of situations and demands of our day are endless. Many days, we forget to eat or use the bathroom because we are just on the run non stop. I get it. It’s easy to drop the “little” things because it’s just easier, and doesn’t seem important right now.

Moms, we need to slow down. We need to stop and reflect. I want to challenge you, as I challenge myself. Those little things are critical.  Small disciplines equate to big character.

When we first started daily chores (in our house, we call them contributions), it was more work for me than it was for my kids. Between constantly doing it “with them”, teaching my five year old how to hold the broom properly, how to sweep without flicking the bits all over the place, showing my nine year old where he missed some spots with dusting because he didn’t remove the frames off the ledge first, or putting away the items in the dishwasher they can’t reach (which seemed like half the load anyways), I knew for certain that it was easier for me to just do these tasks myself! In fact, with the wiping and sweeping, it was often that I had to redo it anyways! So, the natural thought would be, “Why bother!!??”. For me, it was MORE time from a day that I didn’t even have enough time to start, to enforce these daily chores. It would have been WAY easier to just skip to once a week, or even just wait until they’re “older”. WAY EASIER. But I remind myself, as I’m re-wiping a counter, or wringing out cloths for them because their hands are too little, that I’m trying to instill something more than housework or learning how to wipe a baseboard.

I saw the fruit of this small discipline. I saw how much better behaved my children were when we were at other people’s houses. They learned that tidying up is respectful, that eating neatly was important because messes don’t clean themselves, that jumping on couches and running amuck is not appropriate, and that it was an expectation to clean up after we left someone’s house.  My children are still kids, so they need the occasional reminder, but there is never a temper tantrum when asked to put toys away, or bring your plate to the sink when we are at other people’s houses, because they have learned we contribute. Their daily chores have taught them that they are valuable in keeping things tidy, neat, ordered, and well functioning. They have learned that it’s nice to live and work in a clean environment, and that it takes hard work and time to create that atmosphere. They do not have an entitled attitude when it comes to everything being done for them. They are becoming more and more independent and self aware because of simple things like daily contributions.

Empathy and compassion. We all want our children to have this. Yet, when we see them do small things like wreck another child’s block tower, or yank a toy out of another person’s hand, or budge in front of a line at the park or pot luck line, we either make them say a half hearted sorry, or worse yet, we just ignore it and roll our eyes because our hands are full, or we are in the middle of a conversation with another adult.

Once again, to roll our eyes or shrug it off is easier. Way easier. To just yell from across the room, “Hey Junior! Say sorry! That wasn’t nice” is simpler and less disruptive to what we are doing in that moment. Absolutely. Heck, I’ve been guilty of both. But here’s the small discipline that we as parents need to engage in. STOP. Walk over, crouch down, engage with your child and bring them back to the crime scene, encourage and model how to apologize to the other child, to look the other child in the eye while speaking, and teach them how to ask for forgiveness. When they refuse to do it, don’t let them get away with it. Be patient. Encourage, wait, and don’t allow them to move on to anything else until this has been taken care of. Hug your child after, encourage them, and direct them into another activity. Exhausting. Yes. Time consuming and disruptive. Sure. However, you do this consistently and make it a big deal EVERY time, and guess what? Junior learns that it IS a big deal. That it hurts other people’s feelings to be wreck their things or be disruptive. Junior learns that they won’t starve if they are at the end of a potluck line.

What does this equate to? I firmly believe that this equates to a generation where our teenagers will give up their seat on the bus to an elderly lady. This will equate to a student who can lead group projects in school because they value the opinion of their peers even if those opinions are different from their own. This leads to a heart that will be quick to ask for forgiveness and accept responsibility when they have wronged someone else. I’m saddened to see that the generation coming up lacks these qualities. I would hope that I’m not alone in wanting to raise our own children to change this culture of dishonor and selfishness.

Parents, it doesn’t start on the bus when they’re sixteen. It doesn’t start in Social Studies class in grade seven. It doesn’t start when they’re married and refuse to apologize so they sleep in the basement. It starts now. It starts when they are in our care. It starts when they are children, needing to learn small disciplines that build big character.

Homeschooling has afforded me more time. I saw that I needed to train myself first. I need to pray for grace and patience to have the fortitude to instill small disciplines in my children…because quite frankly, that meant BIG disciplines for me! It meant countless redoing of their chores. It meant tears and fights at the beginning with my children that could have been ignored by just not making them follow through on expectations. It meant interrupted conversations with my friends or family. It meant leaving early from a fun play date to enforce a consequence of poor behavior. It meant denying them a treat at company’s house because they weren’t allowed treats for the day, when it would have been easier to make an exception. It meant canceling a play date with another mom who I’ve been wanting to see for a week because my son needed to know that I meant it when I said that his attitude could cost him an outing. These are small disciplines, sacrifices, inconveniences, and all-consuming energy outputs.

At the end of the day, I want to see my sons be kind, for my older children to be generous, gracious and kind to younger children, to be patient and compassionate to the elderly, the special needs, the disadvantaged. I want to raise husbands that treat their wives with kindness and love, to serve her as Christ served the church; to come home after a long day of work and say, “Honey, what can I help you with? Do you want me to get the kids ready for supper?” I want my sons to lead their families to church every week because they were raised to know that fellowship, church volunteering, and serving require faithfulness and prioritizing, knowing that they are going to reap children that serve the Lord and value the body of Christ.

I am reminded daily, in the hundred of opportunities to just ignore the small stuff, that quite frankly, I can’t. I don’t want my children to have to learn this in their teens or adult years, when the stakes are higher and the cost may be greater than what they can bear, to build character. We must look forward to the bigger picture and dig in now, when it is a sacrifice, and be intentional.

Small disciplines build big character.

“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.” – Luke 16:10

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