“It is a bad policy to forego the regular vacation” wrote the wise and witty Charles Spurgeon, and with that quote my dad, CJ Mahaney, kicks off a series of articles on the family vacation. No one is better at leading a family to enjoy being together to the glory of God and I hope you’ll be inspired by this series. Writing to fathers, he reminds us all:
[T]here is no vacation from the gospel. No successful family vacation is possible without the gospel and being reminded of its implications. Our joy, gratefulness, generosity, and service are all informed and inspired by the gospel.
Vacations provide unhurried periods of time where in the shadow of the cross a husband/father realizes afresh that he is doing much better than he deserves. Instead of wrath and hell God has been merciful and kind, pouring out his wrath on his Son so that sinners like you and me could experience forgiveness, justification, redemption, reconciliation, and adoption.
And because of the cross, evidences of grace abound in our lives, beginning in our families. We should be specifically grateful to God for each member of our family and express his gratefulness to them. Vacations are opportunities to discern and celebrate these unique gifts from God that we don’t deserve.
In other words, how can I be patient, loving, and consistent as I exercise my God-ordained parental authority in the home (Prov. 22:6, Eph. 6:4)?
There are many things could be said. But since change is in the details, here are three practices that Mom reminds me and my sisters of regularly.
1. Prepare our heart.
Sadly, my sinful tendency is to be permissive in areas that God has commanded (e.g. obeying completely, immediately and cheerfully) and impatient about things that don’t exactly show up in God’s Word (depositing dirty fingerprints all over the walls).
To realign my parenting priorities, I must go back to God’s Word. I need a healthy dose of the fear of the Lord, and a reminder of what is most important to God for me to instill in my children: obedience, respect, and truthfulness, to name a few.
Meditating on passages of Scripture that outline my responsibilities as a parent helps me cultivate a healthy fear of the Lord in mothering. Listening to a sermon, getting encouragement from a God-fearing mother, reading even a few lines of a good book or a wise blog post, all can be ways of preparing my heart to be patient and consistent in parenting.
And remember, this is a temptation common to mothers! We shouldn’t be shocked or give into self-pity. Rather, we should eagerly receive the gospel opportunity to repent, experience forgiveness, and grow in grace. Given the deep-rootedness of our selfishness we will probably fight these temptations until our children leave home. But God’s grace wont give out before then—it outlasts and all our mothering temptations and needs.
2. Prepare our plan.
Mom is always encouraging me and my sisters to pick one or two areas (max) to focus on with our children. With my younger kids this usually is an area of disobedience, disrespect, or dishonesty; or it may be a sin that is causing the most disruption in the home. If we take five minutes at the beginning of a day or week to prayerfully consider our biblical goals for training our children, this will prevent many temptations to permissive parenting.
Then develop a clear, simple guidelines. What are we expecting and what are the consequences? If we can’t answer this question clearly to ourselves it won’t be clear to our children.
Now it’s time to hold the line. No exceptions. For me, I often have to write my parenting priority at the top of my to-do list. And I pray throughout the day that God will help me to be faithful.
And don’t fret. We can’t eliminate every vestige of permissiveness in a single day. We won’t do it perfectly. Our children probably won’t respond immediately. But we’ll be more consistent and patient than if we had never tried at all.
3. Prepare for a happy family.
When we take a few minutes to prepare our hearts and our plan, this will go a long way to helping us to be consistent and patient as we exercise our God-ordained authority in the home. And the entire family will benefit!
If we are clear on our mothering goals, we will be more likely to resist the temptation to impatience. When we are focused on pleasing God we will be less likely to be permissive. We won’t be carrying around a load of guilt and irritation in our mothering. As a result, we will be more at peace.
And the more consistent we are, the happier our children are. Children thrive in the context of the gracious, consistent, exercise of parental authority. They love to know what to expect. When our children don’t have to worry that Mom is going to blow up about something one day and ignore it the next, when they understand they are being held to God’s standard and not the standard of Mom’s feelings, they feel happy and safe.
So consider, what is one way we can take a grace-enabled step toward faithful, patient parenting this week?
All the boys in our family have recently spent hours listening to the action-packed Jonathan Park radio drama adventures. From the website: The adventures follow Jonathan Park, son of paleontologist, Dr. Kendall Park. While running from a storm, Jonathan and his father collide with the Brenan family as they seek shelter in a hidden cave. After discovering a massive dinosaur graveyard that shows evidence for a worldwide flood, these two families have combined forces to build a new museum, open the fossil discovery, and the hidden cave to spread the message of the Creator!
Updated from the Picture Bible my sisters and I grew up with, the Action Bible now includes dramatized audio. A wonderful way to introduce kids to the drama of Scripture and it has already sparked many a spiritual discussion amongst the cousins.
As soon as the boys get out of school on Monday afternoon, they ask: “Is the podcast ready, yet?” They can’t wait to listen to Pop-Pop and Uncle Chad talk sports and as a mom I love that they are learning about sports from a biblical perspective.
One of my favorite parts of our morning routine is when CJ and I grab our coffee and sit for ten minutes on our tiny enclosed patio, listening to Albert Mohler’s podcast “The Briefing.” Each morning, Dr. Mohler provides biblical commentary on the latest news in politics and culture. I don’t know of another commentator who daily offers such an insightful, prescient, theological perspective on current events. The Briefing is informative and enlightening and equips me to think, pray about, and talk to others—especially non-Christians—about current events in a winsome and biblical manner. If I had teenagers at home The Briefing would be a mandatory part of their day—although Dr. Mohler is so engaging and interesting I doubt I would need to require it! Today Dr. Mohler provided 7 suggestions for watching the Presidential Debate, and I look forward to catching his program tomorrow to benefit from his biblical analysis.
Here at girltalk we are always excited to pass along great resources, and this is one of the best. I hope all the girltalk readers and their families will make The Briefing a part of their morning routine.
My three little guys enjoy competition. Actually, truth be told, they LOVE to win. Games in our home are quite loud, filled with much laughter, and well, more then a few opportunities for sanctification!
Recently our good friends, Don and Trish, passed down some games their children had outgrown. One particular game, Hands Down, has become a new family favorite.
Hands Down is a simple card game, easy enough for my 6 year old to understand and yet competitive enough to intrigue my 10 year old. It’s perfect for a family night, or if you’re snowed in (like we’ve been a lot lately!) or looking for something to keep your kids busy.
If games could talk, this one might ask to be sent back to its original owners. Hands Down arrived in pristine condition—all pieces assembled and box fully intact. It had enjoyed a peaceful existence. But it has not fared so well in our home. The box is already damaged and I’ve had to tape some of the cards back together.
Even with a simple menu, a lot of work and planning goes into making family mealtime a reality. So what do you do once everyone is seated around the table?
We’re going to share just a couple of traditions that defined Mahaney family dinners over the years. This is not to say dinnertime at our house was perfect—like any family we had conflicts, rushed meals, seasons where nothing extraordinary seemed to happen. However, by strategically using dinnertime to make memories our family bond was strengthened.
My favorite dinnertime activity was when Dad read aloud to us after dinner. Sometimes he would read one chapter and we’d all scoot off to various meetings or activities. Other days we would sit with unwashed dishes late into the evening—all engrossed in the story. Predictably, when we’d come to the end of an especially moving book, Dad would be overcome with emotion and unable to finish. Someone else would have to volunteer.
Dad used breakfast (when everyone was fresh) for Bible study and theological teaching. After dinner reading was amusement with a purpose. Over the years, Dad read us numerous biographies, history books, and works of literature.
Particularly vivid in my memory are the many books we read on the African-American experience: Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Help Me Remember, Help Me Forget, and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry to name a few. Dad wanted to be sure we understood—as best as white suburban children can—the tragic history of slavery and racism in our country.
The Chronicles of Narnia were a favorite and so was The Hiding Place, Through Gates of Splendor, Deadline and Dominion by Randy Alcorn and Our Town. Most recently, Dad, Mom and Chad have been enjoying The Complete Calvin and Hobbes and Letters From A Nut.
It has been said that books can take you places you’ve never been. By reading together after dinner, our family shared many experiences and went many places—together.
Thanks so much to those of you who sent in ideas for memorable family activities. Here are a few of our favorites:
“Sometimes for our family night dinner, I have the kids design the center piece. It is usually made of lego spaceships, k-nex robots, lincoln log cabin, art work, playdough sculpture, etc. They LOVE this. Each child (3 boys, 1 girl) takes turns explaining his or her contribution to the center piece. (Another benefit is that it keeps them occupied while I cook.)” —Laurie Reyes
“One of my favorite family activities has always been birthdays. From the time we were very young, my mom was very intential about how we celebrated birthdays. She wanted it to be a day where we celebrated the life of the birthday boy/girl and showed them how much they were loved and cared for. So on our birthday we were allowed to choose the menu for the entire day; a cake decorated however we wanted; and an activity for the whole family such as putt-putt, games, swimming, sightseeing, bowling, etc. As homeschoolers, we even got the day off school! Birthdays were set aside as holidays and were something the entire family was excited about. Looking back, my mom put a lot of time and effort into making it special; but those days are some of our most treasured memories. Now even though some of us are adults with jobs or children, we still make every effort to keep each birthday completely open on our schedule so that we can keep up the tradition!” —Alyssa Sieb
“My special memory was a one-time event. We were traveling from Iowa to Denver, Colorado for a family vacation. Just as us kids were starting to get bored in the car, Mom pulled out a fancy book with blank pages. She had put it in her purse just for this purpose! She wanted each of us to write or draw pictures about the trip, as we were traveling. We each took our turn at that time. Then we would take the book again, as the mood would strike, throughout the trip. By the end of the week, the book was filled with stories and pictures and ‘inside jokes’ that everyone knew about. That special book made such an impression on me, because Mom had planned it as a special secret to keep until just the right time. It was a treat that lasted the whole week and beyond. It may have not been the most exciting thing we did on that vacation, but it turned out to be the most memorable.” —Dawn Brincks
Just mention the phrase “Family Night” and tons of wonderful memories flood my mind. No fair having to pick favorites, but these three come pretty close…
“Progressive Dinner”- This one works great for the little guys. We ate
each part of our dinner in a different room while doing an activity.
In the first room we ate hot dogs and put a puzzle together. The
Memory Game and deviled eggs came with the second room. Apple sauce
and story in the third room. We concluded with apple cider and talked
about the meaning of each of our names in the last room (to my sisters’ delight that is when I discovered that my name means “gift from God”).
“Fall Fun Night”- This evening consisted of a fall theme relay. The
first person to complete the following activities—unscramble fall
related words, drink a cup of hot cider, bob for apples, find two
hidden gourds outside, and eat a bowl of caramel popcorn—won a prize. Just my kind
of relay with plenty of food involved. I can’t remember who won, but
it was probably me.
“Silly Night”- On this evening we had to come dressed “silly” for dinner. I can remember running around my house that afternoon trying to put together all of the craziest stuff that I could find. This was right down my alley (probably not one of Kristin’s favorites). We all assembled for dinner looking ridiculous—mismatched outfits and crazy hair. Next we had to eat our meal backwards. This meant starting with dessert (a practice I still enjoy) and ending with our salad. The backwards meal was made more hilarious when mom had us use the wrong utensils for eating our food. This led into a series of silly activities. We drew a picture in the dark. Mom turned out the lights and gave instructions. “Draw the outline of a house. Put a door on the house. Put a tree in the yard…” You get the idea. Not exactly art museum material. Next we all had to draw names and give a silly command to the name that we drew and the evening ended with a lovely family picture. This is a “must do” family night! In fact I might see if the fam is up for resurrecting this one.
I am so grateful for the hours my mom spent making family nights so unique and fun. I can’t wait to do these same activities with my children. I trust that each of you have enjoyed these ideas and that ideas have been sparked in your own minds for your families. Have fun!
My favorite family night didn’t start out so well. In fact, Dad and Mom sent Nicole and me to bed. We were six and seven at the time, so you can imagine that we weren’t too happy to see that two-year old Janelle was allowed to stay up, and was actually playing! She was smugly pushing her toy shopping cart up and down the hallway in front of our room—no doubt attempting to rub it in.
But after a few minutes, Dad and Mom came back to our room and announced we were going somewhere in the car. But they told us NOT to change out of our flannel onesies. We were going on a PAJAMA RIDE! Talk about excitement! I felt a little strange walking into Dunkin Donuts in yellow pajamas, but the glazed donut cured all my embarrassment.
I think what makes this particular memory still so vivid twenty years later is the element of surprise. Dad and Mom weren’t just out to build special memories, but they created a little culture of anticipation amongst my sisters and me! We never knew what they were going to plan next!
Dad and Mom were also very intentional about building a culture of encouragement. One family night in particular was built around a theme of encouragement. At dinner, we took turns encouraging each member of the family. Then we made sugar cookies using alphabet cookie cutters. We had to spell out a word that described a character quality of one particular family member we had been assigned to encourage. Then, we had to honor that person sometime over the next week.
My final family night memory is more recent. In fact, I was courting Brian at the time, so he participated in this one. It was “Mystery Night.” The suspense began with dinner. Each family member had been assigned a particular aspect of the meal (appetizer, main course, side dish, dessert, etc.) the week before. We could decide what we would make, but we had to keep our dish a secret. So, when we showed up for dinner, we had a surprise of a meal—including peanut butter sandwiches, fancy salad, green bean casserole, shrimp cocktail, and kool-aid. To set the mood we had mystery music in the background. The game for that evening was an invigorating round of Clue. We finished off with a frightening Alfred Hitchcock flick.
Maybe Brian and I will have mystery night with our boys someday. What fun activities has your family enjoyed? Please send us your ideas!
My sisters and I always looked forward to family night with childlike eagerness.
My all-time favorite was “Mahaney Family Olympics.” When the 1984 Olympics took place, I was eight and Kristin was seven. We were captured by the sheer excitement of it all. I think that’s why this particular family night is so vivid in my memory.
In our flannel nightgowns we ran races around the dining room table. We threw ping pong balls into a bowl of water. And we we had a relay race with toothpicks and lifesavers. (You had to put the toothpick in your mouth, put the lifesaver on the toothpick and then transfer it to your partner—no hands). The climactic moment came when Dad would line us up in the foyer and hum the national anthem while awarding us our “medals.” I can’t imagine the athletes felt more happiness than we did.
Another favorite family night was the time we switched places at the dinner table. My mom had us draw the name of another family member and we had to sit in their seat at dinner and behave like them throughout the meal. I remember it being so funny to see my dad imitating my Uncle Grant (who lived with us at the time) and my mom acting silly like Janelle.
We repeated this family night again about fifteen years later along with the two pastors’ college students who lived in our basement. It was even more hysterical the second time, and enlightening too, to see everyone’s idiosyncracies acted out by another member of the family.
Finally, “Backwards Night” was inspired by the definitions of the word “backwards”: “doing something in the reverse of the usual, the right way,” and “toward the past.” We, of course, did everything backwards for that particular family night. We had breakfast for dinner. And we had to have fulfilled a “backward assignment” during the day and tell about it at dinner. The options were to wear an article of clothing backwards (one that people could see!), eat our lunch backwards in the pesence of a friend, walk backwards around the outside of the house three times (while it was still daytime!), or wear a nametag all day with our name written backwards. Then, at dinner, after we reported on our humiliating “backward assignment,” we looked backwards over the past year and recounted one specific example of God’s goodness.
These and countless other family nights formed a childhood rich in laughter and fun. I am so grateful for the time and effort my parents invested in these rich memories for my sisters and me. And I hope Steve and I can provide Jack with many funny, happy memories too.