2017 at 8:59 am | by Janelle Bradshaw
Summer was always my favorite season as a little girl, and I ran headlong into those glorious months free from school with all the energy I possessed. So now, as I come upon another summer as a mom with four children I’m equally excited. I’m also grateful for the example my mom set for me growing up. As with everything else in life, she approached our summers with great intentionality. Now don’t get me wrong—she provided many wonderful opportunities for fun and rest. I still remember our local pool which offered an hour of “free swim” every morning from 8-9 during the summer. Most days, my mom would drive us, and a carload of our friends, to swim in the ice cold waters of Upper County Pool. How we ever thought “freezing swim” was summer fun is a mystery to me, but Mom provided this and many other summer memories that I will always cherish.
But Mom also saw summer as a land of opportunity and refused to let us squander it. One specific memory I have is the afternoon of “quiet time” she required. After lunch from 1-3, we had to stay inside and spend at least an hour of that time reading. The other hour was to be spent in some other constructive pursuit such as art, music, cooking, sewing etc I still remember chafing against this rule, not exactly appreciating “quiet time,” as it interrupted my play time. Sorry about that Mom! But I was chatting with Nicole the other day about this very thing, and we were recounting all the good that came from that small requirement. Obviously, it instilled in us a love for reading but that was just the beginning. It also helped us to appreciate the value of structure and scheduling, of habit and discipline. It gave us focused time to cultivate our gifts and desires. Many of the things we love and pursue today such as art and writing were born in those hours of summer quiet. The benefit we have received helps us persevere in creating similar structures for our own children. So much value from such a small and simple practice.
And so, as school draws to a close, let’s ask: How can we be intentional this summer? Is there a skill that one of our children has been wanting to learn? Is there a particular character quality where we can creatively facilitate growth in our family? Maybe for you, this will be the “summer of kindness” for your kiddos, like it was for Nicole’s a couple years ago. Maybe you can create a structure for your kiddos to grow in reading, which happens to be my summer goal this year. This will look different for each of us, but just remember, a little bit of intentionality in these years has the power to effect not only your kids but even your future grandkids. That’s a summer to get excited about!
2017 at 9:40 am | by Nicole Whitacre
When my youngest daughter Sophie first came into our home at the age of three, she, like every toddler, wanted my constant attention. If I wasn’t looking at her, she would tug on my arm and repeat, “Mom, mom, mom.” I would turn around from the dishes or look up from my laptop and respond with an exclamatory “Look at you, Sophie! What a good job!” After a few weeks, Sophie picked up on the phonetics (if not the grammar) of my response and began to call out “Lookachoo, Mom! Lookachoo!” It took me a few times to realize that she wasn’t speaking in her native Amharic—she was saying my words back to me. She wanted me to “look at you.”
One of the most precious gifts we give our children is our attention. We watch their twirls in the kitchen, and we examine the new bug they found in the backyard. We look for signs of a sniffle, and we look both ways before we help them cross the street. We pay attention to their diet and their sleep and the neatness of their handwriting. We keep our focus through their long, rambling stories. We attend to their needs, and we keep an eye out for their temptations. We watch them crawl around the corner of the living room and down the hall; then, in the blink of an eye, we watch them back out of the driveway and down the street. According to legend, we even have eyes in the back of our head. From the moment our newborn (or our three-year-old) is placed in our arms, we begin a vigil that never ends. We moms are always on lookachoo duty.
Alas, we mothers are only human after all. We cannot watch our children every moment of every day. Our eyelids grow heavy. We must sleep when they sleep. And then we get distracted. We fail to listen. We miss so many moments. Or we get anxious, fretful with the care of these eternal souls. We grow weary with all the watching.
But as we watch over our children, our Heavenly Father is watching over us (Prov. 2:8). He does not grow weak or weary (Isa. 40:28). His attention doesn’t flicker or fade. As we attend to our children’s needs, we are constantly being attended to by God, who knows exactly what we need (Matt. 6:32). All of our motherly duties are carried out beneath the gracious umbrella of his attentive care (Ps. 34:15). Every story we listen to, every picture we praise, every sin we correct, we do under the watchful eye of our Heavenly Father.
JI Packer writes:
What matters supremely is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it—the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands. I am never out of his mind….I know him because he first knew me and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is not a moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters. This is momentous knowledge. There is unspeakable comfort—the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates—in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good.
We don’t have to cry “lookachoo” to get God’s attention. He’s already looking. He’s already caring. He already knows what we need. In fact, when we call out to him, it’s because he first prompts us to pray. If we are his children, in Christ, then there is not one single moment when our Heavenly Father’s eye is off of us. He is always watching over us for our good. Here, my fellow moms, is an unspeakable comfort. And energy! I don’t know about you, but that’s exactly what I want for Mother’s Day.
Whenever I attempt to decorate a room, create a centerpiece, or fill the planters on my front porch, I try to find a picture that I can replicate. I’m not one of those gifted women who can come up with a design idea on my own, so I benefit greatly from having a picture to copy. Although my finished product rarely looks as good as the picture (not even close sometimes!), at least it looks better than what I would have produced without a picture.
Did you know that God graciously gives moms (and dads) a picture to follow? In Psalm 144:12 we find a striking image of what our children should be like as they enter their young adult years: “May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown, our daughters like corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace.” Now granted, “plants” and “pillars” may not be the first images that pop into your mind when you think about the young girl with her mood swings or the boy whose clothes cover the floor of his room. So let’s a take a closer look at this photo to discover what we can learn.
Our Sons. They are to resemble a plant. This plant is not a seedling or slow growing. It is already full grown with deep roots. And because it is such a hardy plant it can withstand the heat, survive the cold and endure tough weather conditions. Here we have a picture of strength and endurance. Our sons are to grow early and quickly to maturity and be able brave the storms of life. In other words, young men are not to spend years in perpetual adolescence, but be fully grown in their youth. Obviously, a son needs a whole lot of his dad (or another godly man, if dad is not involved) for this project! But how does this picture influence my mothering?
For one, we should resist the urge to shelter our sons when they need to face their fears. We must refuse to coddle them when they need to be tough. We must allow them to take on difficult tasks, on their own, without our help or interference. In short, we should not be afraid to put our boys out in the elements. This doesn’t mean we throw them into the cesspool of culture, but rather that we train them to take steps of boldness, courage, and principled resistance.
Our Daughters. They are to be like a corner pillar. A corner pillar not only bears the weight of the palace but also joins the palace walls together. A corner pillar adorns the palace with beauty. This is a picture of strength and beauty. So instead of closing our eyes and gritting our teeth until the teen years are over, we must set about teaching our daughters how to be strong and beautiful.
For starters, our daughters should have strong character. They should be able to shoulder responsibilities and bear up under pressure and adversity. But they won’t grow strong by indulging their selfish desires, so now is the time to teach them sacrifice and self-denial. Our daughters should also be relationally strong. As the corner pillar, they should be people-connectors, drawing and holding people together. So instead of giving them free reign to hang out with whomever they want, we should encourage them to reach out to the lonely, include the new girl, and stay close to friends who provoke them to godliness. Finally, we need to teach our daughters the meaning of true beauty: to behold and reflect the beauty of God. A corner pillar not only holds up the building, but it also attracts the eye. And so we want our daughters to be beautiful from the inside out so that they might draw attention to God’s beauty.
Before any mom becomes daunted by the prospect of fulfilling such a picture, or perhaps discouraged that your older sons and daughters do not reflect this picture, let me focus your attention on this wonderful truth: This picture is more than a picture. It’s also a prayer.
We are not responsible—nor are we capable—of raising sons and daughters like this on our own. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Ps. 127:1). That’s why this verse is first and foremost a request to God that he would fashion our children to resemble this picture; that he would cause our children to become difference makers in the world for the sake of the gospel.
As J.C. Ryle reminded parents of the importance and effectiveness of parents’ prayers:
“Without the blessings of the Lord, your best endeavors will do no good. He has the hearts of all men in His hands, and except He touches the hearts of your children by His Spirit, you will weary yourself to no purpose. Water, therefore, the seed you sow on their minds with unceasing prayer. The Lord is far more willing to hear than we to pray; far more ready to give blessings than we to ask them;—but He loves to be entreated for them.”
So Moms, let’s make this our prayer: “May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown, our daughters like corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace.”
2017 at 5:25 am | by Nicole Whitacre
The other night my husband and I sat with our children and watched home videos until long past bedtime. We laughed at how our youngest daughter used to be obsessed with hand sanitizer because of the glitter and how our oldest son’s curls used to hang over his eyes. We were reminded of God’s faithfulness to our family and, at the same time, experienced it once again. As the kids went to bed, one of my sons said, “That was great Mom, we have to do this again soon.”
You’d think I would be basking in the glow of a sweet family bonding time, but as I washed the dinner dishes, feelings of guilt were already engaged in hand to hand combat with the warm fuzzies. Guilt, as per usual, soon won out. “Those videos don’t show the whole picture. You may have looked like a fun mom playing hide and seek with your kids, but you know you didn’t play with them enough.” Or, “How could you have forgotten the day when all the hot air balloons raced over our house? You didn’t enjoy your children enough when they were little.” You should’ve. You didn’t. You failed.
How should we handle the unpleasant emotion of “mommy guilt”? There is much more to say than I can pack into a post, but here are a few thoughts that I hope prove helpful.
First, it seems to me that there are two main strains of “mommy guilt.” The first kind of mommy guilt isn’t really guilt at all. It’s an emotion we call “guilt,” but it’s usually a vague feeling of discouragement that points to some pride or approval-craving masquerading as “guilt.” We talk to a mom who believes her parenting method is the only way to go. Or we read the latest study that proves parents of really smart, successful children do x, y, and z—and we aren’t even doing x. Bring on the self-flagellation.
The problem with a lot of mommy guilt is that the law we have transgressed is not a biblical one but a cultural one. We have to watch out here: How much of our idea of what it takes to be a good mother is shaped by Scripture and how much is shaped by my friends who believe children should only eat, sleep, or learn in a particular way?
I’m not saying it doesn’t matter how we feed or educate our children. It matters a great deal! Motherhood is an intensely practical endeavor. But how we raise our children should flow from and run back to the one grand goal of mothering: to train up our children in the ways of the Lord (Prov. 22:6). When we start here, mothering gets a lot easier, a lot less burdensome, and a whole lot more fun. We will find a wide scope for our imagination, creativity, and gifting when we chuck the obligation to measure up to certain cultural standards. There is time enough to do what matters in mothering, but only if we do it for what really matters.
To deal with faux mommy guilt, we must learn all that we can from other moms, but preferably older, godly, women who have seen many mothering fads come and go, and have a sense of what matters for the long-term. But most importantly, we must evaluate all parenting advice in light of God’s Word. To borrow a John Piper image from another context, if training our children in the ways of the Lord is like the sun, then everything else such as feeding and sleeping and educating our children will, like the planets in their course, find their proper place. And we moms won’t feel guilty for things we shouldn’t feel guilty about.
The second kind of mommy guilt is the true kind. We are in such a hurry to outrun this unpleasant emotion that we forget it is a God-given feeling. I should feel guilty sometimes because I am a guilty mom. I have broken God’s laws, and I do so multiple times a day. I break God’s laws when I am impatient with my children or when I complain about an interruption. I break God’s law by things I do and things I don’t do. Far from being a negative emotion to avoid at all costs, I must ask God to help me feel the right kind of mommy guilt at the right time.
But true conviction from the Holy Spirit isn’t the vague sense of failure I had the other night. The way to deal with these feelings is to admit that yes, I am a guilty mom—guilty of many sins of commission and omission—but thanks be to God I have a Savior whose sacrifice on my behalf is sufficient to cover all my mommy guilt. He is at work to make this guilty, repentant mother fruitful in her home. That’s what I should have seen the other night when watching home videos: not only my failures but the amazing grace of God in spite of my failures.
Recently my dad sent me this quote from John Newton to encourage mothers who struggle with mommy guilt:
“You say you feel overwhelmed with guilt and a sense of unworthiness? Well, indeed you cannot be too aware of the evils inside yourself, but you may be, indeed you are, improperly controlled and affected by them. You say it is hard to understand how a holy God could accept such an awful person as yourself. You then express not only a low opinion of yourself, which is right, but also too low an opinion of the person, work, and promises of the Redeemer, which is wrong.”
Contrary to what our culture tells us, it is right and biblical to have a low opinion of ourselves. What’s wrong is to have too low an opinion of the person, work, and promises of the Redeemer.
So the next time we are struck with a case of mommy guilt, let’s ask: Do I feel guilty because I have broken one of God’s laws or one of my own “laws”? And if we have broken one of God’s laws, let us have a low opinion of ourselves. Let us admit our guilt and ask God (and our children, if appropriate) to forgive us. But let us have a high opinion of Christ. Instead of wallowing in “What a horrible mother I am” let us immediately turn to contemplating the person and work and promises of God. Let us thank him for his amazing grace revealed at the cross and at work in our mothering. And let us trust in his promise to help us in our time of need. This is the way to true freedom from mommy guilt.
2017 at 7:11 am | by Janelle Bradshaw
My third child and only son is six years old, and this mom is tired. While his intense and vivacious personality makes me laugh almost every day, those same strengths tainted with indwelling sin may just finish me. My boy has caused me to take a much harder look at the whole sowing and reaping principle. Is reaping a guaranteed result of sowing? Is it possible to sow and never reap?
While I have been far from perfect, I have tried to faithfully train Hudson in the way he should go (Prov. 22:6). I have prayed, sought counsel, read books, and prayed some more. Then why did we leave the library last week with him screaming? Or get a note from his teacher the other day saying that he is shouting “no” in class? Why do I feel like we are digressing instead of progressing? Why should I try again today?
The despair behind these questions is my warning signal that I have lost sight of the truth and hope found in God’s Word. And it is there that I must return. Galatians 6:9 says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” I immediately find hope for my soul in these words. This verse makes it clear that sowing is often a wearisome job. It acknowledges the temptation to give up that often overtakes me. But that next line brings hope for my exhausted soul—“in due season we will reap.” There is a season for reaping. And there is a condition whereby we reap—“if we do not give up.”
“It is not God’s way to give everything at once. ‘Afterward’ is the time when He often chooses to work, both in the things of nature and in the things of grace. ‘Afterward’ is the season when affliction bears the peaceable fruit of righteousness (Heb. 12:11). ‘Afterward’ was the time when the son who refused to work in his father’s vineyard repented and went (Matt. 21:29). And ‘afterward’ is the time to which parents must look forward if they see not success at once—you must sow in hope and plant in hope.”
I may stay away from the library for a while. I never remember to return my books on time anyway. But I’m not going to give up training my son, because that day of reaping is coming. There is an “afterward” in this hard season of mothering. And ya know, we should take heart from the “afterward” of others who have gone before us. There are a whole bunch of moms that have actually made it. Yep, they have picked screaming kids up off the library floor and cried the whole way home, but they have persevered and reaped a harvest “afterward.” So take heart fellow moms, we are not alone.
My ten-year-old daughter told me she feels like she has heard about God all her life but he feels far away from her. I am trying not to panic as a mom. I know I have felt that way too before. But I am not sure how to guide her without lecturing her. Would you require her to do a quiet time or just let her do if she wants to?
The feelings of panic (and I know them well!) often arise in these moments when we feel helpless to change our child’s heart. We feel that way because it is true! Salvation belongs to the Lord (Ps. 3:8). We cannot open the eyes of our children’s hearts or give them a heart of flesh for a heart of stone, but we must turn our panic into prayer that God would do what only he can do.
But there is a lot that we can—and should—do to parent our children in the ways of the Lord, and the God who gave us this mothering job in the first place has also given us wisdom in his Word for how to do it.
First of all, as I often remind my girls, we must parent in faith. We must parent with confidence in the steadfast love and faithfulness of the Lord, his power and desire to save (he saved us, after all!), the wisdom of His Word to guide us, and the ever-present help of the Holy Spirit.
You may already be doing this, but I would encourage you to keep talking to your daughter about how she feels. Tell her you have felt this way too. Encourage her that God often makes us aware of a lack of his presence so that we might seek his presence. God is at work! You can pray with her and ask that God would grant her salvation and assurance. Stories from you or your husband or grandparents, friends, etc. can be a real comfort so she does not feel strange or alone.
Then I would encourage you to help her develop a habit of reading the Bible and praying every day. There is an unhealthy skittishness parents often feel about making their children do what they don’t want to do. We worry: if we push the Bible on them, will we push them away? Maybe we had a bad experience growing up, or this just smells like legalism to us. Isn’t it better to pray, encourage, and wait for God to do his work?
I would counter that leading a child to God’s Word is doing God’s work. It is what he commands us to do (Deut. 6:4-9) and it is the means He most often uses to bring a child to Himself. I am no exception. In many ways, it is the habits of my childhood, set in place by my parents, that most profoundly shape my life to this day. Growing up, my parents required us to go to church three times a week. Sunday morning. Sunday evening. Wednesday night. No exceptions. These were not, as my husband always refers to Sundays “my favorite days of the week.” I was bored silly at church. I couldn’t wait to get back to school on Monday morning and be with my friends. But my parents didn’t consult my feelings on the matter. I was going to church whether I wanted to be there or not. And it was in one of these church services that God first opened my eyes to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
One other example comes to mind. As a young girl I had to memorize 200 Bible verses to get into a summer camp I really wanted to attend. I didn’t care about the verses, but I cared about camp and so I completed the assignment. My motives may have been totally wrong, but these Scriptures embedded in my mind and heart have encouraged and comforted me throughout my Christian life.
All that to say, I would encourage you to help your daughter develop a habit of having quiet times. Even if she doesn’t want to. Even if she’s bored silly. By placing God’s Word in front of her every day, you are laying the kindling under which our gracious God may light the spark of his presence. Tell her you are doing this because you love her. We make our children brush their teeth and eat their peas, not because they like it, but because we know it is best for them. How much more the reading of God’s Word?
And do whatever you can to make it easy and exciting. Buy her a new journal where she can write down her questions and thoughts; use a solid Bible study book or program (several of my grandkids use these Bible reading notes from the Good Book Company and the ESV Seek and Find Bible is a great option for children); have a time each day at breakfast or dinner where the kids can ask Mom and Dad questions from their daily Bible reading (stump the parent!); give them a challenge to memorize or read for a reward.
Finally, don’t underestimate the effect of your genuine passion for the Lord on your daughter. As she sees you read your Bible every day, talk about Scripture, live out your faith (not flawlessly but faithfully), she will be indelibly impressed by the work of the Spirit that she sees in you.
I’ll leave you with these bracing words from JC Ryle. As you lead your daughter in faith toward God, may you see much fruit in her life.
“I know that you cannot convert your child. I know well that they who are born again are born, not of the will of man, but of God. But I know also that God says expressly, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go’ and that he never laid a command on man which he would not give man grace to perform. And I know, too, that our duty is not to stand still and dispute, but to go forward and obey. It is just in the going forward that God will meet us. The path of obedience is the way in which He gives the blessing. We only have to do as the servants were commanded at the marriage feast in Cana, to fill the water-pots with water, that we may safely leave it to the Lord to turn that water into wine.” ~Ryle
2016 at 9:27 am | by Nicole Whitacre
Last Friday afternoon I was talking to my sister, Kristin, about parenting our boys. Four of them were competing in a soccer tournament the next day, and we were strategizing about how to help them grow in godly character—win or lose. (They lost, which provided a great chance to grow in humility.) We had talked about some of these character issues the week before, and we’ll probably talk about them again next week too. Parenting is a job that is never done.
I like to finish things, check them off my list, close the file…you get the idea. So I find the never-finished nature of parenting work to be discouraging at times. I see progress, for sure, and many answered prayers and evidences of God’s grace. But the growth usually comes far slower than I would like, and some days I wonder if my training and teaching efforts are even hitting the mark.
The fact is, the never-finished nature of parenting work gives us one of our greatest opportunities to glorify God. That’s because parenting is what Charles Bridges calls “a work of faith.”
“As such,” he writes, “it can only be sustained by the active and persevering exercise of this principle. This is what makes it a means of grace to our own souls, as well as a grand medium of exalting our Divine Master.”
In other words, only faith in God can sustain us in the day in, day out, never-completed business of parenting, and this is how God has designed it to be: we’re forced to rely on him, and then he in turn uses that faith as a means of grace to our souls and glory for his name.
Faith fills the gap between faithfulness and fruitfulness in parenting and infuses it with “perpetual cheerfulness.” When we look “too eagerly for present fruit” we may grow weary or feel like a failure; but when we look to Christ we find “daily pardon of deficiencies,” relief from “oppressive anxiety” and “hope that even mistakes shall be overruled for his glory.”
“It is faith that enlivens our work with perpetual cheerfulness. It commits every part of it to God, in the hope, that even mistakes shall be overruled for his glory; and thus relieves us from an oppressive anxiety, often attendant upon a deep sense of our responsibility. The shortest way to peace will be found in casting ourselves upon God for daily pardon of deficiencies and supplies of grace, without looking too eagerly for present fruit.”
The work of parenting may never be done, but it cannot exceed the inexhaustible supplies of God’s grace.
We’re getting a rolling start to the New Year over here at girltalk. We usually take the first couple of weeks in January to evaluate our lives and implement changes. Each year, it seems, our goals get simpler. Start a Bible memory plan with the little ones. Pick back up exercising where we left off in November. Try this helpful prayer app. The habit we still find to be far and away the most helpful is to rise early each morning. A couple of years ago Janelle provided some hope and advice for moms of young children. We repost it here for your encouragement.
Q&A: “How do you get up early when your kids are up all night?”
by Janelle Bradshaw
The girltalk inbox has been a bit crowded these days with e-mails from exhausted moms asking how it is possible to rise early and get time with the Lord when they are up half the night with small children. It always encourages me to hear from you! I just finished a long stretch with Summer (11 months) and Hudson (3 years) waking up multiple times a night. Mike and I would laugh (more like a half-hearted chuckle from me) that they seemed to coordinate with one another, working in shifts to make sure that I got as little sleep as possible.
So how do I wake up early when my kids want to party all night? I don’t. I can’t.
A couple months ago, I sat across from Mom, Nicole and Kristin exhausted and crying (not for the first time in the last eight years) over my lack of sleep and inability to get up early. I missed my early morning times with the Lord, and my days felt more disorganized and hectic because I wasn’t able to get up before my children. They sympathized and encouraged me to remember that this was a season—yes, a long and tiring season, but not one that would last forever.
In the meantime, I needed to get creative and develop an alternative plan. If waking up early before my kids wasn’t possible right now, then how else could I feed my soul throughout the day? I downloaded the ESV Bible app, which has an audio feature. I loaded my phone with sermons, which I could listen to a few minutes at a time. I took time to pray while I was in the shower or emptying the dishwasher.
I also sought to be intentional about my children’s schedule. I trained Hudson to have “room time” (an hour alone in his room with a few toys) at the same time that Summer took her morning nap. This guaranteed (and I use that word loosely) me a slot of time where I could read my Bible or finish a project.
These ideas may not work for you, but the point is to get creative. What are small ways you can seek the Lord throughout your day? How can you free up twenty minutes in your daily schedule to sit and read your Bible and pray?
And take heart. You are not alone. And this season won’t last forever…right???
Christmas puts parents in a tough spot. We love our children. We want to give them good gifts. We enjoy their eager anticipation and exuberant gift opening on Christmas morning. And yet as Christian parents, we know there is a dark side to gift giving: greed. All of the presents can seem little more than brightly wrapped packages of temptation. There are temptations to selfish delight or despair, depending on whether or not our children got what they wanted. Greed can take hold, turning what we intend as a blessing into what feels like a setback in our parenting.
So how do we give generously and squash greed at the same time? We girltalkers did some brainstorming and idea sharing and came up with ten ideas to get us all started.
1. Be Intentional. Greed won’t go away on its own; we’re gonna have to apply some parental elbow grease to this one. And it’s not a one-time thing, like “Do you remember the year we got rid of Christmas greed?” We’re going to be dealing with it for a while, so we have to resist the temptation to get angry or discouraged if it doesn’t seem like our efforts are bearing fruit right away.
2. Talk a Lot. Deuteronomy 6 is a great Christmas passage. We need to talk to our children about greed and gratefulness and what it means to glorify God at Christmas. It’s tempting to give up, because our instruction often seems to go in one ear and out the other, but we are called to be faithful.
My husband likes to have little Q&A sessions with the kids and throw in a ridiculous answer to make it memorable (broccoli often makes an appearance in these little conversations). Thus our Christmas Catechism sounds something like this:
Q. What is better than Getting?
A. Giving is better than Getting
Q. Why is it better than Getting?
A. Because that’s what Jesus did.
Q. What is better than Getting? (raise volume here)
A. Giving is better than Getting
3. Make Christmas Memories. Christmas traditions help direct a child’s anticipation toward activities and memory making and not only gift getting. This is one reason we love to celebrate Advent: it is a daily reminder that we are waiting for more than presents under the tree. Cookie baking, Christmas light viewing, and story reading all serve a similar purpose.
4. Make Christmas Giving Lists. In addition to Christmas lists for Mimi we have our kids make lists for what they want to give to family members. Then we let them loose in the Target dollar section to buy presents for their siblings and Daddy and Mommy. This is one of their favorite Christmas traditions, and it is fun to see their excitement channeled toward giving and away from getting.
5. Read Christmas Giving Stories. A great addition to Christmas story time: books that highlight the joy giving such as Little Women, The Gift of the Magi, If You’re Missing Baby Jesus,Christmas Day in the Morning and many more. Powerful stories can help awaken children’s imaginations to the magic of giving.
6. Give to People in Need. Involve your children in giving gifts to those who are in need or who are suffering at Christmastime. We enjoy buying presents for newly adopted children or contributing to a family’s adoption, but there are countless opportunities at Christmastime to give locally and around the world. Giving to others helps children take their eyes off themselves and understand how much they have to be grateful for.
7. Give the Gift of Experience. Along with toys, you can include gifts of experience under the tree: books, magazine subscriptions, memberships to a local museum, tickets to a special event, lessons for art or music, or (my favorite) a family trip or outing. Over time your children may come to anticipate these gifts most of all.
8. Minimize Temptation. In other words, hide the Christmas catalogs. Avoid spending long hours in the toy section at Target with your child. Limit exposure to holiday commercials. Redirect conversations that begin, “Do you know what I want for Christmas?” But don’t mess with the grandparents. Do the hard work of parenting so that Grandma and Grandpa can have the joy of being as generous as they desire.
9. Develop a Gift Opening Strategy. We like to open gifts slowly, one person, one gift at a time. This takes a while, but the slow pace helps restrain greed and promote gratefulness. We are training our children to pay attention when someone else is opening a gift and enter into their joy. And we also insist that our children give hugs and kisses and “big thank you’s” after opening each present. Having a strategy for gift giving that encourages patience, gratefulness, and a focus on others can counteract the greed that wants to own the day.
10. Cultivate Christ-like Character. We may have outgrown a childish greed for presents, but we as parents are still tempted to approach Christmas selfishly, for our own comfort or gratification. We need God’s grace to help us serve selflessly, give generously, parent patiently, and grow in passion for our Savior at Christmastime. As we grow to be more like Christ who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28) we will encourage our children to do the same.
A couple of years ago we shared this reading list for Advent. We continue to add to it, and this year we look forward to trying two new books: Prepare Him Roomby Marty Machowskiand The Biggest Storyby Kevin DeYoung.
Whitacre Family Story Time Readings for Advent
Each morning in December we light the appropriate Advent candles and my husband leads our children in Scripture reading and discussion from one of The Good Book Company’s Advent devotionals. The kids meanwhile munch on a piece of chocolate (for breakfast!) from the Advent Calendar house that Mom-Mom bought us a few years ago
Then every evening we light the candles again after dinner and read a Christmas story together. Over the years I’ve collected our favorite stories and developed a schedule of readings. Here it is below in case you want to follow or adapt. I’m looking forward to the Advent Season where we anticipate the celebration of our Savior’s birth!