3 Things That Matter Most in Parenting

3 things I took my older daughter to St. Louis this weekend for a soccer tournament. Her team lost the game that decided who would go to the finals. After two great games, they really didn't play well in the last game. I took home a frustrated and sore young lady.

As we were making the four-hour trip home through the rain, I had some time to reflect on what it is that we're doing as parents. To some people, the weekend we just spent (my younger daughter and husband were in Minnesota for hockey) may seem crazy. And as I drove home, I really wondered whether it was worth it.

But as I pondered, I boiled our parenting down to three things. We want our kids to be healthy, filled with joy, and aware that character matters -- to us and to God.

Being healthy and filled with joy aren't always things that I, as a parent, can control. Our kids can get sick or injured. It's our job as parents to make sure they receive the care they need to get healthy. We just spent four weeks rehabbing an injured foot for my older daughter. She received the OK to play this weekend about an hour before we left. There wasn't anything I could do to make it better except take her to the physical therapist and pray.

When it comes to joy, there's only one source for that -- God. Psalm 16:11 says, "You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." True joy is found in God's presence. For our kids to know joy, we have to lead them to God. We have to teach them about the great things He has done. But the truth is that we can't make our kids seek God. We can teach them and pray for them, but they must choose to follow God to receive His joy.

So our job becomes to make sure that God is an everyday part of our kids' lives. We can't just take them to church on Sunday and expect them to have a fulfilling relationship with God. We have to weave God into everyday moments in our lives. We have to pray with and for our kids, open up conversations about who God is and the amazing things He has done. We have to point out places where we see God at work. Because the ultimate goal is to lead our kids to Him so they can experience His joy.

The last item on my parenting list is something that we have a lot of control over -- making our kids aware that character matters. My kids play some fairly rough sports (if you don't think soccer is brutal, watch the pros play sometime). They often come home bruised and battered. It would be easy to leave character on the sidelines when the play gets rough. It would be easy to be upset with teammates when they lose. It would be easy to forget who they are on the field.

But character matters everywhere. It's not something you can leave on the sidelines. Who you are on the field needs to be the same as who you are off of the field. And that's true for every endeavor our kids undertake. The only way they can truly understand that, though, is if we're teaching them over and over and over again that it's important to be a picture of God everywhere they go and in everything they do. They can bring glory to God no matter what they're doing -- but only if they understand that character matters.

We can teach our kids that character matters by making it a priority in our parenting. When we see something on the field or when they're playing with their friends that doesn't stand up to the character test, then we need to point it out and talk about what to do differently next time. When we discipline our kids, we need to not just deal with the actions but with the character underneath. Character matters to God, and it should be the focus of our parenting.

As you have a few spare moments in your day today, consider what your parenting priorities are. Do you put an emphasis on health, joy and character?

The Power of Laughter

laughter Everyone was a little tired and grumpy around here yesterday. It was hot. We had had a sleepover the night before. I was tired, and the girls were tired.

As it usually does, the tired and grumpies led to quite a bit of bickering between my girls. After finishing up some work and chores, all three of us sat down to play a game of Uno. I was a little concerned that the game would be a disaster. Two competitive girls, one competitive mom, a whole lot of tired and grumpy and a board game often equals a complete disaster in our house.

As we sat down on the floor to play, my older daughter sat down cross-legged. My younger daughter immediately jumped into my older daughter's lap and yelled "Santa!" All three of us burst into laughter as my younger daughter proceeded to tell "Santa" what she wanted for Christmas.

We spent an hour playing games together and not one time did someone get upset. There were no tears and very little grumpiness. A few minutes of spontaneous laughter had changed the mood in our house.

It's easy to get frustrated with our kids when they're tired and grumpy. It's easy to get annoyed when bad moods permeate our homes. It's easy to forget the attitude-changing power of laughter.

Laughter is powerful. It can change an entire day. It can bring comfort in the midst of sadness. It can help someone through a challenge. It can simply make the day brighter.

Make it a point to laugh with your kids. Christ-followers should be the most joyful people in the world. We have access to peace, security and love. We've peeked at the end of this world's story, and we know it ends in victory. That alone should give us reason to be joyful.

Make laughter a goal in your home. Keep a book of jokes on hand to break up bad attitudes. Declare silly days in your house, like "wear a wig day" or "eat dessert first day." Be ready to laugh at yourself and teach your kids to do the same. Find some amusing movies and videos and use them to break up a bad day. It's hard to hold on to anger and frustration when you're laughing.

As we head toward the middle of summer where we might have days with tired, bickering kids, remember the power of laughter to soothe and refocus your family.

Choosing Joy


It's early here, even earlier than normal. I was pulled out of a sound sleep at 4:30 this morning to the sound of a child coughing. Before I could reach the side of her bed, it turned into the sound of a child puking.

My first thought was, "Seriously? We can't even make it through a week of summer without the stomach flu?" A sick child is not part of my plans for today. We have soccer camp and doctor's appointments today. I have work to do. This is not the way summer is supposed to start.

Yet, as I debated whether to stay up or go back to bed for 45 minutes, I realized that it's easy to grumble and complain when life gets tough. And it's something I'm always telling my girls not to do. Yet here I sit at 5 a.m., starting my day by complaining.

Sure, I have reason to whine. I've yet to meet the person on this planet that enjoys cleaning up someone else's puke. I don't know anyone who likes being awakened at 4:30 in the morning by a sick child. But in this moment, I have two choices: I can moan and groan and be frustrated by my busted plans or I can choose to be joyful.

Our circumstances don't determine our joy level, and my kids will learn that more from how I act than from anything that I say. If they see me choosing to find joy in the midst of the trying moments, then they will learn to do the same. If they see me choosing to grumble when things don't go my way, then that's what they'll learn.

Nehemiah 8:10 says "Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength." We find our strength in the joy of our salvation. We find joy in simply knowing that we are precious in God's sight. We are loved and redeemed. That alone is cause for joy, and that doesn't change no matter how much our circumstances do.

Joy is a choice. It's one we have to make in every difficult moment -- through every sick child, every unpleasant parenting moment, every failure and mistake. Our kids are learning how to react to difficult situations by watching us. Are your kids learning to choose joy in the difficult times or are you leaving a legacy of complaining?

How we react to difficult situations matters. It matters because little eyes are watching our every move and learning from what we say and do. When things don't go your way today, choose to be joyful.

Reflecting on the Week

We've seen a lot this week -- as a nation, as a family, as individuals. We've encountered situations I never wanted to have to explain to my kids. We've felt sorrow to the depths of our souls.

Yet, in the midst of those heart-shattering moments, we've seen joy. We've felt hope. We've seen the best that people have to offer.

We saw bombs planted by evil men destroy the lives of so many. We also saw ordinary men and women run toward the blast to help those injured.

We saw soldiers march for 26 miles with loaded backpacks in honor of their fallen comrades only to arrive at the finish line minutes before the blasts went off. We saw those same soldiers minutes later lifting barricades off of injured people.

We saw runners stranded on the streets of a city in which they were strangers. We also saw the residents of that city offer food and open up their homes by the thousands to those same strangers.

We saw a sporting event ruined by tragedy. Then we heard nearly 18,000 voices lifted in song together in an emotional statement of unity at the next sporting event in that city.

We've seen it all this week, the worst -- and the best -- of people. And we've learned that even in the midst of unspeakable tragedy, good shines through. God is there.

Psalm 30:5 says, "weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning." Healing will take time -- for the people involved, for the city of Boston and for our nation. Morning may seem a long time coming. But it will come. We will slowly take the steps back to the road of normalcy. We will be changed for the experience. Our children will be changed. They will never be able to step back into a time where they didn't know that terror can hit near their own homes.

But we will heal. We will go on. There will be a Boston Marathon next year. This morning, we will step outside our doors and go about our lives. And we will be stronger because of it.

We will never forget the horror and sadness of the past week. But neither will we forget the kindness of strangers, the heroism of ordinary people and the unity found in pulling together after a shared pain.

Remember the events of this week, but remember, too, that healing is coming -- and joy comes with it.

Creating a Joyful Home

We have had more drama around here this week than should be allowed in a 72-hour span. From failed math tests to testing limits to the dog deciding to scatter the full kitchen trash can all over my living room, we've had plenty of frustration. We've shed enough tears this week to sink the Titanic. My kids are physically and mentally exhausted, and I'm not far behind.

So, today, we're taking the day off. The girls are out of school for conferences, and we're spending the day doing fun things. Do I have work that needs to be done and a house that needs to be cleaned? Yep. But tomorrow is soon enough for chores and work. Today, we're going to play games, laugh ourselves silly and check out the new trampoline playground with some friends. We're going to forget the drama of the week and focus on refreshing our souls and our minds.

Sometimes our families just need to hit the pause button. Our schedules get crazy, life gets overwhelming and we forget that we can have fun. We forget to enjoy the moment. We forget to rest.

Proverbs 17:22 says, "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." We've had a lot of crushed spirits around here this week, and when that happens home becomes a gloomy place. Mom and dad get stressed. The kids are quick to get frustrated and burst into tears. Everyone gets stuck in a general malaise of unhappiness.

When you find your home filled with crushed spirits, it's time to lighten the mood. It's time to set aside some time to be deliberate in creating some joyful hearts. It's time to remember the things you love about your kids and the things they love about you. Intentionally creating joy in your home creates those cheerful hearts.

If your home is full of crushed spirits, try a few of these ideas to intentionally create cheerful hearts:

1. Set aside some time to do something fun. Take a break from the seriousness and frustrations of life, and create a day or an afternoon to focus on having fun. Be present and available to your kids.

2. Create laughter. Tell jokes, look at funny pictures, make up funny stories. Create reasons to laugh even when you might not feel like it. Just one bark of laughter can get everyone smiling.

3. Declare a moratorium on complaining and criticism. Any time someone is tempted to complain, ask them to pray before opening their mouths. If someone does complain, create a funny punishment like singing "Happy Birthday" while hopping on one foot.

4. Get out of the house. Go for a walk around the neighborhood, take the kids to the park, go window shopping at the mall. A change of scenery does a world of good for those crushed spirits. Be intentional in looking for things to smile about while you're out.

5. Focus on being thankful. Have thankfulness moments throughout the day where everyone has to list three things for which they are thankful and no one can repeat what someone else has said. It's nearly impossible to be grumpy and thankful at the same time.

When our families' spirits are crushed, we have to be intentional about creating an atmosphere for a cheerful heart. Sometimes our kids just need us to take a break and create a new atmosphere. Create a joyful home today.

Linking up today with Denise in Bloom.

Mired in the Muck of Mommyhood

Just. Go. To. Sleep. That was my thought and my prayer about 9 last night as my daughters argued about whether the bathroom light should be on or off.

It has been a long, long afternoon and evening. One daughter came home distraught over a bad grade on a test. The other daughter was frustrated that no one was paying any attention to her because we were trying to figure out how to help the other daughter. We shed enough tears last night to sink the Titanic. It was drama with a capital D.

By 9 p.m., I was done. D-O-N-E. After solving the bathroom light issue with the inspired statement of "The next person who talks is going to bed at 7 tomorrow night," I sat down to ponder my Bible study homework on joy. I know, go ahead and laugh. I was anything but joyful at that moment. I was mired in the muck of mommyhood. I was having a hard time seeing past the drama of today to the joy of eternity. I just wanted my children to go. to. sleep.

It's easy to get caught up in the drama of our daily lives. It's easy to focus on everything that has gone wrong. It's easy to just want our kids to go away for a few minutes so we can get just a moment to think. It's easy to let our circumstances suck away our joy.

But our joy isn't dependent on the moment. It isn't dependent on the circumstance. It isn't dependent on having a drama-free evening. It's dependent on God. Our joy is based in Him, and He never changes. He never fails. He never stops loving us -- even in our inspired mommy moments.

When we're mired in the muck, thinking we can't go any further, when all we want is a moment of peace, God is still there, and He's still a source of joy. Our joy is found in knowing who God is, in knowing that He loves us enough to send His Son to die in our place so that we could have a relationship with Him. There's no greater reason to be joyful.

And that joy can pervade our lives even in the midst of whatever drama your household creates. It can make your heart sing even in the most frustrating moments of mommyhood. It can change your attitude and the attitudes of those in your home.

So, today, my prayer is straight from Psalm 51:12: "Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me." I hope you'll make it your prayer, too, so that we can have joy even when we're slogging through the muck of mommyhood.

Linking up today with Time-Warp Wife.

Choosing the Right Attitude (Dinner Discussions)

"People have moods, you know," announced my younger daughter yesterday as I gently reminded her to choose a better attitude.

"Yep, they do," I thought, "and you are certainly in one."

We're working hard on attitude around here, and what I've discovered in the process is that our attitude is a choice. We can choose to let negative emotions take precedence or we can choose to not let our circumstances dictate our mood.

Poor attitudes come from discontent. Anger, jealousy and frustration all have their roots in discontentment. And being discontent is a choice.

Paul says in Philippians 4:11 says "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances." If Paul learned it then contentment must be a choice we can make, and when we learn to be content, we choose to change our attitude.

Kids tend to be ruled by emotion, some kids more than others. It's our job as parents to teach our kids to choose to have a good attitude, no matter the circumstances. That doesn't mean our kids stick their heads in the sand and ignore circumstances that are dangerous or hurtful. It simply means that their attitude isn't based on the circumstances. It's based on the joy we have in Jesus.

I won't lie. That's a tough thing to teach our kids. It's a tough thing to learn ourselves. We're struggling with it right now.

What I do know, though, is that cultivating a thankful heart and helping our kids to focus on all that God has done for them will change hearts, which will change attitudes. We're going to focus on thankful hearts next month, but this month's dinner discussions focus on helping your kids build altars.

When God did something great for the Israelites, they built an altar (usually just a pile of stones), so they could remember it. This month, there is only one dinner discussion question, "What did you see God do today?" I encourage you to either keep a journal, write your kids' answers on paper stones and tape them to the wall or get a bunch of real stones and build your own altar to remind your family of all that God has done this month.

Before you start this month's dinner discussions, explain the concept of an altar to your kids. Explain that the reason to build an altar is to remember what God has done. Talk about how you're going to build your own altar this month so you can see all that God is doing and remember the reasons we have to be joyful.

Take pictures of the altars you build; I'd love to see them at the end of the month. I'd also love to hear the stories of how this activity works in the hearts of your kids.

Linking up today with Denise in Bloom.

Kristy Westrate is the winner of the Teach Me To Serve e-book giveaway. Look for your e-book in your inbox soon. Congratulations, Kristy!

Which Wolf Are You Feeding?

Yesterday at Mom Matters, our church's mom's group, we talked about joy. Our speaker, Amy Dmyterko, talked about all of the reasons we have to be joyful, including knowing we have hope in Jesus and knowing that Jesus conquers in the end. But the thing she said that struck me the most was about wolves.

You see, we're struggling with joy around here. I have a daughter who almost always wants to look on the bad side of the things. She's a woe-is-me kind of girl. If something goes wrong, she takes the worst possible view of things. And it's getting old and wearing on my nerves.

Yesterday afternoon, she came home from school disappointed. She had a legitimate reason for her disappointment, but it went from disappointment to frustration to anger pretty quickly. So, as she sat brooding in her room, I decided to share the story of the wolves with her.

Joy is a choice. We can choose to believe what God says in Romans 8:28 is true: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Or we can choose to believe that it's not. Our joy comes from choosing to believe that verse and others about how much God loves us are true.

It's like there are two wolves. One wolf is disappointed, bitter and angry. The other wolf is peaceful, joyful and able to see beyond his current circumstances. We have enough food to feed one wolf. Which one are you going to feed?

This is a great illustration to use with our kids to get them thinking about choosing joy. It takes something abstract and creates a very concrete picture. And it drives home the point that we get to choose how we react to things.

Start asking your kids which wolf they are feeding and reminding them that joy is a choice.

Linking up today with Women Living Well , A Wise Woman Builds Her Home and Word Filled Wednesday.

Let Me Be Singing When the Evening Comes

Yesterday, I planned a water balloon fight for my girls with some of the neighbor girls. It seemed like a good idea at the time. It's hot. We're at that point in the summer where the lack of routine is beginning to get to everyone. What I failed to consider was the excitement of waiting until 3 p.m. to have their water balloon fight would make it nearly impossible for me to work in the morning. I also failed to plan for the water balloons not to break when they threw them, leading our water balloon fight to degenerate into the girls using more force than expected to hurl them at each other. We ended up with tears and one child in timeout because she hit her sister (not with a balloon).

By the time my husband got home, I was done. What had started out as a promising, fun day ended with me just wanting 30 minutes of peace and quiet. Yet, we still had to go sit outside in 100-degree heat to watch my older daughter play soccer. I was grumpy in the car on the way there. You know how it goes, sitting in the front seat choosing to be silent instead of snapping the children's heads off.

On the way home from her game, the radio began playing one of my favorite songs: 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman. If you haven't heard it, check it out below:  

As we listened, I was struck by these lyrics:

The sun comes up, it's a new day dawning It's time to sing Your song again Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me Let me be singing when the evening comes

Last night, and too many nights lately, I haven't been singing when the evening comes. I've been frustrated and tired. I've been crabby and not much fun to be around.

Spending all day, every day with my girls, trying to work from home when the girls want my attention, cleaning out our basement to get ready for a garage sale next weekend have all combined to make me one grumpy and songless mommy.

Last night I was reminded that no matter the circumstances, my joy comes from God. It's not found in checking all the items off my to-do list for the day. It's not found in having perfectly behaved, polite children. It's not found in having Prince Charming for a husband. My joy is found in knowing that God loves me enough to send His son to die for me. That joy never fades and is not dependent on my circumstances.

And that joy brings strength. Nehemiah 8:10 says "the joy of the Lord is your strength." When we let God's joy fill our hearts, we find we are strong enough to face whatever comes our way. We can have joy even when the kids are fighting, the laundry is piling up and the project at work seems like it will never get done.

So, my prayer today is that we'd all be singing when the evening comes -- no matter what the day brings.

Linking up today with Denise in Bloom.