Well, summer is wrapping up for us the same way it started, (too fast! too busy!) and therefore I am giving myself permission to share one more post from my archives. (It’s a summer thing I do.) I’ve made a few minor edits here, (including the title) but this post is so much of my heart that I am happy to share it again. It also resonated with a lot of readers before, SO: if you remember reading it, thanks for grace. And if you haven’t read it yet–well, here it is–
Like most well-intentioned parents, Dave and I have high hopes for our boys. We want our sons to grow up to be good men, productive, stable, and successful. So we teach them to work hard, excel in what they do, and to never give up. In school we want straight A’s, and in sports, well, spend any time with us and your likely to hear a few rounds of “Go big or go home!”
(My husband and I have some competitive blood pulsing through our veins, I can’t deny it.)
And that stuff is important, right? I mean, it’s a hard world we live in, and there is a lot of competition. Kids need to be focused, disciplined…As parents, it is our job to raise up kids who can survive. And hopefully thrive.
So we cheer for our boys, and make sure they get a good education, and we focus on all of that stuff that will make them succeed in this world.
But at the end of the day, as I lie quietly, I know that there is so much more.
When I slow down enough to hear from God, I know that success is not the end goal.
For all of the educating and striving, the pushing and the winning, there is still something more valuable.
It’s a big little word called CHARACTER.
Because there is a big difference between raising up kids to be capable and successful adults….
and raising up kids to be exceptional human beings.
I don’t know about you–But I’m aiming for exceptional human beings.
The kind with character qualities that run much deeper than winning or losing. The kind with a heart for people, and convictions that overrule convenience. I want my boys to grow to be men who know who they are, and don’t compromise that for anything. Character qualities are often quiet, but there is undeniable strength in people of character.
And I think this world could use a lot more people of character.
From the beginning, my husband and I have hoped to raise boys with exceptional character, but I’m the first to admit that it’s easier said than done. When push comes to shove, we easily find ourselves focused on external behaviors, good grades and high achievement. We lose our focus, and we get caught up in the same rat race as everyone else. We lose perspective and we often have to…Re-align.
And we do. We realign often. One of us will see something, or be reminded through our devotions, or a speaker, or just on a quiet drive. We might be concerned about something we see in one of our boys, or we realize we haven’t talked enough about this topic or that. It’s a constant process guys. But it’s a good one.
The list of character qualities that we are working on with our boys is long. Today I thought I would just share three of the character qualities that we’re currently working on. Maybe I’ll follow with more in a future post.
Kids need to know who they are, and how they fit into this world. As they grow up, kids will be searching for their identity, whether they know it or not. If they do not have a positive sense of who they are, kids will try to find labels that make them feel like they are fitting in. This kid of searching can lead to a variety of designations, most of which we would never choose if we saw it coming.
From the time our boys were young, we have taught them that their true identity is found in the God who made them. God created them with a purpose, and He loves them unconditionally. We talk about this a lot–almost daily, because we really believe it, and we know that the world will give them so many other messages, that they need to know this truth from the core of their being.
Other things will define your children–the activities they do, the subjects they are good at, the friends that they spend time with. But basing their identity on anything that shifts or changes is dangerous; Not making the sports team, or having a friend let you down can destroy the very foundation that an identity is being built on. Failing a test, or gaining some weight can make a kid feel completely lost if they have built their sense of self on anything unstable.
Helping our kids develop their sense of identity is one of the most important things we can do as parents. If they know that they are loved, worthy, and significant based on who they are, not what they do, our kids will have a very solid foundation to build on. They will then be freed up to discover their gifts and talents, and then use them to be a blessing to the world around them.
**Dave and I both found this book super helpful before we had kids, and try to communicate the principle in it to our boys as they grow up: The Search For Significance: Seeing Your True Worth Through God’s Eyes
2. Delayed Gratification
My husband has talked a lot about this theme of delayed gratification. When I look at his life, I’m pretty sure that this character quality has been one of the biggest keys to his success, and has kept him from a multitude of troubles. I love that he is instilling this quality into our boys.
We live in a world of instant gratification, where everything we want comes quick and easy. So instilling an appreciation for waiting…is tough.
But I believe that if we can teach our kids delayed gratification from a very young age, we are helping them tremendously for the rest of their lives. Saying “no” to some things, and saying “wait” for others, is going to benefit our kids hugely. This can be practiced when they are young, and it can be talked about throughout their years. You can model it by your own lifestyle habits (saving for things, being disciplined in health habits, etc.) When they catch on to the benefits of this quality, kids will begin to appreciate the value of delayed gratification.
Learning delayed gratification will protect our kids in areas of peer pressure, and sexual temptation. It will give them greater success in school, work, and sports. It will most definitely help them deal with relationships and finances as they grow up. As always, talking about the concept of delayed gratification is a great place to start!
In this crazy-competitive world we live in, compassion is not always celebrated. But oh how our world needs more compassionate people! If we can take our eyes off our own stuff for just a minute, and see the hurting people in this world, we gain not only greater perspective, but we can also find greater purpose to our lives.
I began learning compassion from my own father, who every day before work would say to me, “If you get a chance today–help someone.” Then after work my dad would often check in with me asking “So…who did you get to help today?” I know that Dad’s daily focus (and his own example) made a huge impression on me in this way.
This is an area we are focusing on in our family right now. It isn’t easy when life is so busy, but we really want to instill a heart of compassion in our kids. A few ways we do this: We support children through World Vision, and a few times a year my boys make hand-made cards and put together packages for the kids we support. We also serve at our local food distribution monthly, and look for other opportunities to serve as they arise. (especially at the holidays.) But there is so much more I’d like for us to do, and I humbly acknowledge that we could do so much more.
I think that talking with kids, and reading books about other cultures and needs in this world is a great first step. From a young age my boys have read stories of missionaries and other world changers who invested their life in serving others. What I love about these stories is that the ones pouring out their lives on behalf of others are always the most happy, fulfilled people. My boys see that and learn young that we are truly happiest when we are serving others.
*Note from August, 2016: Two books I have been reading that I highly recommend:
Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World: How One Family Learned That Saying No Can Lead to Life’s Biggest Yes.
Give Your Child the World: Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book at a Time
(Amazon Affiliate links)
Like I said, these are just three of a longer list of character qualities that will make the difference in raising good, or capable kids, and raising truly exceptional kids. Kids that light up a room, bless the people around them, and change the world. This is literally my favorite topic, so I hope we can cover more character qualities in the days ahead.
I really hope you’ll join this conversation by leaving a comment below!
And as always, I would be honored if you would share this post with your friends using the social media buttons below.
PS I shared this post last spring sharing some of the books my teenage boys are reading related to character development! 🙂