I’m sure you are familiar with that feeling when there is a gap between what you want and where you are at. It can happen to us in any area of our life – our health, our spending or savings, or it can happen in our family life, our parenting. When we notice that feeling we can get down on ourselves and judge ourselves for not having it together – and generally when we do that we tend to stay stuck in that place. It is a very defeatest type of mindset. Alternatively, we can know that we aren’t doing what we want to do and we can pull ourselves up by the bootstraps (so to speak), and make some changes.
You see, the thing I always say about being intentional is – that it isn’t about getting it perfect and having no surprises – it is about dealing with those mistakes, weaknesses and surprises with intention.
I know that it is hard to stay intentional in the middle of all the chaos that happens in family life – but ironically intentionality is the key to overcoming the chaos. Not aiming for perfect, but aiming to live life with purpose and in ways that honour and obey God. When we tackle one thing at a time, with intention, change can happen.
This episode is kind of like a summary of 10 things that I feel we did well and that influenced the outcomes of our family life – its a bit longer than usual, but I hope you find it helpful and find something in all this that you can start doing in your family.
As you probably know, Peter and I have four adult children – and as we look back on our parenting journey we see the importance of being intentional. Right from the beginning of our relationship we asked ourselves, and each other in conversation – what do we want, and how are we going to get there – or how are we going to make that happen? I asked these questions in my parenting role too – they helped me make action plans, or action steps. So ask yourself today – what do you want your kids to be like, what do you want your family life to be like, and what do you want to be like as a parent – and how are you going to get there? How are you going to make that happen?
Just a word of warning though – being intentional isn’t about getting every thing right. It isn’t a guarantee. It is more about being purposeful with whatever happens. You see, even when surprises happen, or everything disintegrates around you – and your plans go to pot – you can still be intentional. We can make plans to be intentional, but we can also respond to the interruptions with intention. That is really what being intentional is all about – responding to your family or parenting situations with intention.
If we have something on our heart for our family – be it based on your faith, your values, or just a great idea you have – it won’t happen unless you put in the work – that’s the intention – it won’t happen if we just wing it along year after year. So as we talk about intentional parenting keep these thoughts in your mind – it isn’t about being perfect and getting it right and sorted – it is about responding to whatever happens with intention.
10 Things that we Did as Intentional Parents
Here are ten things that we did in our family as a part of our being intentional. These ten things aren’t fireproof ways to get morally mature kids, they aren’t guarantees to have friendship with your kids when they are adults or surety that your kids will love and serve Jesus – but they are ten things we’ve done with those things in mind.
1–Vision for your Family
We had a vision for our family. Every year we would set aside time for a vision meeting. We actually called it a WOTB – which comes from a business seminar we went to when we were first married, and it means: Working on the Business. We often get caught up in doing the daily stuff of life (which in the business world would be called – Working IN the business) and we rarely step back and see the big picture – set the vision, write the goals and determine the processes (Working ON the business). We have tried to have a WOTB most years – a time where we got away from the daily tasks, and focused on what we wanted for our family and how we are going to get there. Our very first WOTB we worked finding the words to articulate what we wanted for our family – like a family vision statement, and then other years we would reflect on how we were going, and what we needed to work on as we walked towards and in that vision.
You may not set aside a WOTB time – or a family meeting time – but you need to be on the same page – and work at communicating that with each other as husband and wife. What is important to you when it comes to being a family?
2–Professional Development in Parenting
We invested in professional development for our parenting. When our family was young we discussed the need for Peter as a Vet to have a certain amount of professional development and he budgeted for the costs of that. We realised that if we were serious that my work was at home, raising our kids, then I too needed professional development (as did Peter as Dad) so we budgeted for the costs of that. It takes time and money to learn how to be a good parent and homemaker. Parenting courses and other reading material, time to network with other mums finding and giving support, and time on the phone to my mum who was like my parenting mentor and guide.
I think the onslaught of social media and living our lives online – has changed our thinking a little in terms of who we go to for support – we tend to quickly turn to our peers for advice but the biblical model is to find older people who can speak into our lives. I was very blessed to have a few older women who walked with me – though not always in my home town – none the less my understanding of how to be a Christian woman, wife, mum, friend, homemaker and so forth was better for it.
3–Character Development / Education
We intentionally taught character – I see character as the quality of our response to people and circumstances, based on our moral values. So we used the words of virtues to describe moral choices we all face – and to teach the life skills of how to live out those values or virtues. Character is what happens in us – we develop character – when we consistently live out those values and virtues.
We taught our children about honesty, punctuality, forgiveness, orderliness, responsibility, respect, enthusiasm, patience, thriftiness, hospitality, kindness, generosity, initiative, awareness – and I could keep listing these types of words.
We taught what those words meant, and what they looked like in action, and why they were important values. We taught our kids to connect their actions and attitudes with one of these moral values as they made their choices – it gives them a reason why for making a choice – a reason why this choice is the right choice to make. We taught them to be kind and loving in their words, because people and their feelings are important. We taught them to care for their belongings because Daddy worked hard to buy those things, and we need to learn to be responsible for the things we have. Each action or response is tied in with a moral value. As Christians – each of those moral values are based on God’s character or command to us.
4–Intentional Family Time
I think every family knows they need to have family time – but it can also be one of those things of family life that slips by unnoticed. We might be in the same house at the same time, but we really aren’t building relationships and memories together.
For us, family time changed or evolved over the years but a key practice – or even value – was that we would seek time where we can be together interacting and engaging with each other. Meal times is one of the easiest to be consistent with (we all need to eat) but also the quickest to let go by the by – especially as the teen years set in. Our most consistent family time was Sunday breakfast – that was a time we came together, we talked, laughed, made memories. When the kids were young we had movie night and pizza on Friday nights too.
Of course family time doesn’t have to include food – but why not! But really, the key is to come together without distractions from outside the family.
5–Thinking with a Biblical Worldview
This one is a tricky one to talk about briefly – and I don’t want you to get scared off by the words. We wanted our kids to think with a biblical worldview. A worldview is simply how you understand the world around you. We wanted our kids to see the world – and all the issues concerning living in this world – through the lens of the Bible – what does God say about these things.
We taught that by referring to God’s word when we talk about everything and anything – things happening in our lives and in the local community, storylines in books and movies, the news and things going on in the world – we considered it all through the lens of God and His character, His purpose and design for creation, and His story for mankind and His kingdom on earth. God’s word was a filter through which we thought about the world and made our beliefs, opinions, values based on what we saw consistent with God and His word. That is what we understood to be a Biblical worldview.
The heart is that place in side each of us that holds and processes what we believe, value, think, feel and choose. And it is our job as parents to help our children build up beliefs and values in their heart – so that they have something to base their choices on. This is the very essence of heart-focused parenting.
Because this is the very essence of heart-focused parenting – you’ve heard me speak about it before here on the podcast, and in the weekly Heart Booster emails – but if you are new here, I’ll link to some key episodes that talk more about being heart-focused in your parenting.
I set aside time, once a month to reflect on where each of my children were at in terms of their beliefs, character, emotions, choices – what was going on in their life and what they needed to learn in order to keep growing and doing better. Once I had an understanding of where they were at, I was able to plan to teach or remind or encourage them in a particular area. It was targeted parenting. Targeted to each child’s heart.
This time of reflection meant that I knew how I was going to handle things. I knew the issues that were important – because I had to focus on a few and let others go for antoher time because we can’t work on all the things all at the same time. I knew the words I wanted to use, the examples and illustrations, the Bible stories, the character traits… I gave myself time to research the best way to address this concern – and I was then prepared, the best I could be, for the coming week or month as we addressed things with the child.
I also reminded myself during this planning time of my kids love language and made sure that I was showing them love – to keep relationship and connection in our lives.
7–Using our Time Wisely
As a mother there is so much to do – teach the kids to do right, teach them about God, teach them life skills, maintain family relationships, look after the home, homeschool the kids, help in the community, learn things myself, and not to mention finding time to relax and refresh myself – so I looked at all that I had to do, and I looked at the hours in my day, and I made time slots for each priority. Being aware of what needed to be done, and the time available to each activity was key in keeping our family life rolling.
I also looked at the things that I was doing and looked for opportunities to teach my children something along side of me. If I was doing housework – that was a time to teach my children life skills. If I was helping someone out, it was an opportunity for my kids to learn to help others. If I was having my quiet time, it was an opportunity for my kids to learn to have time in their Bible.
I used my time, where I was doing what I needed to do, to teach and train my children.
I constantly reminded myself that every seasons has its limitations and opportunities – I had to accept that this season may not be the time to do a particular activity – but also remind myself and enjoy the opportunities that did belong in this season.
8–Celebrate and Affirm the Individual
Family is an odd mixture of the corporate (the family as a whole) and the individual – we celebrate both. But it is easy to forget the individual in all our effort in creating a family culture. As with most things we can give recognition to the individual in passing but we also need to make a specific, or intentional moments to acknolwedge that we see and enjoy each individual person in our family.
- Birthdays and major acheivements are obvious opportunities. Our birthday traditions included special food, no homeschooling, sometimes a party (to be honest, the kids threw their own birthday parties!) no chores for the day (which was a bit of a reality check once they started a working adult life!) We celebrated 10 years with a unique experience away from our home town, and we celebrated 18yo as a transition to adulthood where we gave specific gifts in recognition of who they were and what we saw in them; and we prayed a blessing over them as they stepped into adulthood. I also like to write a letter to them on their birthday encouraging them in how they have grown and how to press into God and growth in the coming year – this has got harder as adults and I’m not as consistent.
- But we also do it when we give time and effort to support each persons unique gifts, interests and abilities. Listening to them talk about their passions, going to sport games and music recitals and theatre events, buying them what we can to give them the equipment they needed for their hobbies and interests. Now as our family is all adults – we mainly support each other by staying in touch, sending encouragements and being there when we can.
9–Involvement with the Body of Christ
When it comes to church we often just see our kids as an extension of our family. But if they have accepted Jesus as Saviour and Lord, then they too are a part of the family of God – and as such, they serve along side of us because that is what God has asked of them, as much as we ask it of them by them being a part of our family.
I must admit being a part of a small church when our kids were young certainly made this easier – but I would still encourage all parents to find a way to make this work in your situation. We tried to find as many ways as we could to include them as we served the body of Christ – they helped us on all the rosters: taking up the offering, picking up communion cups, serving morning tea, cleaning. As soon as appropriate they were on the roster themselves to read the scriptures, greet people at the door or give a kids’ talk.
One story I remember is Daniel standing up the front praying. It was something he really wanted to do. He wrote out his prayer – or what he wanted to pray about – and stood there in front of the church and prayed – led the church inprayer. The only thing was – he had a strong speech impediment – and no one could have understood what he said. But God did. And that is what it is about. And that’s what it’s about being a part of a church family, the body of Christ, is no one had issues with that because Daniel was a part of the family of God and he was participating in worship together.
When I organised food to help others out, the kids helped me cook (boys and girls) and we’d deliver the food together. When I meet with someone who was distressed, they knew when to disappear giving that person time and space in our home without them overhearing and listening in (this is a part of loving the body of Christ). When we drove to church I used to ask them to think about who they could be a blessing to instead of just thinking about themselves and their friends.
My children belong to the body of Christ – and I wanted them to know how to be a blessing to others, how to encourage others and build others up both on Sunday and through the rest of the week.
I wanted a family who talked about meaningful things. I remember it as one of the things that I raised in our first WOTB. I had the Schaeffer family and L’Abri in mind. Peter agreed with me and it became very much a part of our family culture.
But conversations about meaningful things doesn’t just happen – people being what people are we take the easiest option – and it is easier to talk about our day, just regurgitating what happened, or talk about other people. We have to be intentional to talk about meaningful things.
I did two intentional things that helped us have conversations
- I thought about topics or prompts before we came together – most our conversations – or intentional conversations happened around the dinner table, in the car, or after a movie so I had prompts ready.
- I asked questions and taught my kids to ask questions. Questions and listening to answers and asking more questions is what creates interesting conversation.
These ten things obviously reflect the things that we wanted for our children, for our family – your intentional things may differ. But the important thing is to ask yourself what do you want for your family, and how are you going to make that happen? You need to set your path of intention ahead of you.
Heart-focused Parenting Action Step:
Now that I have shared those 10 things I must give a caveat. I didn’t start doing all these things right at the beginning of our parenting, neither did I wake up one day and start doing them all that day! They are 10 things that looking back we did consistently and for a purpose. So please don’t try and implement 10 new things into your family life all at once!
I’m assuming I’m speaking mostly to mums here – so be gracious if you are a dad – but mums – do you share this podcast with your husband? This would be a good one to share and talk about. If he isn’t into podcasts you can send him the link to the blog – which is pretty much a transcript of the podcast so he could read it. Another helpful resource to help you and your husband be on the same page, or at least start talking about stuff is for both of you to sign up for the weekly Heart Booster emails. I’ll leave a link in the Show Notes which you’ll find under this episode in your podcast app – or you’ll see a signup on the blog page too.
I think it is fairly normal for people to see the gaps in their family life – most people have some sort of idea of what they are aiming for and maybe feel frustrated or disappointed that they aren’t where they thought they would be – or their family life isn’t as they thought it would be – or their child’s behaviour isn’t as they thought or hoped it would be. And that is okay. We must remember there is no grade levels, no assessments, no judgements – we are on a journey, and the key is moving forward.
What do you need to move forward in your parenting and in your family life? Start thinking about it now, so you can move forward with intention.
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