5 life lessons no child should leave home without

life lessons for kidsMom, do you have to turn everything into a life lesson?

My daughter has been asking me that question a lot lately.

In December, she’ll be 18. The sand in the hourglass is rapidly slipping away.

I’m running out of time. I’ve felt this overwhelming urgency to cram in every bit of wisdom, caution and truth that I can fit in before she walks out my door.

A trip to the grocery store morphs into a metaphor for how she needs to feed her soul.

A question about laundry becomes an object lesson for keeping her mind and thoughts clean.

It’s not quite that bad, but you get the idea. She’s positively brimming over with gratitude for my top-of-the-mind wisdom.

Looking back over these past 18 years as a mother, it occurred to me how much time and effort we as parents put into making sure our children are doing their homework.

We spend sleepless nights worrying about and planning their academic futures.

But are we as burdened by how to shape their character? Do we agonize as much about how we can encourage them to consider the eternal impact they can have with their lives and futures?

I cringe at the thought of how many times and in how many ways I’ve fallen short over the years.

But in my imperfect way, I’ve tried  hard to instill

these life lessons in my children:

Love is selfless and tenacious.

The idea of “love” in our culture has become supremely selfish. We “love” when it meets our needs, makes us happy, suits our purposes. When things get difficult or messy in any relationship, the smart thing to do is check out. Disengage. This happens in marriages, in parent-child relationships and in friendships.

Real love — 1 Corinthians 13 kind of love — isn’t led by feeling or circumstance. It sacrifices and gives without an expectation that it will be returned in kind.

Motherhood gives us so many opportunities to model this kind of love for our children. Real love sets wise, healthy boundaries and stands firm, even when the other person is angered. Or pulls away. Because true love is not about us. It is driven by the best interest of the other person.

We can only show this kind of love through the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s completely contrary to our selfish nature. But when we do, we receive so much more than selfish “love” could ever give us.

 I’ve failed so many times to do this. But I’m encouraged by the fact that “His mercies are new every morning.” I can ask for forgiveness and start again. And that’s a powerful lesson to our children, too.

Failure is a good thing.

As a recovering perfectionist, this is a tough one for me. I want to do everything right the first time. I’ve been critical and controlling with my children. God has brought me a long way over the years, but it’s still a struggle.

We sometimes think we have to model things “perfectly” (there’s that word again) for our kids to absorb a lesson. I’ve found they learn more from my failures than my successes. And I’ve tried to impress upon them that they can also learn more from their own failures than when they get it right.

Everything I ever do in ministry feels risky and out of my comfort zone. I’ve taken some crazy leaps of faith — certainly not on my own power — and seen God do amazing things. My kids have seen it, too. It’s made an impression.

I hope they’ll always be bold enough to take some crazy leaps of their own — in spite of their fear of failure.  

Jesus is personal.

Growing up, God seemed very distant. I truly believed He loved “the world,” but I wasn’t sold on the notion that He really, truly loved me.

In my early 20s, I remember sitting in a church service – feeling bored and cold. I was tired of the “routine” of going to worship  an impersonal God. I prayed, “God, either You’re going to have to make Yourself real to me, or I just can’t do this anymore.”

Shortly after, I entered into an extremely painful period of my life — where God’s care for me and tenderness was felt in a deep and sweet new way. He felt real in my life like never before. Pain has a way of getting our attention. I never welcome it, but I’ve learned to appreciate the closeness with God that couldn’t happen without it. We’re just too self-focused when things are going well.

I’ve always encouraged my kids to pray specifically and often. I’ve told them over and over again of His grace. I’ve assured them that everything He does — the circumstances He allows, the boundaries He sets — are for our good.

That He has a unique plan and purpose each of them that only they can fulfill.

Character is more important than curriculum.

Yes, school is important. It helps form the values of perseverance, responsibility and hard work. But we’ve all known plenty of people who were extremely successful in school, but were incredibly lacking in character.

I’ve worried too much about school work and not enough about heart work.

Every day, I pray that the Holy Spirit can use my meager efforts to develop compassion and a passion for Him in their hearts.

Providing opportunities for our kids to serve is one of the best ways I’ve found to help kids get out of their own little worlds and develop hearts that want to make an eternal impact.

Truth isn’t trendy.

Truth doesn’t change just because the culture does. What is right and what is wrong remain the same. Because the Creator who set it all up doesn’t change. He doesn’t say, “Oh, that’s really inconvenient or hard. I’ll let you off the hook on that one.” He loves us too much to do that.

He never promised that following Him would be popular or easy. Quite the opposite.

In a culture where there is no respect for absolute Truth, it is incredibly difficult to raise children who see the value in it. It’s so much easier to “go with the flow.”

I can’t control my kids thoughts and actions. Only the Holy Spirit can transform their hearts. But I can be open to dialoguing and wrestling with them over these issues. I can tell them the Truth in the best way I know how — even when they roll their eyes and don’t want to hear it. Even when it makes them angry.

I want my annoying voice to stick in their heads — even as everything changes around them.

Moms, I have gotten so much of this wrong. I’ve missed opportunities. Modeled all the wrong things at times. But I serve a big God who can multiply and magnify my efforts.

For Him, time never runs out. And He’s a much better Teacher than I am. 

Melinda Means

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school morning routines that work

school morningWhat do firefighters and kids getting ready for school in the morning have in common? 

Ravenous hunger and the need for a quick routine for getting out of the door.

Fire or not, it certainly can feel like a drill when we are getting out kids ready for school!

So let’s see what we can learn from firefighters:

Be ready for an emergency. It may not be a true life-threatening emergency, but parts of it can feel like it — especially when you can’t find ________ and really need it. A real Code Blue is when you’re already in the car and down the road and you hear, “WAIT! I FORGOT MY ______________!”

We can anticipate school morning emergencies always happening. So, we’ll build a routine to accommodate those wrenches in the routine.

Make it easy. Do anything and everything you can do the night before — down to placing the backpack in the car with shoes and socks. The minds in my house don’t work super well in the morning. The thinking that gets done during the afternoon and evening is far clearer and sharper.

Don’t want to forget  homework that they have slaved hours doing? PUT IT IN THE CAR! Waiting for the school morning to do that is like waiting to see the roof on fire.

Keep it clean. The space that they get ready for school in the morning should try and look like one of those shiny fire stations where they can grab boots and go!

My son got ready for school in a place in the house totally separate from his own bedroom so we could accomplish this type of isolation. It worked well until modesty kicked in and he didn’t want to get dressed in the middle of the living room from a uniform basket.

Why did this work? Because I could keep a constant eye on him. He was practically under my nose. There was no opportunity to disappear and get distracted.

Get there early to prevent too much damage. Firefighters know this; we should too. For those that struggle getting to school on time in the morning, I want to first encourage you. It can be a huge life-stressor during those seasons when you are figuring out how to get to school (or anywhere) in a timely fashion with children.

But have hope! The rewards are HUGE when they become school age. So keep at it!

Aim for getting your kids to school at least 10 minutes before school actually starts. They will have a much more relaxed day and get experience arriving somewhere early instead of rushing.

Because, as we know,

….when you are “on time” to school you’re really “late”. The day is going to start moving whether you’re there at the start line.

Getting ready for school can be a pleasant experience. Once you expect the unexpected and give your family room to breathe with enough time, your day can begin peacefully. I promise.

What have you done to streamline the getting-ready-for-school routine?

What have been your largest obstacles?

When did you finally feel like you got a handle on the morning routine?


five ways to keep busy teens focused

raising a responsible teenagerWhen they were younger, it was so much easier.

The kids came home from school. Did their homework. Went to soccer or baseball practice a couple of nights a week. Sure, some weeks were crazy, but for the most part, I could count on a relatively consistent ebb and flow to their days. 

Then they became teenagers.

Now, sports schedules are intense and constantly changing. Social calendars are full and shifting at a moment’s notice. For example, my daughter’s plans for a typical Friday night get made, cancelled, rescheduled and completely remade 100 times throughout the week.

The only thing in my house that’s predictable now is the daily reality that nothing is ever predictable.

There’s a spontaneity and energy to a house full of teenagers that truly is refreshing and fun. But, whether they admit it or not, teens need some constants in their schedules to keep them grounded and focused on the things that truly matter.

As parents, we can help keep our teens from going on full tilt and flaming out. So, what needs to remain constant even in the midst of chaos?

1. An emphasis on faith. 

“I don’t believe everything that you believe, Mom. You’re just going to have to accept that.” Those words have come out of both of my children’s mouths more than once. I always wince when they do. The level of influence that we once had when they were little is gone.

It’s scary for us as parents. But allowing and encouraging them to wrestle with their faith is a good thing. If they are truly looking for the Truth, they will find it. The Bible promises us that.

We can’t force them to believe anything. But we can keep exposing them to Truth. I’ve certainly made lots of mistakes in this area. I’ve missed opportunities. Out of fear, I’ve been controlling and legalistic. I’m learning from those mistakes.

Rather then “preach” or control, I try to talk about how God is working in my life and answers to prayer. I don’t force it. But I pray God helps me to create and recognize opportunities to weave faith into natural, everyday conversation.

We also take them to church every Sunday. Our church Youth Group is awesome, but neither of our kids have connected there. We made them go for a while, but it wasn’t working. We finally let it go. But they are expected to attend church service every Sunday. Our Pastor speaks Truth boldly. They like his approach and he’s earned their respect.

When we’re able to eat dinner together (sometimes a Herculean challenge), we usually do a devotion. Often, one of them will choose and read it and lead the discussion. Keeping it short and focused seems to work best.

They need to get the message from us that no matter what is going on in their lives, God is the constant anchor. 

2. School responsibilities.

As a mom who used to be a compulsive “homework helper” and grade checker (online grade systems are a curse, I tell you!), I have struggled with letting go of control and allowing them to take responsibility for their school work.

I can’t (and shouldn’t) be an enabling safety net. But I can give consequences when they aren’t meeting their responsibilities. And I can allow natural consequences to help jolt them into reality and renewed focus. 

3. Helping out around the house.

It’s tempting to think, “They’re so busy. I’ll let them off the hook.” I know. I’ve done it.

It’s true. Their time is limited. Chore charts and designated days of the week for tasks haven’t worked for me in years.

But they’re not house guests. Our homes are not hotels. They need to contribute in some way. What has worked for me is to ask them to do small tasks on a regular basis — unloading the dishwasher, cooking dinner now and then, doing their own laundry, etc.

They’re still contributing to the household. And smaller tasks seem to mesh better with busy, unpredictable schedules.

4. Respect for others in the house.

When schedules are crazy, tensions rise. It’s just human nature. And who bears the brunt of our stress? The people we love the most, of course.

I can’t keep my teens from bickering. (If only!) But I can make their lives very uncomfortable if they refuse to show respect for each other or for their parents. 

5. Family time. 

No family activity my husband or I have ever planned has been met with cheers. My kids complained when they heard we were going on a four-day cruise last summer, for goodness sakes! I think whenever “family” is spoken in the same breath as “activity,” teens have a trained response to object.

But when we push past the resistance, we always find it’s worth the effort. Even if the whole activity turns into a complete fiasco (speaking from experience here), it’s usually a bonding family memory at some point.

They may not need to be with us in the same way they did when they were little, but they do need to know we’re there — and that we’re invested in them. Even when they’re being rotten. 

Continually directing our teens to focus on what matters helps equip them for life outside our walls. 

They still look to us for direction and consistency.

As my daughter told me a while back, “I’m all over the place, Mom. I need you to be the calm, consistent one.” 

Through God’s power, I’m determined to help them stay focused on what matters. 

Melinda Means

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