It’s a true delight to introduce you to my friend Janel Breitenstein who I’ve known since her family moved to Little Rock when she was in high school. Since she graduated from college she and I have worked together on quite a few writing projects. She has also been a frequent guest writer on the Ever Thine Home blog since it began in 2013. Now she’s written her first book, Permanent Markers, in which she encourages moms and dads alike to become intentional with their kids. Janel is a true model of all she’s written about in this book with her four kids and her husband John. It’s an honor to run this excerpt from her book on the blog today.
It was the season we’d been waiting for. We toted stadium chairs and water bottles, smeared on sunscreen, and invited the family. My son Baden, all pale-blond curls and Bambi-size blue eyes, yanked on a shirt three sizes too big and strapped shin guards above preschool cleats.
When the throaty whistle sounded, my son’s legs rotated in high gear. We soon saw he seemed to fall down a lot on purpose and enjoyed bodychecking the other four-year-olds. (That was at least one conversation with him on the sidelines.) But the grin, the apple-red cheeks, and the smell of little-boy sweat in his hair? Golden.
The inevitable moment came either in that game or the next—I can’t remember. He powered a shot directly into the goal. Victorious! The crowd goes wild!
Only of course it didn’t, because, hey. Oops. Wrong goal.
That kid’s a teenager now, hopefully not smiting too many young women with those eyes. I wish the goals for our kids were still peewee-sized.
As parents, we help our kids aim for certain goals. We make sacrifices in the form of events and practices and particular diets and I’ll-have-to-subtract-this-from-your-college-fund uniforms and equipment. Or music or academics or Scouts or pure survival. We cut hot dogs in pieces so they won’t choke. We teach them to clean the toilet well instead of disgustingly. We show them how to drive in a downpour and avoid turning underwear a pale pink in the laundry.
We concentrate on the goals that matter in the moment.
But what if in focusing on the immediate and the seemingly urgent, we miss the best?
The life skills we don’t know about
If we don’t play this parenting game strategically, we’ll hit someone’s goals. But they might not be the ones we intended. Worse, we may miss out on winning the game of our kids’ lifetime.
How can we make space for what matters eternally? How can we squirrel away life skills in our kids that make them want to connect with God?
Could spiritual life skills be as natural to them as brushing their teeth (okay, I’m still reminding my 12-year-old) or putting their clothes in the hamper? (Yikes. Maybe not that one either.)
If only I had time for that
Over sixteen years and two continents, my husband, John, and I have sweated and conditioned ourselves for God’s long game—trusting that whatever good work God has begun in our kids, he will bring to a winning finish (Philippians 1:6).
Our part has been anything but error-free. Sometimes we fumble and feel far from a win. And our opponents (spiritual, cultural, internal within us, internal within our kids) are real.
Meanwhile, my family is trying to survive as much as yours.
There are chores to supervise—and cleaning with kids in the house, as the saying goes, is like brushing one’s teeth while eating Oreos. There’s schoolwork to monitor and correct. (“No, there is no such thing as a kilomoleter. Or a hoxagon.”) There are attitudes and inane squabbles I occasionally wish I could trade in for a pair of power heels. As it is, Lego shrapnel skewers the soles of my feet. And I recently found my teenager’s toenail clipping on the table.
Oops. Wrong goal
But these aren’t the issues that concern me most. I can probably get my kids to scrub dishes, do their homework, and maybe even clean up Legos. (If I can’t, maybe the military?) Yet, what if I fail to teach them what really matters—like the faith, hope, and love that don’t fade (1 Corinthians 13:13)?
What if they leave our house of insanity with a prayer lifestyle resembling a stiff visit to an elderly grandparent? What if their sexual values end up more smudgy than my bathroom mirror? What if my kids stink at apologizing, thus trailing broken relationships behind them instead of just random dirty gym socks?
None of us need more stuff to do. But our kids do need spiritual life skills. We can seize small moments to teach our children these skills, like we would with, well, the toenail clipping. (Sometimes teaching a life skill looks like “Here is what not to do.”)
We can create space for what matters and work toward the most important goals—the right ones.
“So what do you have in mind?”
Teaching spiritual life skills can actually be … fun. And/or worked into your other daily routines.
First, take time to pray about goals God would have for your kids. What are three to five spiritual life skills you’d like to focus on right now in your kids’ lives?
Maybe those goals are more typical, like prayer or knowledge of God’s Word—or perhaps they’re honing in on community, simplicity, identity, holy sexuality.
Then, you’re likely moving on to the “how.” Got ideas for easy ways to work your goals into habits your family already has—or to make these life skills engaging for your kids?
Try working one or two of these into your daily moments with your kids!
- Pray when your kids get up, or as they’re pulling on backpacks to walk out the door. I pray with my arm over my youngest, who’s 12, while he’s snuggled under the covers as I’m getting him up in the morning.
- Gather apples of different sizes, shapes (some misshapen, old, bruised), and colors, and slice them horizontally. Show your kids that all their seeds are arranged as a star. In my language: All people are made in the image of God. He has inlaid his value and craftsmanship in us—no matter what the outside says (see 1 Samuel 16:7).
- Create a paper chain or paper booklet with a prayer request on each link. Tear a page or a link off each day at a specified time (before bedtime, before afternoon snack, etc.), and pray together.
- Help kids anticipate the need for self-control: Before you enter an environment, remind kids what behavior you expect. “Okay, guys, we’re almost to the store. I expect you to… ”
- Give some “training wheels” for Scripture meditation: Just before lights-out, read one verse to think about as your kids fall asleep.
- Plot out a treasure hunt (complete with a map or clues) to help kids find the “better than gold” (Psalm 19:10) Scripture verses hidden around your house.
Even then—our goal in teaching life skills isn’t “Try harder” or even “Try smarter.” It is God who begins this mind-blowing work in our families. He will also grow it into unerasable completion.
Love ideas like these? Grab dozens more in Janel’s book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write on Your Kids’ Hearts.