Confession time. When stories pop up in my news feed claiming they can fix my life in just a few easy steps, I’m the first person to click.
“A step-by-step guide to decluttering your house in one week.” Click.
“Three ways to completely eliminate the dark circles under your eyes.” Click.
“Ten easy steps to make your child stop whining once and for all.” Click, click, click…save.
Here’s the reality. I’m a mom of four boys, ages seven and under, which means my days are real-life scenes out of Jumanji. When someone calls casually saying they are swinging by in five minutes to drop something off, I look around at the state of my house and start crafting stories to convince them that an actual bomb went off just before they arrived. It’s the only logical explanation for what’s happening.
“Five simple tricks for being a better hostess.” Click.
The truth is, I’m short on time and mental energy when it comes to implementing new routines. I’m always longing for someone who has more energy and a vigor for life to figure it all out and boil the important things down to a few short, one-time tricks that will help me live my best life.
I don’t know about you, but being a young family who tries to put Christ at the center can add a layer of self-imposed pressure to my parenting plate. I want to be the mom who effortlessly emerges from the haze of lunches, laundry and reading logs and seamlessly moves into quiet moments of Bible memorization and perfectly timed analogies on grace and truth. Instead, I’m over here convincing my seven-year-old that boxer briefs are different than shorts.
So how do we do it? How do we grow kids’ hearts towards serving others when we feel we are living in the survival stage of life?
From one parent’s heart to another, I want to encourage you that teaching kids about serving doesn’t have to be a step-by-step program. It doesn’t have to be hard. You and your kids are already set up for success at this very moment. You just have to know where to look and where to grow.
In my house, we call “serving” helping. Yes, helping and serving have different nuances of the heart that I can’t wait to talk with my boys about when they are ready. But for now, we pull back on the church-talk and get the kids doing things in a way they can understand.
We help others because Jesus showed us what it looked like to help others, and we are his image bearers. Helping each other and instilling a posture of serving is a value of our household, and that doesn’t change regardless of how full our home is. It just looks different with kids.
Everyone is born with gifts. Children are wired from birth with natural temperaments—likes and dislikes, skills and interests. There are some things that come so naturally to a child, that if we can just take a minute to recognize what those things are and tap into them in a way that moves beyond “self,” we’ve done two things: we’ve nurtured the gifts God has given them, and we’ve made the connection early on that gifts are meant to shared.
Here’s what I mean.
The gift of food
My five-year-old son Mark loves to be in the kitchen. He can’t put his shoes on the right feet and needs help zipping up his coat, but he is confident he should be allowed to use a chef knife. Mark could spend his entire day in the kitchen helping cook, bake, or create. He even makes my coffee each morning (and let’s be honest, mama isn’t helping anyone before she’s had her coffee).
What does helping others look like for Mark? Easy. Each time Mark wants to make something in the kitchen, we talk about how we could do that for someone else. Who needs a batch of brownies or a warm pot of soup? When we’re creating in the kitchen, we don’t have to convince Mark to make something for someone. He does what he loves to do in a way that benefits someone else.
The gift of reading
The hardest part about bedtime for my oldest son is getting him to put down his books and turn off the lights. He’s good at reading. What does helping others look like for him? One of the things my 92-year old grandmother misses the most as she loses her eyesight is reading her Bible each day. When we visit, Nolan is able to read a few stories out loud to her from a brightly colored children’s Bible.
The gift of showing up
And the little guys? They are along for the ride! For example, we take our boys to sing at a nursing home each year for Love Madison, a one-day serving event where we leave behind the physical church building and move into our community to serve. Wheelchairs? Singing? An endless place to explore and smile at new faces? This is what my littlest boys love. Just showing up is the gift they have to give.
As our kids grow and as they learn more about who Jesus is and what he wants for us, they will have a bank of tangible experiences to pull from that can start making this greater concept of “serving” feel real.
There’s no quick-fix. Only small, seemingly unconnected moments that will eventually make up a large, colorful mosaic with purpose. It’s something any parent and child can fit into a routine, no matter how much survival is going on.