Monday, May 31, 2010

Three Words - Challenge

Recently we made a covenant with our kids. If you're interested in more details, you can read about it over on our family blog. But the reader's digest version of the matter is that things were getting a little out of hand around here and I felt like we needed to better lay out the "playing field" of life at the DePriest's. Neal and I took the time to narrow our family values down to three, and built a code of conduct from that. In the end we asked our kids to sign a covenant agreeing to live by it.

I've gotten some flack from several people on our methods. People who felt we weren't giving our children enough power or say in how our home was run. Other people took issue with where my and Neal's obligation was to "live by the code," so before I start a new firestorm about what we chose to do, let me elaborate a little on where we were coming from.

This family, this home, is created by Neal and I. We are its core. It was our choice to add to it, giving birth to Jake and Victoria and adopting Ethan was our desire to have them be here as a part of "us." However, we did not invite them in as equal members. In the beginning of each of their family "memberships" all of the obligation and responsibility fell to us. We fed them, loved them, cared for them, met their needs. We asked absolutely nothing in return. When they would wake us in the middle of the night to be fed or changed, we took no offense, we didn't mark it down anywhere to remember they "owed" us for the favor, we just did it because it was the commitment we made to them when we welcomed them into the family.

But as they grew the relationship changed. By the time each of them was old enough to start moving about we introduced to them the word "no." We also created boundaries. We put the knives and medications under lock and key. Cleansers got moved out of reach. We covered all the plugs. It wasn't because we were some sort of killjoys who wanted to stifle their curiosity or their desire to explore, but because we wanted to keep them safe. Truthfully, if we DIDN'T do those things, people would question our fitness as parents. We set up the boundaries for their safety.

As they grew the boundaries we set for them changed, they fluctuated as they grew in age and wisdom. With a 16, 9 and 8 year old in the house these days, we no longer have our plugs covered, and the cleansers and medications are no longer under lock and key. Our expectation for them changed as they got older. We no longer worried that they would stick their fingers in light sockets or eat Advil like it was candy. We had taught them, they had learned, and the expectation was they wouldn't do it because they knew better.

When my younger two were toddlers, I used wrist leashes when we went out into public. They were little and very curious. I remember once making a quick stop at the pharmacy without the leashes (which many people found very offensive) and when I had to set them both down on the floor for a moment to pull something out of my purse they both took off running on me, in two very different directions. All I could do was run for the exit, because that was the greatest danger, so I ran after Ethan (the faster child) and headed toward the door, after wrangling him I went for her and I kept them both from running into dangerous territory to the best of my ability. I never took them out in public like that again without the leashes though, for their safety. But if you ran across me at the mall today with them now 8 and 9 and we were wearing the leashes, you'd have some serious question about me being at best overprotective, at worst, out of my mind.

When the kids were little, we didn't go into great elaborate explanations about the "why's" behind all of the "no's" we had to give them. When Ethan (my most curious child) started toddling about we didn't explain to him the reality of electrical shock we just covered the plugs. When our adventurous daughter tried to climb the glass shelves at grandma's house, we didn't talk to her about the dangers of pulling them down upon herself and causing serious injury, even death or dismemberment, we just pulled her down, gave her decent swat on her behind and told her "no." We set the boundaries, God put us in the position of their care and well-being, and we determined the best way we knew how to accomplish the task. Nobody ever really questioned us though.

But here now, with our family covenant, plenty of question. Somewhere some people decided that our children should graduate to equality, at least in that sense. And to those who feel that way, I respectfully disagree. As parents, our responsibilities have not changed, neither has our commitment. It is still our job to love them, care for them, provide for them. The obligation to them has not changed, only the methods have. Jake never wakes me up if he uses in the bathroom in the middle of the night. When Victoria is hungry, I no longer spoon feed her, truthfully, I rarely even go to the fridge for her anymore. You will never find me leashed to Ethan walking through a parking lot, but if you're close enough, you might still hear me tell him to stay close and slow down.

So back to our covenant, we have decided our kids are old enough to know what the expectation of behavior is as members of our family. Our family, again, is at its core, Neal and I. Someday our children will grow and leave us, and create in all likelihood families of their own with their own future spouses, and will take on the responsibility of creating their own expectation of behavior. If the become parents they will take on the obligation of care and direction as well. But for now, as the saying goes, "our house, our rules." And we wrote the covenant, to clarify the rules.

What we determined to do was narrow our "core values" down to three. We thought it a simple enough number for the kids (and parents) to commit it to memory. The values are not the actual rules, but rather the reasons behind them. We looked through lists, and we thought and considered and in the end we came up with our three, Truth, Faithfulness and Love. We also broke Love down into three subcategories of Respect, Kindness and Love.

I will admit, it wasn't until I looked at it all on paper, and the rules that we elaborated on our of the core values, that I realized, each of our core values, are core characteristics of the Lord and our relationship with Him. We didn't include the faith in the Lord as one of our core values, because honestly, that should just go without saying. As the scripture says, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." It's above the door in our living room, and very plainly, it's just a non negotiable, our house, God's house. He comes first.

It was actually an interesting process to sit down and figure out what matters most to you. And as a parenting tool it was empowering. It made such a difference to circumvent the "why" behind because "I said so." In my parenting since the the signing of the covenant, rather than just reprimanding, I have been asking my children to think critically. When Victoria got in trouble for tattling I asked her what core value she broke (Love - specifically kindness, "do unto others...") and she saw the reality of her decision. Likewise when Ethan got in trouble for being deceptive, he was able to understand he was not being in the Truth.

For those of you who are wondering, yes, it has raised the bar for me as a parent. When I thought about leaving my dishes on the table, I thought, "am I being faithful?" It's a little thing, but it is often in those little thoughts that the profound is discovered. I also find myself helping my kids out more, finishing loading the dishwasher for Jake (it's one of his chores) or taking out the trash for Ethan, and all the while being fully aware that I am showing my children Love through service. I've had to stop myself from yelling on more than one occasion, realizing that when I yell, I am not being kind. (Love) Honestly, it's been a lot quieter around here lately.

Another thought has strongly resonated with me through this process as well, particularly through the criticisms we've received. People take issue with us asking our children to come to us, live with us, on our terms. It's much the same complaint I hear from people about coming to Christ. They don't like that He sets the terms - the narrow path. But just like our core values and the rules they birth in our home, are for the best interest of both our children and our family, so is coming to the Lord on His terms. It's not because He's some mean ogre of a God, but rather because He sees a bigger picture and knows a better way.

We asked our children to sign a covenant, to make a promise to us and God to do their best to live according to the family values that Neal and I have set for them. We chose them for the best interest of our kids, and our family as a whole. Being people of Truth, Faithfulness and Love is a good thing, Lord willing, even a God thing. It will benefit my children, but it will also benefit the world around them. It will make our home healthier, our family stronger and will train our kids to be productive adults. It will also help them to grow to know who they are and what they believe, even why they believe it.

We don't expect perfection from our children, and the covenant is a promise to do their best to try to live according to the values we've set, and where human effort fails, God's strength is there. There are consequences when they fall short, but that's true in life too. And as a parent, I have been harder pressed to find a consequence that fits the the offense. When Victoria tattled on her brother, she had a set amount of time to d something kind for him without him being aware it was her consequence. When Ethan got in trouble for lying, he did get sent to his room for a time out, but the time was open ended. When he asked how much longer, we wouldn't tell him, which made a valuable object lesson about how we felt when he wasn't telling us the truth and kept us from knowing what was really going on.

Jacob has really risen to the new expectations and beyond. With the signing of the covenant came a clean slate for past bad offenses (a whole other blog post of the future) and Jake was so appreciative he has really been stepping up to the plate, and setting a great example for his younger siblings. I have watched as my children have developed more unity, and made an effort to be helpful and act like a team. It hasn't been a bump-free road, but even that has been a good thing, stretching my efforts and fine tuning my and Neal's parenting skills.

So often in life we just do things without thinking about our reasons behind our actions. I have seen and experienced the trouble that can create. If you, like me, are in the midst of your "walk of faith" it is also empowering to define who you want to be and how you want to live as what you proclaim to be, a follower of Christ.

Although I am very satisfied with the core values we came up with for our family, they are by no means the be all end all. If you're a Christian, root them in who you follow, but there is plenty there to consider and to find the right combination for you and yours. I do recommend narrowing it down to three words, keeping it simple and straight and easy for all to recall. I had a conversation with a friend of mine who talked about what their family values were, with more words she told me, "Serving the Lord" "Sticking together" and "Having fun" were the values they came up with her family, converted to my method, I would say, "Faith, Loyalty and Joy." Interestingly, also all characteristics of our God.

What about you? If I asked you what your Core Values were in three words, what would you say? Think about it. I challenge you to try. Who do you want to be? What do you want to be your reputation? What do you believe?

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