I’m the father of three little kids who are just beginning their education, with one in kindergarten, another in preschool and the third is migrating from toddler to little boy. I’ve been contemplating the things that they are learning this year, and watching where they are succeeding, where they struggle, and studying how I can lead my family through both ends of that spectrum. I’m working with my wife to help them learn to read and write, helping them through the sorts of social experiences they are experiencing… you get the idea if you are a parent.
I’ve also been thinking lately about the things that my children need to learn beyond what one might expect of a preschool or kindergarten curriculum: things like an understanding of football, baiting a fish hook, how (and more importantly, when) to throw a punch, how to safely handle a pocket knife (for my oldest, at least), for a few examples. And I’ve been thinking about things that I don’t know how to do myself but that I’d like to teach them someday – like, for instance, how to field dress a deer, along with what it means to be a steward and shepherd of our world.
If my wife and I decide that playing competitive sports is a good idea, then it makes sense that we should brush up not only on the rules and strategies of the sports in question, but that we also have some proficiency in the game itself to be able to teach and to lead. And a bit of psychological coaching will be useful so that when I’m coaching my kids I can help them learn to win with grace and lose with dignity. I will teach them to ride a bike, and to swim, and to love and care for a pet. My wife and I will teach them to channel excitement, cope with disappointment, and I wouldn’t even mind seeing them learn how to get mad at something that righteously deserves their anger – while helping them learn to channel that emotional energy into something productive and healthy.
All these ideas sound like good ideas, and none of them should be new to a parent with kids this side of toddler age. But I want to hopefully challenge your thinking here and stretch with you a bit to move from a loosely-assembled set of good ideas into a plan for leadership in your family.
First there is an underlying premise here that needs to be explicitly called out: our kids are going to learn. It’s what they do. It amazes me as a father of young kids how quickly they absorb the things I teach them (and especially if those things are ones that I’d rather they hadn’t learned). The question is, parents, do you know what it is precisely you want to teach them, and do you have a plan to go about it? Because they are going to learn. It’s merely a question of what, and from whom.
Proverbs 22:6 says “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” This bit of wisdom is profound – it points to the need for something bigger than how to teach a kid to turn a double play or humiliate her friends in a watermelon seed spitting contest. Not that these aren’t laudable goals, of course.
This train of thought has me thinking about the sorts of things I want to teach my children – things that are eternal. Things that will guide their footsteps for the rest of their lives. Things that, even when they are old, they will understand to be foundational to their character and that they will pour out of their lives and into the lives of people that follow them.
These things are the big things in life. The majors. The things that are so important that if they learn them well they can change the lives of the people around them and for the generations that follow. Do you have your list? Have you picked out a curriculum? Interviewed their teachers? Know their school mates?
Here’s mine. But please don’t get bogged down in my list. It may not be a very good list, after all, and even if parts of it are good, you will likely have different priorities for your family. Just have a quick look to plant a few seeds in your mind, and then get to the next step with me after that.
Although incomplete and not in order of priority, these are what I consider to be the foundational elements of character that we are focusing on for the “training up” of our children. These are the most important things that my wife and I can teach them. These will equip them for a lifetime that is anchored to truth and that will serve them and those they love when life is at its highest and lowest points.
But intent matters here, and so does a plan. If I am not as intentional in having a plan, a progress report, an agenda, a curricula for teaching these core characteristics as I am for coaching sports or planning a camping trip then how can I possibly succeed?
I hope you’ll agree that these are the significant things of life – the “big rocks” for those that understand that metaphor. I am certain you’ll agree that they are the most difficult to teach and to model.
So like me, you’ll need a plan. Let’s work on them together, shall we?
Start with your list. What would you teach your children first and best to help them know the way they should go in this life? Which things are so fundamental, so foundational, that if you pour into them now that even in their old age they will not depart from them? Get out a piece of paper and consider the virtues you model and teach your children.
In the coming weeks, we will lay out a series of principles and ideas on how to teach and lead our children through the sometimes challenging and eternal lessons on the topics I’ve laid out above. My hope is to plant some ideas in your mind about leading your family in values and principles. You may not agree with my ideas or my approach, and that’s fine. If we do nothing together but at least begin with a plan for leading and teaching our children on these subjects, we are ahead of the game. I look forward to learning, talking, teaching, leading and serving with you through these ideas. Then let’s figure out the basis for an actionable plan that brings up a generation of leaders that will light the way for a world in need of leadership.
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