I have a little copycat in our house. Actually, I have three, all in different sizes. Jonathan is just the most obvious right now. It is so funny to catch him saying things that we say or doing things that we do (well, okay, some of it is not so funny). As most parents realize, our kids are watching us all the time. (Which is why I sneak into the kitchen or laundry room to eat a snack right before dinner!) The question I always have to ask myself is "Do I want them to copy this?" Whether it is what I say, what I do or what I think, I need to be careful and vigilant. And the more tired I am, the easier it is to slip. Do you relate?
Now don't get me wrong here. I am not saying that we need to be perfect. That is impossible. What I am saying is that as parents, we need to be living authentically before our kids. If I mess up, then I need to say so. There have been many times when I've had to sit down with my kids, either all together or individually, and apologize to them. Even though that does not undo what I've said or done, I am seeking to set an example to them of how to respond when they have wronged someone. God is able to take our failures and still use them to minister to our kids.
However, that doesn't mean that a quick "I'm sorry" is going to be the answer either. God desires for us to change as well. One of my faults is a quick temper. I have noticed that when I am tired or stressed, it comes out very quickly. But try as I might, I could not master it. At least, not on my own.
For me the anecdote was really spending more time with God. I know that sounds simplistic, but it is true. There really is no way that I can change myself. No amount of willpower is going to do it. I need the power of the Holy Spirit to deeply change that which is entrenched in me. In my own personal life, as I brought my anger issue to the Lord, He showed me things about myself and about what I believed, things that I didn't see. I began to realize that many of the times I got angry at my children were times when they had failed to meet my standard. And if they failed, then I believed I was a failure as a mother too.
When God began to show me what I was believing, that was where change began to happen. I could not change on my own. Little by little, I am seeing Him start to change how I deal with my kids, but it began in my own heart with God. And the amazing thing is as I change, I am noticing that my kids are changing too. As I make choices to respond in kindness, I am hearing it in my children as well. Our kids pick up the good as well as the bad.
Just recently, Janna and I finished reading the classic To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. One line struck me in particular. The dad, Atticus Finch, says, "Before Jem [his son] looks at anyone else, he looks at me, and I've tried to live so I can look squarely back at him." When I read that, it resonated with something in me. I want to do the same with my own children. I want to be able to have a clean conscience before them by living a life of integrity. I want them to know me as the same person at home as I am in public.
You've probably seen the disheartening statistics that minimally half the kids who grew up in Christian homes (and in some studies, I have seen as much as 80% or more) leave the church once they get into college. There may be many reasons why, and I am not going to try to figure out every reason. But I have a hunch that hypocrisy and lack of integrity in those who claim to be Christians may be a significant reason. What we say and do in the home has tremendous influence on whether our children stick with Jesus when they get older.
While we cannot make our children's decisions for them, I know I certainly do not want to be another black mark against following Jesus. That is something I can do something about. We as parents must be highly committed to living authentic Christian lives before our children, growing in our faith and integrity. If you haven't already noticed, that is one of my most urgent encouragements to parents. The stakes are high otherwise.
No matter whether your kids have the best opportunities in life or attend the best Christian schools or even homeschool, we need to take it on our shoulders to live in such a way that we do not lead our children away from Christ. Again, we don't need to be perfect. Just real. Our children are watching.