Before my youngest was born, I remember having a talk with Matthew, who was then my youngest, a position he had enjoyed for almost seven years. One of my concerns for him was that he would feel displaced by his little brother and become the typical middle child. Because they are not the oldest nor the youngest, it is easy for middle children to become forgotten. I didn't want that to happen to Matthew, so we took some time to talk about it.
I remember one of the things that we talked about is what a privileged position he had being in the middle. (Gotta give it a positive spin, ya know?) We talked about how much he enjoyed having a big sister, and now, he was going to be able to have someone look up to him too. It made sense to him (it helped that he was six), and he eagerly anticipated the day when Jonathan would join our family.
Another gift we can give to our children is the gift of belonging. Just as we as believers have a place in the body of Christ, so we can give our children a taste of that belonging in the home as well. Because our homes are mini extensions of the church, when our children know that they have a special place in the family structure, there is a great sense of security.
Some children want so desperately to belong that they will do anything to fit in: wear the right clothes, hang out with the right friends, or even willingly expose their bodies to harmful substances just so they could feel like they belonged. One way we can help to protect our children from going down that path is giving them a home environment in which they feel safe. When they know they fit in among the people that love them the most, there is usually little incentive to find it elsewhere.
How can we give our children this gift of belonging? We can:
Establish family traditions.
Do you have something that you "always" do? Whether it be breakfast in bed for your birthday or new pajamas for Christmas Eve, having family traditions that you enjoy together predictably gives children a great sense of belonging.
Give your kids a job to do in the home.
Chores have often gotten a bad rap, and maybe rightfully so. Who really wants to empty the trash or pick up doggy do? And yet, when we let our children in on the work around the home, they are able to contribute to the family's functioning (not to mention lift some of the burden from our shoulders!). In our home, I have learned not to wait too long to get the kids involved. As young as they can handle, even if it means that I have to spend twice as much time doing it with them, I try to give each child a job to do. As they get older, they "move up" to the next chore level.
When the kids are little, they are much more open to helping. The hard part for us is letting them do so! But when we give them the chance to contribute to the family, we teach them that they play an important role.
This one is a tough one, for there is bound to be one child in your family that sets your nerves on edge or someone that you have a hard time with. (If you don't, let's talk so I can find out your secrets!) The trick is not letting that get in your way of being fair to that child. Even little subtle jabs or comments can make a child feel excluded. As far as we can, we need to let each childn know that they are important and valuable to us just as they are and that they are irreplaceable to the family.
Think like a team.
In America today, it is so easy for us to each have our separate lives and forget that we are a family first. I have witnessed many of our friends split the family up to take one child to basketball practice, the other one to a school function, and yet another one to a friend's house so they don't have to be dragged around everywhere else!
Sometimes that is necessary, but when that becomes the normal way of functioning, sometimes we have a hard time when we do have time to spend together. While our children each have their own special activities, especially because there are such wide age gaps between them, we try to make it a priority to do as much as we can together. If one child has a basketball game, we all go if at all possible. We try to make times to read together daily. In this way, we have had many family adventures through the pages of books. When we go on vacation, we try to hit different things that will appeal to each person, and the rest of the family joins in as much as possible.
Our children are with us only for a short time, and soon enough, we will be split up. Let's take the time now to cultivate a home where each child knows they are valued and important, where they can contribute meaningfully, and where they know they are part of a bigger team.
What do you do to help your kids find a place in your home?