We've been parents for almost five years. In that time, many of my hopes and dreams for our girls have changed. Most of it is for the better, at least I am hoping so. When my first and second babies were born, I didn't think a lot past the infancy and toddler stages. That was overwhelming enough on it's own. The goal was to keep them alive, and slip in some character building along the way (don't throw things because that's not kind, don't use your hands to hit people, use manners) As they have grown and become real little people instead of the babies that they were, I've had to tackle my views and feelings about all kinds of things. You see, I didn't have concrete ideas or opinions. I knew what I knew well, but it was only on a limited number of topics. There are so many different views, lifestyles, and choices to make. I spent my time thinking about the right now and not so much about the future.
But then, the future snuck up on me. Suddenly, the kiddos have less physical needs and more emotional needs. They are asking questions that I have to be able to answer. They are learning about this world, and I've been given the task to guide them and show them how it works. It's got me thinking about how I actually feel about this world, about what I value and what isn't important. (I write this for myself, but obviously I've talked with hubby about it a lot and would assume that he's in agreement on most if not all of this.)
There are the preferential things, the things that I value greatly yet also realize are just that: preferences. They are important, but need to be put in their own category. I consider them important to our family culture, but not important to our actual salvation in Jesus. There are five that come to mind:
1. I want them to look put together. I want them to make an effort to take care of themselves, but to not value their appearance too much. They should respect themselves enough to get dressed, do their hair (and make-up when they are older), shower on a regular basis, and generally look respectable. That's important to me, because I learned early on that I do better when I make a small effort. If I do my hair, put on fresh clothes, and brush my teeth, I feel ready for the day. I have a cheerier disposition and am willing to take on whatever comes my way. I also learned that taking too much time and putting too much energy into one's appearance can be a negative thing in relation to other people. If it comes across as too materialistic, it's easy to isolate myself from others by appearing too perfect. This balance is so hard (hence people all across the country struggling with it) but I do want to teach my girls how to do it. Respecting oneself doesn't mean buying all the expensive name brand clothing. It doesn't mean having an excess of shoes, designer jeans, and jewelry. There is a huge difference that can seem abstract, especially to youth. It's my job to show them these differences.
2. I hope they love being outside. This is a newer one for me, one that hit me hard in the last year or so. I grew up inside. Ironically, my mom grew up on a farm and my dad grew up playing outside all the time. It didn't transfer to me, even though I participated in outside activities like sports and park play fairly often. Even my mission trip in Romania, where we lived completely outside for almost a month didn't seal the deal. It wasn't until I was older, a good way into adulthood, before I realized how nurturing the outdoors was for my soul. I've had to work at it to make it a part of my life, and even now I slip back into laziness and complacency to the point where I miss out on great opportunities to enjoy the weather and natural beauty around us. For my kids, I want them to enjoy it right from the start. I want them to crave fresh air and exercise in an internal, natural way. I want them to look around and see God's creation, see the proof He's given us of his existence and love for us.
3. I want them to love reading. I don't care what genre they land on as long as they love to read. Reading is such a great tool for learning. You can learn about almost anything by reading the right books or material. While it may seem counter productive to being outside, I hope they can integrate it together so that they can enjoy both without going too far either way. I've always love to read, to the point where I spent all of my free time inside, reading anything I could get my hands on. I went too far that way and missed out on the physical activity that would have been good for my soul as well. The balance is possible, but something we need to work on constantly.
4. With the love of being outside and reading, I want them to also love learning in general. As a child and teenager, I thought I hated learning. I had based my understanding on what learning consisted of around my experience in school. I didn't have a terrible school, but it was not an environment that I enjoyed on a regular basis. I thought of it as a means to an end. Once school was done, I could be done learning. I had no idea that what would really happen is my ability to learn and enjoy it would take off as soon as school ended. My hope for my kids is that they can love the process right from the start. Test results don't matter as much as what they actually learn and retain. The process is just as important as the end result.
5. Hubby and I both have hobbies that we really want to encourage. I want the kids to love music, each finding their own niche that they can foster and enjoy. I want us to enjoy it together well past their childhood. I also want them to love things that are old yet still valuable like old stories, traditions, and ancestors, still so very precious. I want them to appreciate the past in a way that helps them enjoy the present and future. Hubby wants them to learn to work with their hands like he does, although he says he's not picky about how they do it. He wants them to be open to knew things without letting fears take over. He would also love it if they loved to hunt or shoot at targets. I think that is a little bit of a stretch, but I will let him dream. After all, I don't mind target shooting and that probably surprises every single person that knows me. It's not impossible.
Those things are preferences. They don't necessarily form character traits on their own and definitely do not matter in regards to salvation. I'm learning how to separate the things that matter to me in this world with the things that will matter in the next world, the things that God desires for us to do now in preparation for the future.
The things that matter most of all involve their hearts. God gives us tools to use to overcome the evils of the world. There are important things to teach these girls that directly affect their relationships with God and others.
1. I want them to be kind first. It can be so simple to apply judgement to those around us based on our preferences. If we aren't careful, it's easy to apply things we read in the bible to those around us without first looking at ourselves. I want the girls to look at this world through a filter that emphasizes love and kindness more than people's sins or problems. I personally struggle with this all the time, which makes it both easier and harder to teach the kids. The struggle is to teach them something that I have not yet mastered. At the same time, I can use opportunities that challenge me to learn right alongside them.
2. I want them to be confident in their faith, even though the world tells them they are wrong. It's scary to be the different one, to be told over and over how awful you are for believing what you believe. I want them to be willing to stand up for Jesus, to not cower away in shame or confusion. This is going to be a lifelong battle for them as it is for me, and I pray that I can continue to help them with it on their journeys.
3. I want them to seek God first, and then focus on the facts and their emotions. The bible is not always crystal clear and questions pop up constantly that may cause doubt along the way. My hope is that they learn to love God and trust that his way is the right way while they work through their doubts and continue to learn about him. There is room for questions and there is room for struggles, but it won't mean anything if they lose their faith through it.
4. I want them to learn to love and love hard. I don't mean this in the typical hippy all-you-need-is-love kind of way. (All you need is Jesus, which leads to love.) I want them to learn how love affects every area of our lives. Loving Jesus, familial love, romantic love, love for strangers, love for friends, tough love, loving your enemies, it's all important, vital really. Each kind of love is different. Each kind draws from within you in different ways. I want to help them understand that all forms of love come from Jesus. He is our ultimate example and shows us how to do it if we just take the time to learn it. It's not nearly as easy as it sounds, and will most likely take more than their childhood years to learn.
These lists are evolving and growing as we reach new stages of this parenting journey. Maybe I'll come back to them, revise them, add to them, or just delete them. It's good for me to continue to think about it both abstractly and concretely. Having it listed out like this reminds me of the why's behind our actions. It helps keep our priorities on what is important to our Father and what is important to me, as a mom that can get sucked into worldly desires as much as anyone else. I also just think it's important to keep these lists separate, to see them both as important but with each having their place in our lives.