I've always been a bit of a romantic; a sentimental, dreaming idealist. When the sun lights atop my children's blonde hair my heart takes flight; when my husband sings I melt; when I read a book of valor and courage I'm inspired to raise my young men to be mighty, bold, good, and kind.
When I was in high school my romantic tendencies came alive with the help of King Arthur and his heroic knights, Ophelia and her desperation, Maid Marian and her passion for her beloved outlaw. And then there was this painting, Edmund Blair Leighton's The Accolade: The humility, the honor, the potential ultimate sacrifice, the beauty, and the grace.
What is it that has always drawn me to these deeply romantic themes of love and honor? I think it's a longing for all that is pure, noble, right, true, pure, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy, amidst a fallen world full of fallen people, wrought with fallen character (including my own). And so I long for that which is good. And I long for Heaven where all is made right.
So what in the world might this have to do with mothering a pack of boys? Well don't we all bring the things we most esteem into the forefront of our parenting? If you esteem health and outdoor activities, you will make healthy living and outdoor fun the platform for how you do family. If you most esteem other's perception of you, that will be where your time and finances are spent, even in your parenting - as you doll up your children for their play-date at the koi pond of a ritzy shopping gallery. If you elevate knowledge about all else, you will sacrifice other things in order to provide academic opportunities for your children. If it's music, or sports, or relationships that make you feel most alive, then those values will rise to the top of your parenting priorities.
I esteem character and noble qualities, I praise what goodness that can be found in man and hope to see good develop in the personalities of my boys. I believe it is my job to help direct them to good character traits, to Godly character, as they live within a fallen world. We play sports and sometimes buy some nice clothes for a family portrait, we go on an occasional hike and family bike rides, and sign them up for camps when we have the money and the boys articulate a specific interest, but most of all we invest our time and energy in their character.
Sounds lofty, doesn't it? And yet, (gafaw) you've read my recent blog entries about Brody's hitting and Caleb's lack of obedience... So we're not bearing much fruit yet, but there are so many seeds being sown into the soil of their young hearts, and I trust that in due season we will see a harvest of rich character.
Pam Ferrels's book The 10 Best Decisions Every Parent Can Make has given me fabulous ideas of how to encourage and develop character in the deepest parts of my children, the recesses of their hearts where character is cultivated.
One of the ways the Ferrels built values into the lives of their three sons was by taking the time to give them each a character trait to work on at the beginning of each school year. They would take the boys out individually and talk to them about how well they are growing up and what marvelous things they have seen develop in that child, then they would teach them about another character trait that the child will be learning in the year to come. They would give the child a gift and write out the child's character trait, along with a Biblical verse for their son to learn. At the bottom of the page there would be a place for him to sign "the contract," as a way of taking responsibility, promising to grow in this regard.
Pam encourages us, her readers, to incorporate some of the ideas mentioned in the book into family traditions of our own. Following their plan to the letter isn't what's important, but doing something to instill character in the lives of our children is.
At the time I read this book, my eldest child had just turned four. He'd recently been caught in a few childish little lies, and so we decided to start there. Caleb's first challenge was to be trustworthy. Below is the contract he signed as we sat across the table from him on that special night. He was also given a gift to celebrate his new challenge - a knight's costume. This picture of him was taken within days of having signed his first character contract with us.
TRUTHFUL & TRUSTWORTHY
“Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies…” (Psalm 34:13)
Caleb, the Bible tells us to keep our lips from speaking lies. Now that you are so big and strong we know that you CAN do this, Son. With God’s help you can always tell the truth. And by obeying this command you will be like a GOOD KNIGHT, fighting evil with your good words. Vow to be a warrior who fights with a sword of TRUTH!
Sometimes it will take great courage to be honest, Caleb, especially when you’ve done wrong and have to tell us about it. But always tell us. We love you, and will be proud of you for your honesty. Caleb, it is a noble title to be called “Trustworthy,” but a title that must be earned. We are confident that you will grow into a Knightly, Truthful, and therefore Trustworthy Man. And when others know you as Trustworthy, they will see God’s best shining out of your life: “They will see your good works and glorify our Father in Heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
Lastly, know this: In our home when you tell the truth you get good things, called blessings. But when you do not tell the truth and cannot be trusted, you receive consequences, and lose good things. We know you are ready for this Virtuous Challenge! Sign here to let us know that you understand and are up for this challenge!
With your help, and God's Spirit at work in my life, I can tell the truth,
We will help you,
This is the first year we've included our other boys in our character training. Last weekend my husband and I gathered all three of our sons together, we lit a candle, sat indian style in a circle, and passed out our first "Family Values Contract." Every night this week I have read over our family values contract with the boys individually and they are all able to quote our new motto:
We Honor our Parents, Prefer our Brothers, and Encourage Others...
They are just words to them now, but ones that we think are important enough for them to learn, understand, and adapt as their own personal values. It's not easy, but we esteem it enough to make it a priority. What values / character traits are you intentionally weaving into the lives of your young ones? How?