Republican, or Democrat? Mitt Romney, or Barack Obama? With pre-election hype now at fever-pitch a week before the polls, it is easy to get either fed-up or worked-up with politics! Being an informed voter is certainly important, but we think the most important politics for a parent to engage in are the politics of their own home.
As candidates push their political agendas and make campaign promises of policy goals for the years to come, take a moment to reflect on the “politics” in your family. What goals do you have for raising your children? It is important to consider not only what “policies” will guide your family in the years to come, but also how you will teach them to your children.
Jess was a parent who told me that the politics; the rules and expectations in his home, were clearly designed to help his children learn respect, responsibility, and faith. When asked how he thought his children knew these policies he responded simply by saying, “They’re written down and I speak with my children about them all the time.”
It is a good thing to write our rules and discuss them with our children on a consistent basis. But the values our children embrace at a heart level are primarily based not on what we tell them, but on what they experience from us. Just like attack ads that highlight the hypocrisy of candidates who promise one thing and do another, our kids notice when our words and actions do not line up! When Jess explained to me that one of the policies of his household was respect, I asked him, “Other than what you’ve told your children and written down about respect, how do they learn about respect from you?”
Jess is an honest man. He thought for a moment, then said, “Well, I guess what I say to my children about respect and the way they see me act are sometimes two totally different things.” After more thought about this Jess was able to admit, “When my children are disrespectful I lose patience with them. I get quickly stern and often yell. I take away toys that have nothing to do with their disrespect. And you know, I gotta confess that even the way I treat my wife in front of my children is often pretty disrespectful. The truth is, I’m not very respectful a lot of the time. So based on my behavior, I guess our real policy is that disrespect is a main way to get things done. No wonder my kids yell at each other so much!”
If this story sounds oddly familiar, you are not alone. Most of us struggle to consistently act according to the rules and expectations we set for our children. It is a normal and natural part of the human struggle with ego, selfishness, and pride. As a result there are numerous unwritten policies in each of our lives, and in each of our homes, that may not be consistent with what we have written down or what we say. The way we handle this discrepancy is yet another policy we set.
Based on our brief conversation, Jess decided to make a policy change. He confessed to his children and wife how thoughtless he had been and asked for forgiveness and patience in his new efforts to rewrite the household policy about respect – not with a pencil, but with his behavior.
Wouldn’t it be great if more people practiced the kind of politics Jess decided to practice in his home? Join us in praying that leaders, politicians, and we in our homes would act out our values and write policies with our behavior instead of just a pencil. For it is in the “politics” of our homes — the rules, the expectations, and the guidelines we live out with our children — that they will learn the values, character, and skills they will take with them into their future lives.