When I was pregnant with my fourth, I started watching the show “Parenthood”. While there was a lot of dysfunction between the four adult siblings, I loved the camaraderie that they had and the way they were there for each other. And then I found out that my fourth would be a girl, making our total 2 boys and 2 girls, just like the siblings on Parenthood.
I began to contemplate how to be deliberate about raising my kids in a way that would encourage them to love spending time together as adults. This was especially important for me because there is a decade between my oldest and my youngest and so I wanted to make sure I did all that I could to help my kids truly enjoy each other.
Thus began my quest and my mission…
How do you raise siblings who enjoy spending time together?
1. Encourage them to appreciate their siblings’ differences. It’s easy when my kids are all enjoying the same thing, but what about when one wants to read and another wants to play games? Or one wants to ride his bike around the neighborhood, but his little sister can’t keep up? I am seeing how important it is to encourage my kids to enter into their sibling’s interests and to spend time doing things that might not be their first choice in activities in order to appreciate and show love to their siblings.
As I have been encouraging my kids to practice appreciating each other, I am seeing how this is important for their development in all relationships. It’s really about loving others well and living selflessly, valuing the interests of others. Sound familiar? Check out Mark 12:30-31 and Philippians 2:1-4 . What better place to start than with their siblings?
2. Show them how to be there for each other in the good times and the bad. My youngest recently had a doctor’s appointment, a follow up to a series of appointments and surgeries she has had to endure in her young life. Now that we are homeschooling our kids, all of her siblings came along. As we waited for the doctor to come into the examination room, I watched as my older kids played with their sister, pushing cars around a board and showing her their uvulas. It was the best appointment my sweet girl has ever had. She calmly allowed herself to be examined.
These same siblings cheer for her when she pirouettes around the living room. They go to the recitals and concerts, the Taekwondo testing and competitions, because we want them to be involved in each other’s lives. The world will never revolve around one of our children to the exclusion of another. We fell into that a bit last year which was a strong impetus to homeschooling. All of our children are important, because they are each unique individuals created in the image of God. If we want them to enjoy each other, we must not allow environments where they have reason to resent one another.
3. Take every opportunity to make memories together. The more memories you make with all of your kids, the stronger their bond will be. When they are old, they will be able to say “remember when…?” and share the memories. My kids have already started reminiscing about past memories we have made and it is incredibly sweet. I love hearing their perspectives. They are determined to make memories with our younger ones who don’t remember any of the other places we have lived.
Not all memories will be great ones, but even in those, you can show your kids how to find the humor in them. “Remember when we lost the keys, Mom?!!” or “Remember the time we got stung by hornets?!!” And I remind them of the relief we had when we found them and the compassion we were able to show to each other, because we genuinely understood the pain we experienced. The more memories you have made together, the more you want to make. And so, we are making lots of memories, because I want my kids to never stop sharing experiences together!
4. Do not allow unfair criticisms or put downs of siblings. We have strong personalities among our kids. A couple of their personalities clash. When this happens, my kids can be mean to each other. We don’t let it go. We challenge it every time. At times, this is exhausting, but we know that are faithfulness in this will pay off. We are already seeing results of this. The clashes we have expected in homeschooling have not occurred as often as we expected. Our kids are learning to be kind to one another.
Kindness is integral to enjoying each other. Of course, they will not always see eye to eye, but they can always be kind. There will be times when they will hurt each other, but our prayer is that as we challenge them to be sensitive to each other, that they will be able read those times and be quick to apologize and not hold on to bitterness.
5. Have fun without constantly comparing or competing. I am convinced that the only way to enjoy spending time with siblings is to be content being with them, not always longing for other or better experiences. There are 10 years between my girls and 4 years between my boys, so there are times when the older ones want to do big kid things and the younger ones feel left out. But we work hard at bridging those gaps, allowing our kids to have their own things, but imploring them to be fully present with their siblings when it is brother time or sister time. The results of this have been delightful.
We have the privilege of watching our kids truly enjoy each other. It’s not perfect. There are challenges and it takes work, but the results have already been worth our efforts. Our prayer is that they would continue to enjoy each other more and more.
What do you do to encourage your children to enjoy each other?
We are 6 weeks into our first year of homeschooling and I can officially say that it has been the best decision for our family. But as amazing as it has been, I have also had moments where I have felt incredibly isolated.
Our decision to home school our four children was made surprisingly easily. It was surprising, because overall our kid’s 21 combined years of education have been excellent. Our kids have been blessed with some great teachers along the way and they have excelled academically and socially despite some early speech delays, focus issues and shyness that they have had to overcome.
In spite of the goodness of their schooling, our lives had become increasingly more frantic. I felt like I was constantly forgetting something- after school practices, signed permission slips, spelling test reviews, initialing home assignments, filling out practice records, making lunches, keeping track of three different start times and bus schedules. By the time our kids came home at night, they were almost as tired and grumpy as I was, but they still had to complete their homework. The worst time of the day was when I needed to be making dinner. Consequently, when my husband arrived home, we were often all stressed and unhappy.
We knew that something needed to change.
We spent the summer preparing for the home school year; choosing curriculum, purchasing new furniture and supplies needed to do school at home, preparing the kids for this transition and reading everything we could. By the time our first day of school came around, we were ready to begin.
I knew in my head that this was going to be good for our family, but I didn’t expect it to be great. It has been. There are times in the day when I feel absolutely giddy. I get to read books to my kids that I want to read to them. If I think they need to write a review, I get to choose that. If they are tired, I know why and taking breaks are at my own discretion. I can make up art projects that coincide with what they are learning in history. I can have my son make banana bread and double the recipe when he is working on doubling in math. If it’s a beautiful day, we might decide to go on a hike and look for fairy houses or go to the beach in the middle of the day.
The kids love that they don’t have homework, but the amazing thing is that they do work in their free time without even realizing it. As I am writing this, I am sitting with my sons who are playing Minecraft and building spaceships and lunar landers complete with the command modules and heat shields, the result of studying astronomy in science and watching NASA documentaries. My daughter is working on a notebook that she is making for a friend. She has spent hours on this project and it is quite elaborate and imaginative. The fact that my kids are using their free time in these ways is amazing to me.
Incredible as all of this has been, I have also experienced feelings of isolation. I haven’t quite figured out how to balance everything in my life. While making dinner has become in many ways dreamy, laundry and housecleaning continue to be haphazard and overwhelming. Faithfulness in my part time job is challenging, because I am adapting to a new schedule, one that isn’t even close to the flexibility I used to enjoy. My interactions with friends have changed. I find that I forget to respond to texts and emails. Phone calls, while difficult before homeschooling, are nearly impossible now! One night, I completely forgot that I had signed up to bring dinner to a new mom. So, while the school mom pressures have been taken away, I have a new set of pressures that are weighing me down.
I think the hardest part in all of this and what leaves me feeling isolated is not being able to talk freely about it all. If I shared every moment that has been amazing or all of the things we have been able to experience, I know that I would very quickly annoy everyone (including myself!). I want to be careful with the information I share, especially as my kids are getting older and are more sensitive to things being said about them.
But I am an extrovert! I love being able to share experiences with people I love and as a result I am feeling a bit… well, isolated! In my attempts to not be annoying, I am feeling shut off.
And so, I think I might start sharing a little more here. My blog has been pretty quiet of late and as I talk to many of my friends in the blog world, this seems to be a general trend. In some ways, I am thankful for this quietness, because it gives me the freedom to share here without worrying about the whole annoying-the-masses thing.
If you have made it this far in all of my ramblings, thank you. It’s not good for an extrovert to feel isolated for too long and so I am thankful for this place to share what is on my heart. While choosing to home school our kids feels like a huge shift, it is also the natural progression of our lives. I would love for you to stick around for this crazy ride!
Sometimes I feel like I was born into a world with a set of rules that I don’t know. I feel this endless need to figure out what everybody else already seems to know. I always feel a step behind.
The youngest of three girls, I felt like I was always trying to catch up. My earliest memory of this was when I was 4 and my sisters told me that I needed to accept Jesus into my heart. They of course had already made this decision and I didn’t want to be left out. After all, my sisters were the most important people in my life (besides my parents!) and I wanted to be just like them.
Fast forward three years and we are riding bikes in our neighborhood. My little legs are pumping as fast as they can go, but I can’t quite keep up with my sisters and our friend. I try harder, but I’m still behind. I fly down a hill and the next thing I know, the back wheel doesn’t respond the way that it is supposed to and suddenly I am flung to the earth. I experience a searing pain as my legs scrape across the pavement. The taste of blood and tears and dirt are forever embedded in my memory.
Around this same time, we met a family who also had three girls, the oldest the same age as my oldest sister and the twins born the year in between my middle sister and myself. In my young mind, I thought that this might possibly be the best thing ever! But it wasn’t. Turns out that the twins didn’t want to play with me, because I was too little. This memory is still painful for me. I remember asking my mom why they didn’t like me. She didn’t have an answer for me and it was the first time that I felt the pull to be someone different than who I was in order for others to like me.
First grade was rough, because I didn’t feel like my teacher liked me (are you sensing a theme? You would be right!). I remember being scared of her and by the end of the year, my parents decided to move us to a Christian school on the other side of the city. And for the third time in my young life, I was the new kid. Everyone else knew each other. They talked about Kindergarten and seemed to know what to do when we went out for recess. And so I tried to fit in. I excelled at learning the catechism. I sat up straight with my hands folded perfectly on the desk. But I couldn’t quite force myself to play with the other girls when there was a soccer game going on! And so, I played with the boys in my uniform jumper with the knee high socks.
I was different than my sisters, yet my heart longed to love the same things that they loved. I wanted to be included in the conversations. I wanted to enjoy reading, because they looked like they were having so much fun sitting under their blankets engrossed by words that were beyond my grasp. But even though I tried, I was still a step behind. I was thrilled when I got a fishing rod for my birthday. I spent hours by myself hopping from rug to rug in our basement trying to avoid the alligators that were anxious to get at my feet! I was different.
And then we moved and I was the new girl for the fourth time. If things were difficult in second grade, they were compounded in fourth. Our new home was in a tightly knit country town. Everybody knew everybody and I didn’t know anybody. I could feel the curious eyes looking at me. Me in my skirts and dresses, always a bit of an oddball all the while screaming inside, I’m fun! I’m likable! Like me! Like me! But I was two steps behind.
Over time, I caught up in some areas. I fell in love with reading. I made friendships that have lasted into adulthood. Eventually, my Daddy loosened up a bit and understood that his tomboy daughter would continue to play football with the boys, so wearing dresses was probably not the best idea. But I always seemed to stay that step behind, getting closer, but never quite catching up.
I began to gravitate towards friendships with others who would understand me. I spent a lot of time in my high school years with my Daddy, because he didn’t expect me to be anything more than who I was and he loved me for me. I felt the pressures elsewhere. It wasn’t that anyone put those on me, as much as I put expectations on myself. Of course, there was the one Christmas when I received a potato peeler as a stocking stuffer. I’ll be honest with you. I cried. I was in college, but I had no interest in cooking and once again, I felt behind. I was supposed to like this stuff apparently, yet I didn’t. At all.
As I look back on my life now, I can see that my personality combined with my life experience lent itself to this endless questioning of self. Why am I different? Why do I always feel a step behind? Why do these things feel like such a struggle for me when everyone else seems to naturally know what to do? The result of these questions has been attempts throughout my life to catch up to others who I feel are a few steps ahead of me or to please others so that I will feel like they are happy with me.
A few years ago, I was singing the song “Amazing Grace” which I have probably sung a thousand times in my life, but this particular time, I stopped to consider what really is so amazing about grace? It struck me that for all of my knowledge of scripture, all of my pursuit of Christ, all of my service, I didn’t really have a firm grasp on what grace was. And so, I began a personal quest to discover why grace really is amazing. (Even with this, I feel like I am behind everyone else. I’m a pastor’s kid and a pastor’s wife. I should understand grace, right?!!).
What I am beginning to discover is that the more I understand God’s strength, the more I understand my own weakness. And the more I recognize sin in my own life, the more I understand why I need grace. The more I allow grace to be poured into my life, the more amazing it becomes.
The more I understand grace, the less pressure I feel to catch up with others. I am beginning to allow Christ to pull my fingers off of my tight grasp of pleasing all the people and truly understand that He is my audience. I’m realizing something else on this journey. There might be times when I feel off kilter because I don’t know the unspoken rules, but it is when I feel this way that I depend on Jesus the most. So as hard as those times are and as much as I would prefer to be in control and just know what others seem to know intrinsically, I am learning to embrace those times as an opportunity to grow and hopefully to be changed.
It has been a slow process for me, but I am beginning to accept that there are people who don’t like me. And there will always be people who will be further down the road than me. This is okay. Because I am not supposed to be winning the approval of the masses or even the individuals whom I long to please. Give me Jesus! And I’m not supposed to be in step with every person in my life (how silly of me to even think that was possible!). Only Jesus!
I might always and forever be a step behind others, but I am learning contentment in this place where God has placed me. Perhaps you are able to identify with me because I am not so far ahead that I feel inaccessible. Or maybe you see me a few steps behind you and you are filled with compassion and a desire to spur me on. But mostly, I hope that wherever you are at on your journey, we can link arms together and encourage one another to keep pressing on.
I might always be a step behind, but the important thing is that I am on the right path!
My daughter had her first official babysitting experience recently. A couple of days later, it struck me that my husband and I should be able to go on a date any time now. If she is old enough to babysit other kids, she is mature enough and capable enough to watch her younger siblings.
This is a new era for us and one that I am ready to embrace!
And so, Dave and I went on a spur of the moment date and it felt a lot like college to me (even though we have officially known each other for half of our lives- this is a very weird thought and a comfortable one all at once!). We ate dinner in the city and then walked hand in hand to a coffee shop where we enjoyed the best latte I have ever had in my entire life (and I have enjoyed a lot of lattes!).
As we talked, one of the main subjects we kept returning to was the idea of intentional living. We tend to be spontaneous people, but God has been teaching us to live with intention and purpose these past few years. As we pondered the work that God has been doing in our hearts, we both could see that writing in my blog for 5 1/2 years has forced me to be deliberate and to desire to live my life with intention.
Those who know me well (and even casually!), know that I am a bit of a mess. My crazy, creative brain never quite shuts down. I’m constantly spinning many little balls and I drop important ones quite often. There are people who will only experience the ones that I keep spinning and they are amazed. How do you do it all? they ask and I cringe inside. I don’t! I want to cry out. I will let you down. My battery will die on my phone when I am supposed to return a call. I will inevitably be late to most appointments (and I can give you the myriad of reasons for my tardiness, but that’s not the point). I will forget to send the birthday card and gift until it’s ridiculously late and then I will feel embarrassed and not send it at all. I will forget to call on important occasions.
If you could get inside my head, you would know that I am constantly a little bit irritated with myself and my inability to keep it all together.
This is why living intentionally is so important. Too often, I let life happen to me instead of determining how I will happen to my life. As we have sought to live with intention, it has opened our lives to possibilities we would not have been prepared for had we not sought purpose and meaning in all that we do.
The biggest result of intentional living has culminated in our decision to homeschool our children. Our lives had become crazed, tied to schedules that were beyond our control. Even with the limits we had placed on the number of activities our kids could be involved in, we still felt a push and pull on our lives as we desperately tried to get from one thing to the next. We felt frantic rather than intentional.
When we moved to Rochester five years ago, life slowed down for me in an amazing way. I stopped trying to please everyone (to be clear, this was self imposed as much as it was pressure from those around me) and was given the opportunity to rest and recover. I discovered that God didn’t need me to do His work. Rather He invited me to be a part of what He was doing, but when I got those two things confused, my life would quickly derail. The past five years have been a relinquishing of the control I have tried to have on my life and trusting in God to lead and direct my paths.
After a ridiculously busy time in our lives this past Spring, my husband and I decided that we would never allow our lives to get that busy again. We knew we needed to make some changes, but didn’t realize that God was already changing us! And then one night, I had a conversation with one of my children that broke my heart. As I told my husband what had been said, he responded with I think we need to consider homeschooling. My immediate response of I agree surprised me, but upon reflection, I can see how God was preparing both of our hearts.
A sweet couple in our church recently welcomed a precious baby boy into their family. I signed up to bring a meal and promptly forgot, because I didn’t write it down. I remembered as soon as I received a text from a very gracious friend after the time I should have delivered the meal. My heart sank. Of all of the things I could have forgotten, this should not have been one of them!!
It was a reminder to me that even my best efforts will not be perfect. I still have a ways to go in my desire to live with intention. But as I was pondering these things and beating myself up a little, my friend sent me a text and in it she said life-giving words- you are deeply loved. What a gift to be reminded that my worth is not tied up in what I do or don’t do. I will continue to mess up and fail. This is something I know for sure.
I am free to fail and free to get it right, because the way my friend loves me is how my God loves me. His love is not based on how good I am. He holds no record of wrongs. I don’t have to jump through hoops to please Him. I don’t have to wonder if there is an end to His patience with me. His faithfulness is great!
My response to this kind of love is a deep desire to live with intention, because this kind of love compels me to live well. I want to grow and change, because pleasing a God who will never fail me has become my heart’s desire.
I want to live with intention!