Remember back in the eighties when we used to have “chicken pox parties”? Someone’s kids would come down with the chicken pox and a message would go out through the homeschool phone tree so anyone whose kids hadn’t had it yet could get it! We never went to any of them because we managed to catch the chickenpox from our uncle’s downstairs neighbor’s kids when they had it! We didn’t even go into the house, just talked to them through the window screen—but that was enough!
I was thinking about this the other day. We had just returned from a lengthy trip and the house was a mess of unpacking, the children were tired and quarrelsome, and everyone’s attitudes needed adjusting (including mine). Some of us had gotten up ready to sort things out and be peaceable, but the grouchies were quite contagious and had rapidly reached epidemic proportions!
I think we all think about influences and what we don’t want the children exposed to outside of our homes, but what about what’s within our own doors—the contagious attitudes and expressions that come out of our own hearts? How do we protect the children from those? Can we?
On those rough days, do we hear our own snotty tone coming out of our children’s mouths? Are they complaining because they hear us complain? Do they disrespect others (including their father) because they hear and see us doing just that? What are they “catching” in our home atmosphere?
Mamas, this is such a hard thing! To realize how aware we must be of ourselves—and our own hearts and souls—if we are to help our children learn to govern their hearts and souls! We can correct and discipline them, but in many ways it is a futile exercise if they don’t see us correcting and disciplining ourselves!
How do we do this? How do we work to ensure that it is the fruit of the Spirit that is the major contagion in our homes?
- Make our own hearts and attitudes a matter of constant prayer. Bring it to the Lord, every day, and throughout the day. Lean on Him for grace. Ask Him to protect our children from our faults. Make it clear to the children that this is where we go for help.
- Confess our faults. Ask the children to forgive us, even ask them to hold us accountable for certain faults that we are working on. Some families use a code word to let each other know that there is an attitude or tone that needs to be checked and changed.
- Determine to guard our tongues. Use fewer words, speak softly, and make our word, once given, unchangeable. Peace comes, in part, from knowing that the boundaries and expectations are not going to suddenly change. If we say only those things we mean to enforce and encourage, we won’t be caught with unmet expectations or unenforceable consequences.
- Seek accountability from our husbands or mom friends. We need to be honest and speak the truth about ourselves and to ourselves. When we are struggling with a sinful attitude or habit, we need to name it—“I’m really struggling with speaking harshly to the children when they…,” for example—and then be on guard against it. If late afternoon is the time when this crops up the most, then plan for that time and be particularly careful.
- Build habits of gentle, firm speech. Remember that habit-building takes time and give at least thirty days of consistent work before moving on to another habit. Set a positive habit to take the place of the negative one—saying something encouraging to each child every day in addition to having a firm, gentle instruction, for example—and track how you are doing.
- Notice the progress and comment on it. Plan on a reward of some kind once the habit is established and let the children help you keep track. They love to imitate you (they are hard wired to do so) and they will start to copy your better habits as they have copied the poor ones.
- Most of all, don’t give up! All of the grace you need for your calling as a mother is available from “him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20 ESV).
This article originally appeared on the website of the Home Educators Association of Virginia (https://heav.org) and is used with permission.