Hello, and welcome to Parent Like You Mean It – the podcast where we talk about parenting with intentionality, versus just letting life happen to you and your kids, all with the aim of developing outstanding values and character in our kids. My name is Jefferson Drexler, and just like many of you, I stumble around my house before my morning coffee, falling victim to random puncture wounds from stray legos in the carpet and wet socks from unreported milk puddles. But, like the old saying goes, I don’t cry over spilled milk, though I may shed a tear as I extract a double convex two-by-two from my heel! (that’s the sloped, pointy legos with eight corners!)
This week, we’re going to talk about something that my wife and I really just stumbled on along the way, but has become a huge part of our family’s life: Morning and Evening Routines.
Now, I wish that I could say that we are one of those perfect Christian families where everyone wakes up with a smile on their face at 6:30 every morning with no other goal but to do family devotions and serve one another.
That ain’t us.
There are six of us in our household, and that ain’t a single one of us.
By and large, we hate mornings. We struggle through them just so we can get to the good part of the day, which is any part of the day that isn’t morning.
Yet, despite that, we still have morning routines.
We all have them, really – at least those of us who have an ounce of dignity and hygiene do. Think about it: at some point in the morning, we eat (or at least feed the minions) breakfast. We brush our teeth and make sure the littles do as well. We bathe, do our hair, get dressed, get the kids to school (or, if you homeschool, you get them to the table… or couch… or carpet… somehow you get them somewhere to begin learning).
Anyway, what I’m saying is that even if you’re like us and you don’t do mornings well, you have some sort of a morning routine. You have a rough checklist of things that need to be taken care of before the clock strikes 10:00 (by the way, did I mention pack the kids lunch and make sure they take them with them? That’s one that too often gets forgotten). So, instead of just letting the mornings get the best of you, would it be possible to seize a bit of it to intentionally plant seeds that develop your kids’ values and character?
I say – despite the way most mornings appear – I emphatically say YES!
One little thing that we incorporated into our mornings is having each kid list off the “Four Most Important Things”.
Now, this list may be different in your home than in ours. In fact, the list evolved over time and for a while it actually had five items on it. To be totally transparent, the list began as a daily reminder for my oldest and the other three just kind of inherited it as they grew older, but they now own it as their own as much as the oldest does, and the oldest still recites the list just as he did five years ago.
So, what’s on our list?
It’s actually very simple:
- Love Jesus.
- Love others.
- Have self-control.
- Don’t lie.
Now, for those of you who are familiar with the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, will see my blatant plagiarism of the first two. When Jesus, Himself, was asked, “What the most important commandment”, He replied, “The single most important? I’ll give you two: Love God and love one another.” (my own translation). If these two things are important enough for Jesus to list them, then they’re good enough to top my family’s list as well.
The next two? Well, they derived out of circumstance. When our oldest was about five or six, we had some real self-control and lying issues. They were added to the list then, and we’ve found it a good thing that they remain on the list throughout the years.
Now, there was a season where a fifth item made the list: Don’t lose your hoodie. Amazingly, once we made him suffer through a cool day without his hoodie, he kept track of it and we haven’t had to scour through the lost and found since then.
“But, when are we all supposed to gather and recite this list??” I’m sure you’re asking. Well, that’s entirely up to you and your routine. It could be over breakfast cereal. It could be right after rinsing their mouths after brushing their teeth. For us, it’s in the car on the way to school. We actually participate with a charter school, where the kids are in a public classroom two days a week and at home three days a week, so as I drive them to school, starting at about two-blocks from the parking lot, I ask them, one at a time, “What are the four most important things?”. And they recite them. Sometimes, if time is short, they all say the four together (usually in different orders, but the information still comes out of their mouths). If there is extra time (usually if the drop-off line is backed up), then I ask them to choose one that they will try to work hardest on that day. To mix it up, I’ll sometimes ask them to say the list backwards. Now, since the list isn’t really numerical, “backwards” could mean anything from starting with “Don’t lie” and ending with “Love Jesus”, to hearing them try to put a list together that resembles, “lie don’t; control-self have; others love; Jesus love” – to which I do my best Yoda impression and reward them with “Well, you have done. Jesus you must love.”
That’s it. That’s our morning routine. A simple list of four things recited, two blocks away from the school parking lot.
It doesn’t seem like much at all, but I guarantee you, once you start doing that, and continue to do it, once you’ve done it a hundred times a year for five years, the message actually starts to seep through their thick skulls and reside in their little brains.
Now, they don’t always want to participate every morning. And this is where you, the parent with presumably good judgment, needs to make the call. You need to compel them to do it, without detonating a code-red situation in the backseat of the minivan. And, the truth is, if they miss a day, it’s not the end of the world. However, the next day, you may need to remind them as they get into the car what lies ahead in about five minutes so that they can get their mind and attitude ready to ramble off the list. And yes, even strong-willed children will eventually get on board – especially when it becomes fun every now and then.
So, that’s the morning routine. Like I said, we keep it simple and weave it into our everyday duties.
Our evening routine is a little bit more involved.
Again, we all have some sort of evening routine already: get the kids in their pajamas, get teeth brushed, pick up the legos (okay, maybe that’s just my house) and get into bed.
Once in bed, we do a few things with them. Now, first off, three out of our four boys have chosen to share a room, so that makes this part a little easier for us. But you could just as easily have everyone gather in one room for this routine before bed. Sometimes we read to them. My wife will often choose something like Boxcar Children, and I usually pick something like Disney’s Kingdom Keepers. Typically, once she or I start a book, then that parent has “night time duties” until the book is done. Then, just before lights-out, we have evening prayers. Each kid prays, followed by either me or my wife. It’s important to teach them to talk with God, to have them make their best efforts at it, and to model it for them. If they’re not comfortable with it, keep it simple. If you’re not comfortable with it, keep it simple. I promise, God is cool with simple evening prayers from any of us.
Now, just before prayers, we squeeze in one more element into our evening routines. We call it “High/Low”. To be honest, I stole it from the movie “The Story of Us” with Bruce Willis and Michelle Pfeiffer. I’ll be blunt – it’s not the greatest movie ever. Definitely not the feel-good-comedy of the summer, but it had this great moment that we stole and continue to steal just about every night.
Just before prayers, each kid has to list off at least one high point of the day and at least one low point of the day.
This helps them remember what happened throughout the day versus letting one day’s events simply bleed into the next. By listing off the day’s “high”, it helps develop gratitude and appreciation in their character. Now, this could be as obvious as “My high was going to Disneyland” to something as simple as “My high was playing with my friends at lunch”. Highs are typically pretty easy to pry out of them each night.
Lows are tougher. But they are important. On some days, having them recall their low point can help them own their mistakes. It can also put one of their siblings in the position of owning THEIR mistake (“My low was when Matthew punched me”). Now, assuming that the “low moment” was taken care of earlier in the day, this is not a time to re-reprimand the kid. There shouldn’t be any double-jeopardy at bed time. It’s just a time to reflect on the day. In our house, we often hear, “I didn’t have a low”. Which is actually a good thing. Be careful, though when they try to pull that one when you know that they had gotten busted that afternoon for lying and actually did have a “low” in their afternoon.
After all is said and done, when the day has the four most important things at its start and reflection of the day before turning down, you will see a marked difference in their decision making and values.
But we don’t’ have perfect attendance when it comes to these routines. And as much as I encourage you to incorporate things like this into your routines, I also have to emphasize that you don’t become legalistic with them. Obviously, if they fall asleep in the car on the way home from Disneyland, you don’t need to wake them up so that they can tell you how much fun they just had at Disneyland. Let’s just assume that since they had to be carried in from the car that they had a good day.
Another cool thing we’ve noticed is that as we maintained these regular routines with our oldest the twins who are four years younger than him wanted to join in on the fun – completely on their own – as they got to be two or three years old. And, now that our youngest is three, he also wants to join in as well.
We’ve been doing it for so long now, it’s just part of our days. They’re not time-eating inconveniences, but parts of the day that the kids look forward to. And, on the random occurrence where one of the boys comes up to me in the middle of the afternoon and says, “Daddy, in case I forget tonight, right now is my high” – that’s when I’m reminded that we might be doing something right (even if that “right thing” is simply bedtime).
Anyway, that’s a peek into a couple little somethings we intentionally do in our house with our kids. I’m not saying it’s the best way to raise amazing children, but I can say that we’ve seen these routines plant effective seeds in all four of our little guys. So far we’re batting a thousand, but the game is still young.
So until next week, that’s just one way that my wife and I Parent Like We Mean It.
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