The door to the suburban swung open and Everett jumped in after a full day with friends. He was tired but already mid-story. After we debriefed about his day, he asked what had been going on at home all day. I told him a few things we had done and then I added, “It was weird to have you gone all day, Everett! Our house is not the same when you aren’t in it.”
“Yes! This morning Haley said, “I wish Everett was here to play on the trampoline with me.” Then I heard Hudson say it feels strange to not have you here when we were eating lunch. Hobbes definitely is sad when you’re gone-no one wrestles with that dog like you do.”
I went on to tell Everett that his sense of humor is missed when he’s gone. “Plus, I didn’t trip over any collections all day. What am I supposed to do without your collections at my feet?” I teased.
This is a typical conversation I have with each kid nearly every time they’re gone for a considerable amount of time. It’s a conversation I have very intentionally. Sean and I were involved in youth ministry for a decade and a half. One thing that broke my heart repeatedly was how discarded so many of our teens feel. Many of them don’t feel missed when they’re gone. They don’t feel valuable and don’t know that they have something unique to offer. Their homes consist of people going separate directions and not establishing any community or united purpose under their own roof. The lack of purpose contributes to feelings of worthlessness, depression, and a disconnect to community. I vowed to point out to each of my kids their value and place in our family every chance I get.
I’m not just feeding my kids’ egos. (They have a way of seeing through it if I do.) I truly see a hole when they are gone. Our household is set up in a way that gives them responsibility and contribution. Each person is responsible for an animal/group of animals each day. They help with laundry, dishes, and most importantly–they help each other. The child who is egg collector keeps the child feeding the chickens company out to the coop. (That may seem small but when you’ve encountered rodents of unusual size, opossum, and dead chickens in the coop, back up is essential.)
The older kids help Haley with homework and reading. Haley helps me with baking and cooking. They "team clean" the kitchen floor which entails 4 sponges, a bucket of pine sol, music cranked up, and quickly evolves into taking turns "slip n sliding". In the summer they gather vegetables, help weed the garden and take out garbage. When a person is missing, it’s more work for all of us. When they complain about chores they hear my, "We're a team and you are an important player" speech.
Don’t get me wrong–my family doesn’t always make my life easier. When Everett is gone for the day, I have less than half of the clutter and mess to deal with. When Haley doesn’t help with cookie bars, I get them done faster and with less egg shells. But we are all part of this family unit; something bigger than our individual selves that we each have a role in.
While each family member has responsibilities we depend on, their value in our family isn’t only based on the tangible. Each person offers a different personality, perspective, and interests. Even if some are harder to get along with or take more energy, they are each intentionally picked by God to be around our table; giving and taking in this family.
We sit down as a family for breakfast and dinner. Last fall when Hudson’s football practice was over dinner hour, he asked if we could eat dinner at 4:30p so he wouldn’t miss out. Meals aren’t anything fancy, but it is a time we debrief about our day, make plans for the next day, pray together, and go over Bible verses we are memorizing. It’s completely chaotic but not haphazard. I’m intentionally teaching my kids how to ask questions, to notice their siblings, to build empathy and purpose (in between water spills, seconds, and “can I be excused NOW?!”). When we’re having intentional interactions throughout the day, it’s noticeable when someone is gone.
My kids are more than capable of getting their own snacks after school. But as often as possible, I set snacks out before the bus rolls in. I want them to know I was thinking about them before they pulled up. I want to grab each face as they fly in the door to say, “I missed you! Tell me about the day!” We have snacks, tell stories (because I also believe telling mundane day events as entertaining stories is a significant life skill), and go over papers together. Often, when I hear the old yellow bus creaking it’s way down our driveway and I’m still hurrying through paying bills, writing, or need to start one more load of laundry, I’d rather let them fend for themselves awhile. Then I remind myself I have an opportunity to set the tone. “You are valuable. You are missed when you aren’t here. You have something to offer”. Bills and laundry will still be there come evening.
We strategically plan sports and music seasons so each kid has breaks and everyone watches siblings when it’s their turn to have games. It’s hard in a competitive town and over scheduled culture but I still believe what they learn under my roof, in our family unit, will equip better than having a dozen things to entertain and train them in groups of peers.
Parenting is chock full of correction, training, discipline, and redirecting. Within that, I want my kids to understand that their identity and place in our family is not up for grabs. We're all a work in progress. We can work on the rough spots while celebrating who we are created to be. Negative self talk is brutal (and two of my kids battle it more than the others). They don't need me as another negative voice in their heads. May they hear me when I express that they are irreplaceable (and yes, I affirm this as I discipline and redirect).
I have a teenager now, and another one hot on her heels, only 17 months behind. This is what we’ve been training for, people! She’s getting busier and is gone after school at least three days a week right now. This season is picking up speed. In less than six years I will have four teenagers, all gaining independence and home much less.
Under this roof we push back against our individualistic society. We believe that being part of someTHING bigger is superior to being someONE bigger. My prayer is that the purpose, role, and identity we’ve ingrained in our kids as members of this family will expand and bleed into all areas of their lives. I hope they are empowered to contribute to their school community, their church, their town and country. When they are out in the wide world feeling overlooked and wondering if they have anything to offer, may they remember they are missed at home and the dinner table is a little lonelier without their plate. May their confidence not come from an over inflated view of self, but from the knowledge that God has created them on purpose for His purpose, which is much bigger than us alone.
Just throwing myself out there a bit...