As we approached this Advent season, one of my daughters shared that soon she would be giving up treats to focus on Advent. It was one of those moments where you stop and wonder at the fact that your child has internalized something you have taught her and now is leading instead of following. It brings a joy similar to discovering that first time that your offspring made their bed without your morning reminder, or discovering your preschooler standing at the sink, toothbrush in hand, with no prompting.
I’m in a season of life where my kids seem to be hurtling toward independence and leaving the nest, and all I wanted to teach them has largely been learned, or hasn’t, and time is running out. For the most part, these are good days.
So, reading Justin Whitmel Earley’s book Habits of the Household: Practicing the Story of God in Everyday Family Rhythms made me reflect on our own family’s rhythms. Earley’s vision is mine: “We need a household rule of life if we are to become families that love the world like God loves us.”
Earley’s family is younger than mine. Still in the rough and tumble years, he and his wife are engaging in practices that I would love to go back and add to our routine. Waking and bedtime are intentional times; so is nearly every moment in between. He writes that “. . . the first role of a parent . . . is to root our household habits of waking in the truth of the gospel.”
Earley brings great wisdom to the key topics that parents need to consider in the formation of their young ones. He reminds us that parenting isn’t easy, and it isn’t supposed to be. A key chapter on screen time walks through the couple’s decision to take away all screens from their children (with rare exceptions). Most of us know this fight, and some of us have done better than others at prevailing over the temptation to parent with screens. Earley reminds us that a key part of parenting is discovering that freedom requires limits and teaching our children to find true freedom in being the people God intends them to be. “If we do not teach them that God made them who they are on purpose, man or woman and black or white, then screens will be happy to confuse their understanding of all those things,” he writes.
Earley is not legalistic. He is intentional. The outcomes are never guaranteed, and he doesn’t promise you an easy time of it, or a certain reward. The reality of parenting is that we are more than parents: we are children of God. We parent best when we let that sit squarely, when we let His love as the ever-merciful and wise father lead us.
Even in a book geared toward parents with younger children, I was challenged to see with heightened vision the liturgy of family life, and the moments I still have in which to instruct my children about work, play, marriage—all rooted in the depth of Christ’s love and sacrifice for all of us. Earley’s book lists, prayers, blessings, and questions bring fresh inspiration to engage in even the mundane things with a clear purpose.
Not every moment is perfect, not every lesson is learned. But as my family gathered on the first Sunday of Advent, I met the glowing eyes of my eldest child. “What do you love most about how we enter Advent?” I asked. “This,” he said. “The fire, the candles, all of us together, doing this together.” He’s slated to be gone by next fall, off to a new world. If I have helped him learn to value waiting, if I have helped him feel loved and accepted in a loveless, competitive world, if I have helped him know he belongs to us and to God, I’ve done what I could.
Photo credit: iStock. Following images courtesy of author.