Last year, I wrote about 7 ways to prioritize your family in the new year. I encouraged parents to choose one and act on it. We still use these activities in our family.
But what I learned as a Dad last year, and what I’m continuing to learn, is that prioritizing our family requires us to look in the mirror.
What do I mean? Consider Jesus’ second greatest commandment, “Love others as you love yourself.”
It’s hard to love others if you don’t love yourself. Put another way, you can’t give from an empty tank.
This shows up even more dramatically as parents. On Christmas morning we were opening presents. Because of the cold, everybody had been cooped up inside and had lots of energy. Couple that with the joy and chaos of opening Christmas presents and there was a lot of bouncing off the walls, running around, decreasing patience, lots of wrapping paper, and little LEGO pieces laying on the floor.
Yes, our 5-year-old son wanted to stop everything and put his LEGO set together. My wife, Christi, was eager to get some breakfast, so she obliged. I reluctantly dug in.
Unfortunately, what should have been a super fun moment became quite a disaster. Have you ever tried to keep 266 pieces from getting lost in the carpet? Or picked up and thrown away with the wrapping paper? My stress level was at about an 8 out of 10 that morning.
Noticing my level of frustration, Christi walked over to offer “help.” In her loving attempt to help me get the LEGO’s cleaned up and do it later, and help bring me from an 8 to a 4, she picked up the tiny open bag with the smallest, tiniest, most minuscule LEGO pieces for the set, and threw it away in the wrapping paper trash bag because she thought it was garbage.
I. May. Have. Lost. It.
It wasn’t a good moment. Our son, watching closely, acted out. Christi’s feelings were crushed. And Christmas morning looked very unlike the Cleaver’s.
Fortunately, Christi forgave me, we reconciled, and we learned from it so that we don’t repeat that moment again.
Which is what’s most important. Why? Because one of the biggest mistakes I believe we make as parents is that we too often get hung up on our kid’s behavior. Their acting out. Their lolly-gagging around when we’re in a hurry. Their inability to sit still or listen. So what do we do? We take out our frustrations on our kids—or on our spouse in front of our kids.
Yet, focusing on our kids is not what research shows matters when it comes to child outcomes. In fact, one research study found that discipline was the 7th most effective parenting strategy to get the outcomes we desire in our kids. What was number one?
Showing love and affection. But remember, you can’t give love and affection from an empty tank.
Do you know what the second and third most effective parenting strategies were for getting the outcomes we desire most in our kids?
#2. A parent’s ability to manage their own stress.
Ouch. Failed there on Christmas morning.
#3. How we treat our spouse, or the co-parent.
Double ouch. Definitely blew it there too.
If you’re a parent, please don’t miss this. The top three most important things you can do for your kids have to do with you and who you’re becoming, not them.
So in 2018, don’t just choose activities to prioritize your family. Choose you. Your kids become who you are.
Throughout 2018, ask yourself: How am I growing?
- Am I who I want my kids to grow up to be?
- Is this a behavior I want them to pick up?
- Is this how I want their spouse treating them?
- Am I showing them the love of Jesus today by how I treat them, or others?
As Brene Brown writes, “Who we are, and who we are becoming, is a much stronger predictor of how our kids turn out than what we know about parenting.”
Focus on you—becoming a better human—this year. It may be the most selfless and single best thing you do for your family.