Sit closer to the table. Eat over your plate. Hold your fork like you hold your pencil. Chew with your mouth closed. Don’t talk with food in your mouth. Move your cup so you don’t knock it over. That’s a green bean, not edamame. You don’t squeeze the beans out. Stop blowing bubbles in your chocolate milk.

When dinner time is over, our dining room looks like a war zone. There is food all over the table, the floor, the chairs. I don’t know how it happens. Our kids to stay in their seats, they eat whatever we make for dinner, but they still have so much to learn. I look forward to the day when they can all eat like normal human beings, but until that day, I think there are some deeper lessons to learn.

They’re Learning Even When We’re Not Teaching

We have three kids, from ages 3 to 9, and it’s amazing how slowly they learn to eat. It takes a lot of patience. Spilled milk on the table. Thousands of pieces of rice all over the floor. It’s a daily struggle! That can be frustrating for us as parents.

A lot of parenting can feel like a marathon. It’s a long and slow process, and while there are surely defining moments, many of the things we teach them occur on a daily basis. I need to stop and ask myself, am I making the most of those moments? There’s a very real danger in getting caught up in our routines. A lot of the day to day business with kids can be super mundane. Changing diapers (glad we’re done with that!), taking them to school, making sure homework is done, getting them ready for bed. They are things we do nearly every day, and sometimes it’s hard to see the big picture when we’re so deep in the weeds.

Instead of getting caught up in the tasks, I need to remind myself that I’m impacting my kids every day. My oldest is already 9! He’s halfway to an adult. The time that I have to influence him and teach him is slowly running out. While teaching our kids how to eat isn’t an extremely deep and meaningful subject, it’s easy to go through the motions and miss opportunities.

  1. Are we being intentional in our dinner conversations?
  2. Am I living with a joyful attitude, even during some of our routine tasks?
  3. Can I look for ways to include my kids in the day to day, even if it would be easier to do it myself?
  4. Are there lessons that I can teach along the way that I’m overlooking?
  5. Are we normalizing prayer and conversations about God in our daily lives?

There’s the old saying that “more is caught than taught.” The hard part is that our kids are “catching” during all the routine stuff. They’re learning what a family looks like, how parents talk to each other, how a parent treats a child, how we resolve conflict, and what we value with our time and money. Much of this they learn slowly through observation. We need to have conversations as parents, and be aware of what we’re teaching them through our actions and attitudes.

Plan for the Future, Focus on the Present

I’ve always had a bad habit of looking forward. Whether it was summer vacation, finishing my teaching credential, or getting married, I’ve always felt like I’ve had my eyes set on the future. Planning for the future is good, but if we focus too much on the future and what we don’t have yet, then there’s a danger of neglecting the present.

I’ve noticed this same “eye on the future” with my kids. When you’re changing the millionth diaper, or putting someone in another timeout, eventually there’s this feeling of get this over with already! Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad these phases of child rearing only last so long, because changing a diaper on your 10 year old would not be good.

Living in the moment is super cliché, but there should be a sense of urgency and value placed on every day. For myself, as I go through some of these tasks of raising children, I need to be aware of my attitude. I never want my children to feel like they’re a burden, or that I’m complaining about my tasks as a father. Even in the difficult times, or the brain numbing mundane, “Do everything without complaining” (Phillipians 2:14). Even when we feel like we’ve had as much as we can take, and we want nothing more than this season to be over, we have blessings that we need to stop and count.

Planning for the future is responsible, but we should never be so caught up with dreams of the future that we neglect the present. It’s what we do today that will shape who our children become.

Selfishness Robs Us of Opportunity

If I’m not mindful of the above, it’s easy to be derailed by selfishness. When I have the attitude that my wants are most important, I get bitter. My attitude sours, and I miss out on the opportunities I have with my kids. Teaching moments, or simply precious memory building time. Eternally speaking, the relationships I’m building with my kids should easily outweigh watching that next series on Netflix.

There will be ups and downs. Last night I was doing speech practice with my youngest, and I was loving every minute of it. But an hour before that, I was struggling to get through kids complaining that the cheese on their lasagna was burnt (it was just browned!), arguments about who got to sit by who, and a table that looked like the aftermath of a Game of Thrones feast.

My hope is that someday when my kids move out, and begin lives of their own, I won’t have any regrets. I’ll feel like I made the most of my time with them. We can either work hard today to make tomorrow better, or be selfish today at the expense of tomorrow. Only one of those works out well in the long run.

Now stop double-dipping in the salsa. No one wants to eat your spit.

Photo Credit to Daniel.

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