My kids are brilliant little humans. They can sniff out a lecture or a virtue lesson in seconds. They probably recognize it in my demeanor or tone, but as soon as I start in, they tune out.
Over the years, I’ve learned to better deliver the truth and values that are important to my family by being creative. While I unashamedly and directly speak about Jesus and our faith, my goal is to make the “lesson” feel more like an adventure than a lecture, like sneaking carrots into brownies. And before my children even know what’s happening, they’ve had fun working on virtuous tasks.
As much as I love to share my heart with my kids, I’ve learned they mostly want to be heard. So at dinner, I ask questions — the more, the better — and I mix in silly questions with real ones. Sometimes the person responding will use a fake microphone or speak with an accent, which adds to the laughter.
I ask questions like:
- What would you do if you noticed a friend being bullied on the playground?
- Would you rather eat a rotten egg or burned brussels sprouts?
- What would you do if a friend kept talking about you behind your back?
- Would you rather wear your pants backward to school or wear no shoes to school?
My kids don’t get it right every time, but I’m encouraged when they do. Recently, a teacher wrote to me: “I just watched Larson escort the new student down the hall with her arm around her and the biggest smile.”
Create moments for generosity
It’s not often my kids are in a position to be generous with their time and money. However, when we’ve made time to do that as a family, I’ve seen the very best of my children. They are generous; they just need opportunities to show it.
I'm always on the lookout for any time our church or community offers a chance for families to serve together. I’ve also found that asking our kids if they have ideas on how to love and serve our neighbors can create opportunities where they are most invested. My girls have brainstormed unique ideas, from lemonade stands for charity to coordinating a class gift for their teachers. It’s fun to watch them get hooked on generosity.
This activity sets the stage for a discussion: I pull out my phone or a timer and have a family competition. Who can stay quiet the longest? Who can stand on one leg without moving the longest? Or when we go to a restaurant, I offer the dessert choice to the person who waits with the best attitude.
A child who waits well is headed toward becoming an adult who can wait on bigger things. Waiting for Mom to get off the phone or waiting their turn in a game seems small, but this will later translate into waiting for a job or a spouse or a house. Waiting is one of those skills that translates into trusting God well. Can they trust that God has their best interests in mind?
When I was with my youngest daughter at a gymnastics meet, I’ll never forget watching her wait as roughly 20 kids received their ribbons ahead of her. She clapped wildly for each one. Finally, they called her name, and we got to cheer wholeheartedly for her.
Share stories of faith
My husband and I have fun telling stories of faith. We read the Bible and learn about all the characters from Moses to Ruth to Mary. However, faith becomes very real and engaging when our children hear about their own grandparents, aunts and uncles, not just following God, but wrestling with God.
I tell stories in a dramatic voice at bedtime. My children laugh and listen closely because they want to hear more. It also opens the door to questions and comments about their own faith journey. I’ll never forget telling my kids how my mom (their meese) came to know Jesus during her years at college with my dad (their pop). They could not believe that Pop almost broke up with Meese over faith. It led to an engaging conversation about marriage and how important it is to be on the same page with a spouse concerning faith.
Open our lives
As I think about how I want my family to leave a legacy of faith and good virtues, I lean into Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Although this one isn’t a virtue, it creates the ideal environment for virtue to thrive. When we open our hearts, homes and lives to others, God brings other, unexpected families into our lives. Through these encounters — from offering acts of kindness to strangers, to serving families or practicing authentic friendships with community groups from church — our family has experienced Jesus and has learned that living out those virtues can indeed be fun.
This summer, I saw the best come out in all four of my kids as they served families with cancer at a camp. They were in their sweet spot playing with these kids, getting their meals and making their beds. It was the first time my kids had a solid week dedicated to living out their values with no other agenda. It was fulfilling to see the fruit of parenting, as God worked in their hearts.
Courtney DeFeo is author of In This House We Will Giggle.