The Secret of a Healthy Everyday Family Life

As soon as a child arrives, you step out of a partnership and enter into the wide field of the family. A child breaks the habit of revolving round one another and it opens up a new area, but at the same time, it brings its limitations. There are people who cope with this radical change with ease. I did not manage it just like that, even though we were looking forward to our child very much. After the birth of the baby, I sometimes did not even manage to prepare lunch.

Finding a Routine

With every child (we now have ten) I had to find a new routine. Firstly, this requires patience with yourself on the one hand and, secondly, encouragement from your partner on the other. Thirdly, it helps if you plan carefully.

A Prioritised Weekly Plan

In times of change and pressure, it helps me to have a list of priorities. Therefore, I always have a notepad and pen lying in a certain place. It is also handy to have a piece of paper stuck on the inside of a kitchen cabinet. That's where I write down everything that I need to remember to do. For example, letter to Aunt N., grandpa's birthday, doctor's appointment, appointment with the school... Once a week I note the appointments down as a weekly plan.

A Prioritised Daily Plan

In the morning I write down a list of priorities for that day. I often do it during my prayer-time because I want God to be included in my plan. Afterwards, as well as my set appointments, I number my other duties. This way, I make sure that by the evening I have finished the most important jobs.

An Evening Together for the Couple Alone

With all of this, you should see the importance of planning set times of rest and rejoicing, e.g. one evening a week which belongs to the couple alone. This strengthens the unity between the couple, and consequently, the unity of the whole family.

Relaxation

It is necessary for a woman to have a time of rest during the day, when she can do something pleasant like reading, needlework, or listening to music. If you have something to look forward to, you have much more strength to cope with something unpleasant. Unfortunately, housework is a job that you can only see if it has not been done.

Domestic Duties - Also for the Children

The children should be included in all this planning. The earlier they grow into their daily duties, the more naturally they will carry them out, and the more the children help, the more quality time we, as parents, have to spend with them. E.g. while drying the dishes, you can practice multiplication tables with each other, think about God and share some happy and sad things.

Pocket Money and Responsibilities

As soon as our children start school, we increase their pocket money; there is more freedom in certain ways, but their responsibilities also increase. The daily agenda now includes, for example, setting the table, drying the dishes, clearing the dish-washer and emptying the rubbish bin.

For the even bigger ones, we have different plans that change from week to week, e.g. preparing dinner, vacuuming, cleaning and ironing, etc. A while ago, when I wanted to spare my boys from cleaning, my husband commented: "Think about your future daughters-in-law. They could fall sick one day!"

Change of Responsibilities

If duties are known and change weekly, you don't often hear: "It's always me!"

Regularity causes a certain kind of training in a positive way. At the same time, we should not expect the work to be done with great pleasure, only that it is being done. When I spoke to my daughter because she had a long face when she was working, she answered: "I will get this done properly, but please let me have the face I want to have!"

Control

Control is necessary, otherwise the responsible children will do their duties conscientiously, while the more careless ones will do them sloppily. Praise is the motivation of the soul. Our children must know that we need them and that it does not work without them. Work can bring recognition and self-confidence if you don't demand too much of the child.

Leisure time and games are also very important for a child's development. The child discovers his talents and limitations through games with children of the same age. Our children's inclinations do not always agree with our ideas. One of our girls preferred the rifle and shooting club to the gymnastics club.

Difficulties will arise if you are the parents of several children. The drive to sports and music lessons is often relatively long and the parents are constantly driving back and forth. Some days I feel like a taxi driver. However, in spite of all the effort that is involved therein, I discovered that the journeys in the car bring us closer together. The best conversations with the children often take place in the car.

Pets

Animals present a good opportunity to teach children responsibility, because you have to look after an animal whether you enjoy it or not. At first, I was very reluctant to have a pet. I took the first cat back to its previous owner, because I felt that too much was expected of me. But now, after more than 10 years, we have around 50 animals living with us, both inside and outside the house. They are looked after by the children and my husband makes sure that no animal is neglected.

Animals are often a good comfort to the children in difficult situations. Our ponies especially, are loving companions for our children during puberty. One of my daughters commented: "Hannes (our pony) always listens to me. He never interrupts and has unlimited understanding. He also carries me into the horizon on his back."

Friends

Actually, nothing could be better for our children than having a really good friend. Through contact with neighbours and friends, our children get to know other children. We should support such contacts if our children benefit from them. In this way, we also have a certain influence on the development of the friendship and have the chance to get to know their background. Occasionally, a solidarity in the children's faith develops; which has become even more of a necessity as God is often mocked nowadays.

Not every child is as outgoing as others. Some children rather look for peace and quietness and feel overtaxed by frequent visits. Actually, every child needs a little corner in the home where he can be alone whenever he wants to. Not every home allows for every child to have his own room. We put some curtains on the bunk beds so that they could be closed if desired. A closed curtain means: "I would like to be left in peace." This has to be respected by the others. Each child also has a part of the cupboard where nobody else is allowed access. Only he who knows his own belongings can respect what belongs to others.

Celebrations

The more we learn to celebrate within the family, the less the children will feel like they want to break away. Birthdays are good opportunities. The older the children, the more you can motivate them to prepare and arrange their own birthday celebration. This way, it is not only the parents' responsibility - and the children enjoy it very much. Before the party starts, we discuss certain points, e.g. where will the girls and boys sleep for the night, who helps with the preparations, the decorations and the cleaning afterwards. Occasionally, we parents will join in.

However, you can also celebrate without having a special occasion. For example, a while ago our children organised a roller-skating party. They invited some friends, prepared some biscuits and drinks, and skated for a few hours to music in the back yard.

Television

From time to time the children invite their friends to watch a good film. The video recorder makes this possible. Gradually, we have started a video library with good films: Joni, Ben Hur, Jesus of Nazareth, The Refuge, cartoons with biblical stories, etc... We also lend these films to our neighbours. In this case, the television proves to be something positive.

However, on normal weekdays using the TV can cause some difficulties. Often the children would like to watch programs of which we don't approve. Discussions on this subject take a lot of time.

We talk in advance about the programs the children are allowed to see. Apart from that, we lay down a certain time limit for everyone. In this way, we hope that our children will learn to deal with the TV in a responsible manner. Perhaps later, they will not give in to the temptation to switch on the television so easily just because they are bored.

Occasionally, the television stays switched off for a few days, i.e. Christmas, Easter and certain times during holidays. These are the times when the temptation to constantly watch television is especially strong, because you don't know what to do. It is our principle that the television in our home is only switched on after arranging it with us, the parents, beforehand.

It gives us special joy to sing and to play music with the children. This binds us together very much. However, for some children, the enthusiasm decreases as they get older.

Each child, even from the same family, develops differently. The child shows different abilities; his faith also develops individually. There are small children who already have problems believing in God (which is seldom the case). That's why my little boy asks me every night during prayer: "Mum, if God is really here, show Him to me."

Normally children can imagine God much better than adults. Perhaps it is because, "...their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven" MATTHEW 18:10. My little one prayed recently: "Lord Jesus, I love you very much. Even though I can't see you, you are still here; I will now take you into my arms (she was holding her arms as if she was hugging someone), and because I love you so much, I will give you a kiss" (she blew a few kisses into the air). This all happened in utter seriousness; and we as parents should take this very seriously.

Little children are usually open to God. They often want to know something about Him at the most awkward times. When His name is mentioned, we should pay attention. Maybe this situation comes up only once, with the inner ear of the child being wide open at that moment.

At a certain age, children love to hear stories. We can use this time to bring God closer to them. Later on, there might come a time when they don't want to know anything about it. However, you can also overload your child with it, if they hear about it constantly at home; at children's TV time, in Sunday school, and at school. - Then from time to time, it may occur that your child moans: "How boring! I've already heard it a hundred times!"

But the gospel is not boring, because God always talks to us in different ways. That's why we have so many new ideas for such situations. Family devotion should not always follow the same pattern. If possible, it should be so lively that everyone looks forward to it. The more children there are, the more ideas you naturally get as to what you can do.

Building Groups

It is very sensible to have groups if the age difference is great. My husband can tune in with the bigger ones very well; I prefer the smaller children. That's why he even talks about theological questions with the older ones or about practical questions concerning life, and how to bring them into harmony with the Word of God. I myself, on the other hand, sing choruses with hand movements with the little ones or tell them stories.

The necessity and the frequency of such devotions should always be properly thought through and prayed about by the parents. It can be very useful to leave it for a while if there is saturation. What should never stop, however, is the intensive prayer of the parents for their children.

At least one meal a day should be eaten together. It is quite good to read a psalm in turns at the end of a meal. If you choose certain psalms more often, they will be remembered. Psalms are prayers. As a teenager, I often moaned that we read a psalm daily at the start of school. Even though I found it dreadful, I learnt a lot of verses off by heart. In difficult situations in my life, when often I couldn't find the words for prayer, these verses came to me as a prayer and brought my difficulties before God. Another idea is to read a book out loud, bit by bit. Good biographical stories are especially suitable. (A while ago, we had such an exciting story that we had to hide the book from the children; everyone wanted to read it to the end. Then, of course, for some of them it would have been quite boring if we would have read the story out loud again.)

From time to time, we give prizes for Bible verses or whole psalms that have been learnt by heart. We hope that through this the children will become familiar with the Bible, that it gets stuck in their head, and then when it is necessary it will be written into their hearts.

If possible, I go to every child's bedside in the evening. At this time no other kid is allowed to interrupt. I don't even stop for the telephone. Whoever wants to, can talk about the things that were important to them on that day. We sing a verse of a chorus and pray together. As time went on, we realised with some of our kids that first of all the chorus and then the prayer stopped. After a while some of them did not even want my prayer. Their comment was, "If I want to pray, I'll do it by myself." Since they wanted my good night kiss anyway, they received it without any reproach.

Only as time passes will our God also become the God of our children and this decision must be made in the hearts of the children themselves, because "God has no grandchildren," as Corrie ten Boom put it so precisely.

Before the children leave the house in the morning, I pray with them. I lay my hand on the head of the little ones and say: "Be blessed in the name of the Lord Jesus." When I had forgotten it once, a child took my hand and put it on his head.

To bless is a wonderful gift if there are any problems between parents and children. Often we bless our children when they are already asleep. Then our prayer to Jesus is that we are able to accept and love this child anew.

What seems most important to me is that the children experience our daily routine with God. They watch whether we practise what we preach. The way we handle difficulties and joy is not hidden from them. Do we only pray if things are bad??

They discover how we treat each other as a married couple and if we respect each other as the Word of God says, or whether we don't talk to each other or just yell at one another. Through us, they experience their first lessons of forgiveness.

Maybe they also learn that you can talk to God about the very practical things in life, e.g. "Lord, please help us to find a parking space."

There are times when you can talk to your children about God, but there are also times in which you must talk a lot more to God about your children.

We want to use the time while our children are open for God, and we know by faith that God also has ways even when we can't reach our children any more.

What our children get to know as family life, they will be able to pass on to their own children later.

by Ruth Heil

RUTH HEIL is an author of children's' books and the mother of ten children. Together with her husband, Hans Joachim, she is active in the 'Family Life Mission' (Kehl), mainly in counselling, lecturing and family work.

Translated from the German: 'Das 1x1 des gesunden Familienalltags'

Source: 'Der Auftrag', No. 35