As parents we’ve probably all heard the following at one time or another, “But that’s not fair! It’s so-and-so’s turn!” in response to our request for assistance with a household chore. Even the most helpful child may balk at times over being asked to do a job they perceive as belonging to a sibling. I have been known to go ahead and do whatever it is myself in order to avoid the inevitable arguing about chore ownership that ensues. But that doesn’t solve the underlying problem… my child’s lack of a servant’s heart.
This is an aspect of parenting that I dearly wish I had done differently… that of teaching my children to serve one another. Like many parents, I was concerned that my children learn the importance of sharing, taking turns, and helping out around the house, but I never actually taught them to see their siblings as people whom they were to serve. But why is that? Don’t the commandments of Jesus to love one another apply to our children as well? (John 13:34) Shouldn’t we as parents be helping our kids to express that love one to another, first in our homes, and not just to mom and dad but to each other as well?
Perhaps it was because I was oftentimes more concerned with keeping things relatively quiet between the children. Divide and conquer was one of my favorite strategies in keeping the peace in our home. It never occurred to me that I was setting my sights too low. That by being satisfied with my children merely tolerating one another I was hardly taking the lead in teaching them to consider their brother or sister as more important than themselves. “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)
I often erred on the side of trying to make sure that everything I asked my children to do was evenly distributed out of a desire to be fair and not show favoritism. As a result my kids became hyper-vigilant about making sure that their “rights” were not being infringed upon. My desire to be loving towards all my children sometimes became a weapon used against me to question my decisions regarding the equitable dispersal of chores!
But my heart could use improvement in this area too. Often my response when I am asked to do more than I am expecting or planning to do is less than grace filled. It would be easy to concentrate my attention on what I see or don’t see my children displaying and ignore the work of the Holy Spirit convicting me.
So how do we effectively teach our children to have servant hearts? By looking at the example of Jesus and asking Him to make us servants ourselves. “But made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:7)
So what does this all mean practically? How are parents with little ones supposed to teach them to lay down their lives, as the Bible puts it, for one another? Here are a few suggestions to try after first covering the subject with lots of prayer.
- When the children are young, allow them to serve one another by doing such things as: making each others beds, clearing each others plates from the table after a meal, making simple snacks for each other, and surprising one another with unexpected help with their chores.
- Older siblings often feel put upon by always having to help younger siblings with boring activities. Let them know that their efforts are appreciated. Help them find fun ways to bless the little ones that they can enjoy too; for example, have them select a fun outing as a special surprise.
- Encourage younger siblings to look for ways to “help” their big sister and brother. Let them get a drink of water for the brother mowing the lawn or the sister who just got back from a bike ride. The idea is to get their minds looking for opportunities to be a blessing.
- Be careful about how you present chores: they are essential to the smooth running of the family”s home and are not optional. That being the case, they need to be done whether or not the person assigned to do them is home or away or ill. Have everyone take turns doing extra chores to make sure they are still being completed as circumstances require.
- Kids learn by watching. If they see that you take delight in going the extra mile for other people, including them, they’ll be more likely to do the same. But at the same time…
- Because they learn by watching… they’ll pick up on your bad attitude if you struggle in this area. Be honest. Humble yourself by sharing with them your desire to have Jesus help you grow in becoming a servant. Have them pray with you and for you.
Let’s practice becoming more Christlike by serving one another where it needs to begin… in our hearts and in our homes.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:3-7)
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