man-nerd

Finding Identity

Parenting //

Life is full.
When you add a child, there’s even more options. And, while comedians talk about not having instruction manuals sent home with the baby – it’s true. That’s not a choice that hospitals will make for you. But if you want to read about parenting, there’s more than enough choices. In the last decade there’s been somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 books published.

But, of course, you don’t have time to read about parenting. You’re too busy being one. There’s soccer, gymnastics, youth group, grocery shopping…..and on and on. It seems like it takes a ton of work to just have a little breathing room in your life.

One of the biggest choices we made as parents in on this idea of “margin” or space in our lives. And the pay off is huge. But first, let me tell you how we got there:

While our boys were very young, I happened to pick up a book called “The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family: A Leadership Fable About Restoring Sanity To The Most Important Organization In Your Life.” I didn’t feel that we had a frantic family, but I love to read fables and I love to read about family and I love to read about leadership – this book claimed to have it all.

I enjoyed the book, even better, I loved where God took me. We weren’t frantic yet, but we did lack clarity. You’ve heard the verse “Where there is no vision, the people perish”? We’ll, I misapplied that to family (more on that in a moment) and realized that while we were doing what we believed God wanted us to, we were doing it without a clear identity…and that was leading to frustrations and errors in our parenting.

In a way, our family was somewhat like those people in Judges – “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” Unlike the Israelites, we were doing our best to follow God – but it was haphazard. We were like travelers that had a map and knew where they were going. The only problem was we didn’t have a good picture of where we were.

Enter Identity
We knew that didn’t want to sacrifice relationships over experiences. We wanted our children to have good experiences, but spending time with friends would win over spending time at Disney. Beyond that, all we knew is that there should be breathing room.

Lencioni provided some questions that helped us develop a filter. In essence, it gave our family a “mission statement.” (I covered more about Patrick’s book here.)

After a couple of conversations with each other, we brought in the kids and developed a list of who we were:
We love to go to zoos.
We enjoy reading and spending time finding things to read.
We are the primary faith trainers of our children.
Education is discipleship so we will be home educators.
We want out children to enjoy being with us.
We want to influence our grandchildren.
Mealtimes are important times to be together.

Not all of these were on the list at the beginning – just like any family, ours evolves…but knowing who you are helps.

Why is identity important?

Right off the bat I found out how this was going to help.
Money was a little tight and it seemed that we were going to be running errands late enough that we should grab something to eat as well – more money. One of our errands was next door to a used book store – we couldn’t not spend money if we went in. This began to stress me out, then I remembered, “this is who we are.” While eating out would be nice, everyone would rather spend time in the book store – even if it meant a simple meal at home.

Knowing what is important allows us to prioritize our time and our finances. It provides a grid to help us make decisions. What will we do when we’re board? Go to the Library. What do we want to see on vacation? A new zoo. Those answers can come easy.

Knowing their identity also help kids know what to expect. One of our priorities is that Teri and I spend time together without the children – every day (more on this another time). The boys know this is important and as a result when we tell them it’s Mommy & Daddy time, they retreat to their rooms to read, get ready for bed, or play.
That’s just one example, it’s not just about my wife and I, it’s also comforting for them to know that we understand that play is important and that we will make time for what is important to them as well.

Identity also helps them to understand who they are. It gives them permission to focus on what they enjoy (not in a hedonistic way but in a way that they can enjoy hobbies that may not appeal to others…and they don’t have to bow to peer pressure to be like someone else. Identity gives them strength to stand against outside influences.

Misapplied Verse
Provers 29:18 isn’t about mission statements. It reads, “Where there is no prophetic vision, the people case off restraint…” In other words, without God’s word, the family breaks apart.
Although I initially misapplied this verse when I picked up Lencionni’s book, the verse is still very much about family. If we don’t focus on His Word and who He made us to be, our families go their own way – and we wind up spent, angry, and wondering why our schedules are so full.

In the coming weeks, we’ll cover more of our identity choices and other thoughts on parenting. But for this week, Who are you and what does God want to be true of your family?

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About the Author

Jesse and his wife, Teri, will celebrate 20 years of marriage in May of 2012 and are raising two growing sons, Kevin and Alex. After moving from the DC metro area in 2008 they adopted a mastiff named Book and slobber became a way of life. In his spare time, you may find Jesse enjoying photography, biking, or simply watching a movie or reading. Jesse is a graduate of Cohort K from Bethel Seminary’s CFM program and serves as the Children and Family Pastor at the Evangelical Free Church of Wauconda.