Family Culture: Parenting Purposefully and Building a Legacy {1}

We are a family of 11. It’s an introvert’s dream at my house, as you can imagine. My 20 year-old, Babita, is in Nepal. Everyone else is at home. 19, 16, 14, 10, 8, 6, 4, and almost 2. I never have to worry about falling into the trap of isolationism that my fellow introverts can be prone to. Not ever. They make sure of that.

Isn’t God good?

Seriously, though, He is good. It was just a couple of years ago that I had a 3 year-old and a newborn and I was busy. And then I had a 4 year-old and a 2 year-old and a newborn, and I was busy. And then we started to adopt, and then I was pregnant again, and I was busy.

Life doesn’t stop. It just doesn’t slow down and say, “Oh, hey, sorry! I just realized that you are treading water here and not really making choices or working in any real direction. Looks like you’re just being pushed down stream. Let me pause for a minute so you can catch your breath and make sure this is how you want your one and only life with your own and only family to turn out.”

That does not happen.

And unless you are purposeful, unless you make a conscious choice, guess what your children are going to remember about their childhood? Guess what they will say when asked to describe the years they spent under your roof?

“My family was pretty normal. I mean … we were busy…”

We were busy.

That’s not what I want my children to remember. And it’s not what I want to remember when I look back on the precious few years I get to have in this season of raising a family and being my husband’s helpmeet.

I bet it’s not what you want, either.

But unless we— you and I — put the brakes on and take this desire to God, it’s what we’ll get. We’ll have sons who remember wolfing down fast food dinners Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings on their way to soccer practice, but can’t recall the sound of our voice praying over them. We’ll have daughters who can tell us what it was to be picked up from preschool, handed a cheese stick, and rushed to their older sibling’s swim lessons, but never knew what it was to sit in our laps and hear us read a chapter of The House at Pooh Corner. (#afflink) We’ll have awesome photos of that perfect weeklong family vacation we worked and worked and worked for years to afford… but no memories of the hours and days and weeks and months that existed all around that fabulous getaway.

In short, we will create a Family Culture of being busy.

Do you know what I mean by Family Culture? In the early days of my parenting, I certainly didn’t.

Psychology Today defines Family Culture as “the unique way that a family forms itself in terms of rules, roles, habits, activities, beliefs, and other areas.”

I want you to think for just a moment about the families you know and interact with. I bet there’s one where the kids are never seen without books. Guess what? They have a Family Culture of being readers. There’s a family where everything they do revolves around their favorite sports teams’ schedule. They have a Family Culture of being fans. There’s a family that’s totally sold out for Jesus. They have a Family Culture of following Christ.

Every family can and should have a culture of its own, something that defines it. There should be something you can see radiating from the inside, giving you an idea on the outside of just what they are all about.

When my husband and I became parents, this wasn’t anywhere near our radar. We were in survival mode. We weren’t thinking rules, roles, habits. How about “Let’s see if we can get some sleep tonight?”  or “I need two minutes to make a phone call. What can I put in front of you to make that happen?” 

It didn’t get any better with our second or third child, either. We weren’t thinking activities or beliefs. It was “Well, church is good for kids. We should do that,” and “Everyone else is signing their kids up for KinderMusic so we should do that, too.”

So we did things as they came up. And we got busy. Because that’s just what we figured you did. That’s just how you do family, right? You just put one foot in front of the other and see how it all turns out.

And then one day we looked around and realized that, even though nothing was wrong, even though by all accounts we were a pretty normal, pretty nice little family, well …

We were defaulting.

It’s true. We were sort of fumbling our way through the most important years of our family’s life. We had no vision. No purpose. Nothing to bind us together or set us apart as being anything other than your run of the mill, average American family.

We had no Family Culture, unless you count the culture of routinely being 10 minutes late, or the culture of not being able to find the baby’s sippy cup.

We wanted something better. Something eternal, most definitely. But something that would also knit us together for the season when we are all here, under one roof. Something that would help us maintain our priorities in the face of so many good, but not best, options.

We wanted something to point to to say, “This is who we are. This is what makes us Schwarzens.”

My husband and I went to the Lord in prayer, and we started asking ourselves three very specific questions, questions that I believe anyone can use to begin the process of a purposeful, well-defined Family Culture. Next week, I’ll be offering them up to you in the hopes that you won’t sit by thirty years from now and listen to your kids sharing their memories of growing up in your house and realize, too late, that none of the things that mattered most to you defined their childhood.

Meet me back here Monday for the first installment in this series on Family Culture. We’ll start walking together to make sure that we don’t parent by default, and miss some of the most amazing blessings the Lord has to offer to the families who call on His Name.

Family Culture: Parenting Purposefully and Building a Legacy

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