"YOU HAVE HOW MANY KIDS?" As a mother of six, there is one context in which I would love this question—to hear it said in amazement that six kids can behave better than the family of two in the next aisle.

Unless the children's behavior is a fluke due to total exhaustion or fear of bodily harm, this kind of compliment will be a direct result of the amount of thought, effort and consistency we are able to invest.

SO WHAT?
Whose business is it anyway, if our family wants to dress like refugees and act like escapees from the juvenile correction facility? Technically, it's nobody's business but mine. But it is important to consider the statement we may be making to a world that desperately needs light. If we want to bring the fragrance of Jesus with us wherever we go, we're going to have to put some thought and effort into it.

FAMILY PICTURE
A picture of what we're aiming at is essential. Dads and moms can brainstorm with each other, and draw input from the children as well. Good questions to ask are, "What do you want our family to look and act like?" and "How do you want people to think about our family?" Then dig a little deeper and find out why those things appeal to us.

A little more in this vein: Jesus warned against cleaning the outside of the cup but leaving the inside full of all manner of uncleanness. If the best thing that someone can say about our family is that we dress nicely, we're not a testimony, we're an advertisement for a clothing store or a washing machine. If we've got to choose only one aspect, let's go for the behavior/attitudes.

HAVE YOUR CAKE AND EAT IT TOO
With a certain amount of "intention-ality", our families can be both well clothed and well behaved. By way of a general synopsis, aim for clothes, shoes, hair, and faces being clean and neat.

A word here for moms… Men aren't the only ones who can be won without a word. When other women look at us, what they see will either encourage or discourage them regarding a mom's potential and lot in life. So if we've got to choose between doing our own hair or someone else's, let's do ours! We may have silver threads among the gold, but at least they can be brushed.

PRETTY IS AS PRETTY DOES
The next aspect of a perfect picture is behavior. Logically, the only reliable way to have well behaved children in public is to have well-behaved children at home. If we have one expectation for them in public, but don't hold them to that standard the rest of the time, guess what comes natural?

So at the Wyatt household, we insist on obedience with a good attitude and work at eliminating bickering amongst the troops. (This is definitely still a work in progress, by the way). We cultivate normal volume, and continually target a loving way of relating to each other.

When we draw up our concepts of how we'd like our families to be, our children have something to shoot for. Once we know what we're aiming at, we can formulate ways to achieve that picture. These are the practical things that can help to put our best feet forward.

For example, we may institute a rule of staying together as a group, rather than scattering to all points of the compass when the car doors open. Older children hold younger children's hands. Family phrases and key words can also be an effective way to obtain desired behavior. If we use these phrases or words at home regarding standard situations, they will have power in public as well. A few we utilize in our family are: "Gentle—gentle." "Is that edifying?" and an all time favorite, "Mellow out, guys."

MARGIN
Call it a breathing space. Visualize it as the peace that comes from being early instead of late. It is possible, but it isn't just going to happen by itself. If you've got to leave for music lessons at 2:00 p.m., try getting ready an hour ahead of time. It only stands to reason that it is much more relaxing to have children washed, dressed, shod, and quietly reading on the couch for the final ten minutes than rushing around with one eye on the relentless clock, trying to gather everything and everybody into a semblance of order, shooing everyone out the door and barreling down the road ten minutes behind time.

Some families pair up older children with younger to help them get ready. Others have someone assigned to make sure the diaper bag is stocked and in the car, water bottles, snacks, etc. We try to gather library books the day before. In fact, anything we can do the day before makes the outing that much more relaxed.

Using the same concept of margin, we try to leave "slop" time between lessons, practices and errands. If you can avoid it, don't dovetail your chauffeuring so tightly that you will be late if one appointment runs over into the next allotted time. I don't know about you, but being late is too hard on my nerves to have it be the norm!

ENJOY
"Enjoyment" and "outing" may seem like mutually exclusive terms, especially if there is a long list of things to do, and the trip conflicts with naptime. So much the more reason to focus on enjoying our children. There we are, all together in one place. Sing in the car. Laugh. Tell funny stories. It's a perfect time to let the kids know that I think they're wonderful. Then when I'm in the store, their emotional tanks won't be running on empty and they are much more likely to behave according to family standards.

There will be those inevitable times that one or more of our children behave in a less than desirable way. We need to not let embarrassment or anger be our primary response. That child is mine and I love him. I need to forget the tarnished family image, correct him, hug him, and go on.

A word here on attitudes… If we don't have time to fix our hair, we can still get by. But we should try not to leave home with a bad attitude. If we're seriously frustrated with the kids, worn-out from a busy schedule or feeling sorry for ourselves—maybe we should consider staying home until we get over it. People won't know that we've had a hard week. They'll think we look the way we do because of "homeschooling those children, poor dear." And we won't be much of a light to a darkened world, either.

DECORATION DAY
If we've done our child training "homework," done our best to make sure everyone is fed, washed and dressed, then we can smile at our crew and head out. Maybe today will be the day we'll hear those magic words, "You have HOW many kids?"

Leslie Wyatt has been married to her husband, Dave, for 20 years. They have six children ranging in age from 4-18. They have been homeschooling for 14 years.

This article was originally published in the Jul/Aug '04 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more information, please visit http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com.