Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Jim Burns's book, The 10 Building Blocks for a Solid Family, (Regal Books, 2010).
Since every family and each person in it is unique, there's no magic, one-size-fits-all parenting plan that's guaranteed to give you a healthy and happy family. And since nobody is perfect in this fallen world, there's no such thing as a perfect family. But there are some basic principles that will help you create a family which each member can grow spiritually, emotionally, and relationally - which will help you build the healthy, happy family God wants you to enjoy.
Here's how you can healthy and happy family:
Be there. Your kids regard your very presence as a sign of caring and connectedness. It's crucial for you to spend as much time as possible with them. Keep in mind that your job as a parent is a calling from God - more important than any other work you do, including the job you get paid to do - and your influence on your kids will be your greatest legacy. Ask God to help you make whatever sacrifices you need to make to free up your time and energy to be there for your kids often. Be available to talk with them, help them, attend their events, and cheer them on in their various pursuits. Your kids crave your presence, and nothing can make up for your absence. Be creative about how you can spend time with each of your kids one-on-one regularly, from going of a hike to playing a board game together.
Express affirmation, warmth, and encouragement. Parents who practice loving parenting, as opposed to shame-based parenting, will create a home where children and spouses feel more secure. So avoid shame-based parenting, which is performance-oriented and approval-focused, using words and actions that cause kids to think that they aren't loved or valuable. Instead, aim to make your kids feel accepted, appreciated, listened to, and loved. Give your kids confidence by letting them know that you believe in them, value them, and enjoy them. Say "I love you" to them often, and give them plenty of physical affection like hugs, kisses, and back rubs. Rather than just jumping into their to-do lists with them, share some relaxed conversations with them after they get home from school and before they go to bed. Let go of unrealistic expectations for them. Encourage them to pursue their areas of interest and become the people God wants them to become.
Build healthy morals and values. The decisions that kids make today will often affect them for the rest of their lives. Study the culture so you can understand what cultural influences currently pose a danger to your kids spiritually. Pray for God's help to teach biblical values and morals to your kids in ways they can best learn. Talk openly and honestly with your kids about sex, alcohol, and other drugs from when they're young, all the way through their teen years, answering their questions and discussing issues in age-appropriate ways. Encourage them to commit to living a lifestyle of purity, including honoring God with their bodies, renewing their minds for good, turning their eyes and ears away from what's worthless, and guarding their hearts above all else. Get to know what your kids watch on TV and in the movies, what websites they visit, what music they listen to, and what video games they play. Watch and listen together with them as often as possible, and talk with them about the content to help them learn to think critically about it. Restrict their access to vulgar media content.
Discipline with consistency. When you clearly express expectations and consistently follow through, you'll produce responsible kids. Keep in mind that consistent discipline takes lots of time and energy. Ask God to give you the strength you need to devote the necessary time and energy rather than taking the easy way out when you're tired and having your kids fail to learn important lessons. Remember the Bible's promise that if you train your kids in the way they should go, when they're old they won't depart from it. Set and clearly communicate healthy boundaries about doing homework and chores, telling the truth, talking to you respectfully, and a myriad of other issues - and follow through with consequences when your kids make poor choices. Help your kids decide what consequences they should get for various infractions. Stay calm - not angry - when you're disciplining them, refrain from nagging, choose your battles wisely, and show empathy. Your willingness to be the parent they need - not merely a friend - will give them security and confidence.
Ruthlessly eliminate stress. The unbalanced life will not be kind to the areas you neglect. Ask God to help you decide which activities to eliminate from your family's schedule if you're too busy to get enough rest and free time every day and evening. Don't neglect spending lots of time with your family for anything, including your career. Make whatever sacrifices you need to make so you can enjoy plenty of relaxed family time together. Spend time reflecting and praying in solitude regularly to keep your life in the proper perspective. Get enough sleep and exercise regularly, and make sure that your spouse and kids do, too.
Communicate well. Positive communication is the language of love for your kids. Make a habit of listening carefully to your kids whenever they share their thoughts and feelings with you. Also figure out what other ways you can best express your love for your kids in ways that each of them will receive well. Apologize them to them when you've made a parenting mistake. Allow the conflicts you experience with your spouse and kids to be a path to deeper communication by helping you all understand each other better and work as a team to solve problems.
Play together. There is nothing like play to bring about family togetherness. Make time for vacations together, have fun at home, go on frequent outings (from getting ice cream out to taking music or sports lessons together), share holiday traditions, enjoy humor together, and work on service projects together. Sharing playful experiences will build family memories that will bond you all in powerful ways.
Love your spouse. If you're married, work on your marriage regularly and invest in it through activities like frequent dates, since a loving marriage brings hope and security to your kids. If you're a single parent, build relationships with others at your church who care about your kids and are willing to invest in their lives.
Remember that the best things in life aren't things. Healthy stewardship and sound financial decisions produce positive family priorities. Follow a budget to live below your means, avoid debt, tithe and give in other generous ways, and save regularly. Modeling these healthy financial practices will teach your kids valuable practical and spiritual lessons.
Energize your family's spiritual growth. Your greatest calling in life is to leave a spiritual legacy for your kids. So make your relationship with God through Christ your top priority. Grow closer to Christ individually and as a couple with your spouse. Pray for and with your kids in a regular family devotional time, write a family constitution that describes your family's values, and talk about God often as you go through your everyday activities together.
Adapted from The 10 Building Blocks for a Solid Family, copyright 2010 by Jim Burns. Published by Regal Books, a division of Gospel Light, Ventura, Ca., www.regalbooks.com.
Jim Burns, Ph.D., is president of HomeWord, senior director for the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University, and host of HomeWord's radio broadcasts. Jim speaks to thousands of people around the world every year. He is a three-time Gold Medallion Award-winning author and has written books for parents, students, children, youth ministry, and church leaders. Jim has more than 1.5 million resources in print in more than 20 languages. Jim and his wife, Cathy, and their daughters, Christy, Rebecca, and Heidi, live in Southern California.