One of the most important and long term fruits that our family is working towards is loyalty. We want our children to be loyal to Christ, loyal to us, loyal to one another, and loyal to their broader family – the people of God.
Loyalty is not something that will spring out of nowhere when our children are eighteen – it should be growing in them from the very beginning. And this is because loyalty is fundamentally about who you are, where you stand, who are your people, and who is your God.
One of the most obvious ways to build loyalty is to identify your own self with your children without shame. Every weird input from a stranger about your children is a chance for you to show them your loyalty. There is no need to be rude about it – but there is a great need for you to be completely unashamed and un-moveable. When people say to me, “You have your hands full!” I respond, “Full of good things!” When a stranger says, “Well, you must be busy!” I almost always say “Yes! But who wants to be bored?” If they say something vague like, “Look at all those children!” I might say something back like, “Aren’t they great? We sure love them!” The point here is that my children hear over and over that I am happy that they belong to me.
There is another, far more sneaky way that we can be disloyal to our children, one that is quite common. Being ashamed, frustrated, and generally discontent with the state of your post baby body, your post baby home – being embarrassed to drive a mini van, making fun of your own social life, and generally talking bad about the mothering gig. Your children know full well that they are the specific reason for your general problems – don’t let your attitude be an insult to them. If you don’t want them distancing themselves from you and your mom jeans when they are teenagers, don’t you distance yourself from them and their snotty noses now. You belong together, and the overwhelming message that they should be getting from you about that arrangement should be gratitude, joy, and love.
Loyalty naturally extends into everyday family rules because it has everything to do with how we deal with one another. For instance, we do not allow our children to make fun of one another, tell embarrassing stories on one another, side with friends against siblings, chose siblings to be close to and exclude others, etc. We have had talks about friends who want to get between siblings, and how to not allow that. This is of course a policy that the parents live out first – no sharing embarrassing stories on your husband, making fun in an unloving way, or over sharing about weaknesses that your family has. Treating your children as yourself and identifying yourself with their weaknesses is a wonderful way to instill loyalty in them for each other and for you.
There are a number of ways that we try to not create meaningless divisions and instead instill loyalty. For instance, cleaning up. We make a point to have everyone clean up after everyone. We do not sort messes into who made them as a general rule (obvious exception if someone does something truly extraordinary). The kids absolutely notice this – and it is a great thing to talk about. “Freely you have received, freely you shall give.” People clean up freely after you all the time, and you should be freely cleaning up after others also. There is no great injustice happening if the child who did not play with the legos today is cleaning up the legos today, although the flesh does feel that way!
This is not in opposition to learning to clean up after yourself, it is simply learning to have a bigger view of yourself – one that includes the people around you. Right now for our children this is the community of the home – but we hope to see this grow as they do – so that they will be people who serve the church family and the broader community without calculating every thing that they ever did for anyone. We want the kind of adults who serve others naturally without thinking about it, and home is a great place to start!
Now the heart of what I wanted to talk about in terms of loyalty is forgiveness. The biggest loyalty in our families must absolutely be to the Lord Jesus Christ. So when we discipline our children, or correct them, and when they confess that sin and seek God’s forgiveness – that is the final word. If our savior Jesus Christ has declared this child to be forgiven – then it is our absolute duty to honor his word. He says the sin is no longer with them – and we show them our loyalty to him when we never bring it up again.
As a parent it is tempting to file offenses that your children are committing somewhere – you can make it even seem like responsible parenting. You have a little storehouse somewhere with a big fat file in it, and every time they do some unseemly thing you take great care over the incident report. I know, and you know how easy this is to do. It is easy to act as thought the first offense was never forgiven when dealing with the second. We can act as though the sin was primarily against us, confessing it to God only as a matter of tradition.
But when we do this – it is far worse than just antagonizing our own children, making them feel like we are building a case against them for some time when we will prosecute. Worse than that, we communicate to them that we are not being loyal to our savior. He forgives them! What are we doing dishonoring His word to them? What are we doing acting like our court is the high court, and his is an afterthought? What are we doing letting this behavior identify them to us, when the Lord Jesus has forgiven that behavior? Another word for loyalty could be allegiance – and every time our children are forgiven by God we show our allegiance to Him by letting it all be forgiven. All the way. Gone. As far as the east is from the west, even if the sharpie itself is still on the living room wall.
This ties in with the issue of identity. Our children belong to Christ – and they have all been baptized in his name. This is their fundamental identity. We ask them, “Whose name is on your head?” and they answer, “Jesus.” The rest of the training that we do is simply working this out for them. We seek to shape their behavior with their identity – not let their behavior shape their identity. They have a name. They have a baptism. Our job as parents is to simply help them work that out and grow up into it consistently. We want them to honor that name that is on their head. We want them to be loyal to Jesus all of their days – and by God’s grace, we will show them how that is done.