Some of us on the Rooted staff were recently discussing a book called Long Days of Small Things, in which the author relates the daily rhythms of motherhood to spiritual disciplines. There are many such rhythms in parenting—small, repetitive tasks we do in service of our children, which God uses by His grace to shape our own souls as well. Each member of our family is being shaped not only by habits of faith, but also by the tenor and tone of our family routines.
With that in mind, our Ask Rooted question for our parent writers was this: What are the seemingly mundane tasks in your family life that you have seen bearing gospel fruit in your child’s life, your life, or both?
Katie Polski, mother of three
I always smile when I see a card attached to Christmas goodies with the words, “Made with love.” I appreciate someone who bakes or cooks “with love” because the fact is, what I make in the kitchen is not made with love. It’s just not. I love giving gifts, and I love seeing that smile on the receiver’s face, but I have never enjoyed the process of baking. Those home-made birthday cakes or the assignment to provide home-made treats for the classroom were always daunting experiences. And the ones that fell flat (literally) were disappointments, even though my kids seemed to thoroughly enjoy the sugar whether the cake rose or not.
When my daughter became a senior in high school, she started baking. Desserts, pastries, and breads filled our kitchen as gifts for us and for friends, and she’s continued to do this on her breaks home from college. Watching her one afternoon, I noticed that she set things out in a similar manner that I did: all ingredients lined up, the pans buttered, and, perhaps most importantly, the music turned on for a little dancing in between the mixing. My heart burst when my daughter sent a picture of a cake she attempted to make for her friends on valentine’s day. The outcome was a bit of a catastrophe, but the picture of the girls laughing while digging into the collapsed mess was as sweet as could be.
Cooking and baking were mundane tasks through the years, but by God’s grace, these acts of service for family and friends turned into a labor of love for my child. When she hands you a gift “made with love,” she really means it.
Steve Eatmon, father of two
When my wife and I were discussing how to integrate habits to help our two kids grow in their faith as toddlers, one idea we had was to do a family prayer at night. As any parent knows, putting kids to bed can be an adventure, but we decided that family prayer, however short or simple it may be, would be useful. Every night right before the kids go to sleep, we pray as a family, all four of us.
Getting started was a challenge, because the prayers of 3-and-4 year olds don’t often have high theology, but that’s okay. Jesus said in Matthew 6:7, “and when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” Many times, they will even ask to copy us as we pray, but that’s okay as well because they are learning. Now, at 7 and 9 years old, the kids themselves will call out to me when I am doing dishes that it’s time for the family prayer. It has become such a habit that it would seem like something significant is missing if we skipped.
Melissa Powell, mom of two
We have two 14-year-old littermate mutts that are increasingly high maintenance. They were my first “babies” while we waited and watched what God would do through years of infertility. Then they were the “siblings” to our son while we again waited and watched what God would do through more years of infertility.
The tasks of feeding, cleaning up waste, giving medications, and making areas of our home safer as our dogs move slower and struggle to hear and see are bearing the fruits of patience and gentleness in our family. Just last night my middle schooler and I sat with one of the dogs at the vet through dinnertime while we waited on the results of a medical procedure.
Despite grumbling and complaining at times about his pet-related chores, my son has gained a tenderness towards God’s creation, especially with end-of-life care, that he would likely not have without the daily pet care he has watched, learned, and provided in our home. These fruits have extended to his little sister, younger neighbors, and pet care for friends and neighbors as well.
Justin Talbert, dad of three
We call ourselves the “travelling circus,” and those who know our family giggle along, because it’s true. With three wild boys – now 7, 5, and 4 – we leave a wake of destruction whenever we leave the house.
So we are a bit strange in that we try to do the majority of ours errands together, as a family. We value the often-mundane togetherness over the efficiency of “dividing and conquering” life’s checklists. But efficiency and chaos are only a portion of the cost required to uphold this value. Let’s be real: our stress is increased, the general public gets to see us at our not-so-best, and we sacrifice the opportunity for one of us parents to get a bit of free time.
But let’s see things through the kids’ perspective. They get to see how Mom and Dad act in public. They watch how we handle stress, steward our money, or deal with, say, disappointment when an item is out of stock. Why is Mom kind to the cashier? Why is Dad playful with the store’s employees? Managing a household demands a lot.
If life happens in the ordinary, is it not crucial to help shape our kids’ ordinary? An errand then, however peculiar it sounds, is a prime training ground for discipleship. This won’t make the next Wal-Mart run inspiring, but it will be forming. Sometimes that’s enough.
Mark Howard, dad of two
One of the little things that I find myself protecting as life gets busier and busier is my daily ritual of walking my kids to and from school. It’s only 15 minutes each way with them, but over the course of many school years, that time adds up. We talk about random things — the sunrise, soccer, dreams, school, books, faith — most of it insignificant, but I find it keeps the lines of communication open. I carry my son’s book bag and my daughter’s lunch box and school laptop — little ways of showing them I’m there for them to serve and help. It ends up being a bit of discipleship “when you walk by the way” (Deuteronomy 6:7).
Anne Sanford, mother of two
I once saw a meme that said “no one has more on their to-do list than a toddler at bedtime.” This could not be more accurate. My four-year-old always seems to “remember” he needs to potty or brush his teeth or drink some water or read one more book or sing one more song at the exact moment it’s time to turn off the lights. Once he finally “accomplishes” everything on his task list and settles into bed, I’m often frazzled and frustrated. However, in His goodness, God has always prompted me to say a bedtime prayer with him. It’s something we’ve done since he was a baby.
It started with me saying “Now I lay me down to sleep…” Then, he learned that prayer and would recite it. One day I told him we could just talk to Jesus about our day and our lives. He liked that, so I did that for a while. Then, recently, I started asking him if he’d like to talk to Jesus himself. Just in the last two weeks he has begun saying “Mom, I want to talk to Jesus.” His prayer is quiet, almost mumbled. Usually all I can make out is “Dear God, thank you for this day…” One time I did catch him referring to himself in his prayer as his favorite alter ego: Sully from Monsters, Inc. Nevertheless, this wild little boy has begun his own prayer life. A bedtime routine that can often feel chaotic and frustrating has started my son on his own journey into what I pray is a lifelong conversation and relationship with Jesus.
Christina Fox, mother of two
I spend much of my time driving in carpools. Back and forth to school. Taking groups of boys to football or basketball practice. Driving my son and his friends to and from events. Sometimes, I feel burdened by the time it takes away from me doing other things. I grumble in my heart and think, “I can’t wait until he can drive himself.”
But this past year, the Lord has reminded me that this season is all too short and that I will soon miss these days. I’ve instead chosen to look forward to these drives with my son and his buddies. And what a joy it has been! I’ve loved being an eyewitness to the good friendships my son has made. I’ve laughed with the boys at their jokes and the way they tease one another. I’ve also enjoyed spending time with my son, talking with him about his day, what he is learning, and what he thinks about life and the world around him. These precious moments are an investment that will last into eternity.
My son knows the sacrifice it is for me to be his chauffeur and thanks me for it. I’m thankful to the Lord for the brief time I get to be a part of and impact the life of a great group of boys.
Anna Meade Harris, mom of three
What comes to mind for me is washing baseball pants. Two of my boys played baseball from 5K through high school. As any sports mom knows, those pants can get unspeakably disgusting, and they often have to be sparkling white by sunrise the next day. For years my children did not notice that they went to bed while I stayed up to wash the pants they had thoughtlessly tossed on the floor.
But by their mid-teens, they became aware that I stayed up to scrub their uniforms while their tired bodies slumbered away. Noticing turned to gratitude, and they began to start the process themselves, to offer to stay up, and to thank me sincerely when I told them to go on to bed. As young adults, they gladly help around the house- cooking dinner and cleaning up after, doing the yard work, changing the smoke detector batteries, you name it.
Glad service has born the fruit of glad service, without me having to deliver one of my long-winded mom sermons. For that my boys are even more grateful than I.