Many years ago (actually about 30 years), I was in the grocery store shopping and a woman said "My you have your hands full!"
My then 9-year-old said, "Mama, what does she mean?"
I'm not sure how I responded nor whether I was very wise in my answer to my daughter, the eldest of seven at that point.
I had an infant in a car seat in the front of a full grocery cart; a toddler in the seat at the front of the other also full cart; and a 3-year-old holding onto my eldest daughter's hand.
It was a typical shopping expedition for our family and the children were helpful, obedient and cooperative. They knew not to ask for the trinkets placed at their eye level and were very well behaved.
(Well, actually, almost always well behaved. I do remember one time when one of the children, about 2 years of age at the time, was crying and screaming and would not quiet. I believe we just left the store and went to the van.)
It is amazing how many strangers feel compelled to comment when they see a family with many children. Some times the comments are kind and encouraging. Other times, they are not.
There was a class at church at the time about managing home finances and shopping on a budget. Both the lady teaching the class and some of the other young mothers in the class said young children should not be taken shopping because they could be a distraction and a hindrance. I disagreed and believed taking children shopping was a life lesson for them.
In fact, including children in the keeping of a home, tending a garden, caring for siblings, can prepare them for life. It will mean adjusting expectations and it is not necessarily easy, but it is part of the task of parenting.
Far too often, we underestimate the ability of a child. Young children can be taught to help at home and actually enjoy being able to participate in activities required in running a home. Of course, we should consider their limitations and recognize that fatigue and hunger are terrible tyrants and not stress the child by overtaxing them when they are either tired or hungry. A regular schedule helps with that and yet the schedule is a tool, and should not be a master.
From a very early age, children can learn to pick up their toys. If they're big enough to get the toys out, they're big enough to put them back. Now, they will not do it as an adult would, but the wise parent will help them and even make a game of it.
We must realize that repetition and practice is how children learn.
Parents may, can, should teach children even when it's not a scheduled lesson.
Please pick up the blue shirt, a parent may say, reinforcing a lesson about colors while teaching a child tidiness.
Along with teaching children about tidiness, putting things back when they're finished with them, parents should incorporate character qualities and use Scripture to reinforce that.
"Be kind to one another," is the principal shared in Ephesians 4:32. When young children play with others or pet the family dog or cat, we can advise them to be kind and remind them that God teaches us to be kind.
In the Old Testament, God told his people: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command. you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise." (Deut. 6: 5-7)
Lessons shared as we live our lives daily -- be kind, be thoughtful, love one another -- are the lessons caught for a life time.
When we admire a beautiful sunrise, experience a rain shower, see the bright white snow, we can speak to our children about God's love for them, for us, in providing such beauty, nourishment and how God is holy and is willing to cleanse repentant sinners to be "whiter than snow." (Psalm 51:7)
Editor's note: Annette Beard is the managing editor of The Times of Northeast Benton County, chosen the best small weekly newspaper in Arkansas for several years. The opinions expressed are those of the author. She can be reached at [email protected].