Cultivating Character….One Apology Note at a Time

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For any parent, it may feel more like we’re leading a circus than conducting a beautiful symphony. We’re juggling calendars, taming lions (our kids), getting toddlers to perform tricks, and enticing good behavior with shiny things and yummy treats. Unlike a well practiced symphony of melodic harmonies or instruments only speaking when cued, we’re trying to hide the smell of  animal biproduct and keep all the mess behind the curtain. Life sounds a little more like a football game and you’re praying the kind folks in front of your son think he’s cute, not annoying. 

As a busy mom of 2 little ones (2 toddlers at that) and admits making sure they’re learning their letters, hitting their milestones, not eating any high fructose corn syrup, calculating their total screen time, teaching them to brush teeth, use the potty….the list goes on….(deep breath)…it can be exhausting. 

Then, if you already feel like that list isn’t enough, you get the wind knocked out of you when you receive an unexpected text from your child’s teacher:

It is a moment when you are sad, angry, disappointed, frustrated, and quite fankly, just broken. As a natural problem solver, I want to know what happened, how it happened, what made my child do this and ultimately how to fix it. And then it hit me…what does it mean to “fix it” anyway?….No, I don’t want to “fix” anything, I want to cultivate character. I want to raise children who are able to love without boundaries and be compassionate beyond their comforts, who harness their impulse and use self-control. The milestones, the diets, the rules of life all seemed to melt away. A peace came over me a whisper said whether my kid is the smartest, the most athletic, the best at X, Y, Z will have little impact if they aren’t, first and foremast, kids (and eventually adults) with great character. 

So, how do you teach a 3 year old how to have good character? …Just google it, right???…Okay, maybe not…But for little ones, it’s a little difficult to just discipline them for a incident that happened earlier in the day. Of course we talk about it, I get Reagan’s side of the story, which she didn’t deny anything she just thought she was playing. In my heart I want to believe she had playful intentions, but regardless someone else was hurt and we need to teach that our actions have meaning.

In our house, the best way to “fix” any problem generally means a trip to the craft closet. A letter was due. It’s important that Reagan knows that her behavior can have negative  consequences BUT it’s equally important that she knows her actions can have hugely positive consequences as well. So, after talking about kindness and self-control, we chose a tangible way to acknowledge her friend’s feelings. Reagan wrote a letter saying 3 things:

  1.  I am sorry for grabbing your paper airplane
  2. I will keep my hands to my self 
  3. I promise to use self-control and be kind.

I must be honest. I shed a couple of tears. No one wants to be known as the parent of “bad” kids or “mean” kids, especially when you’re trying so hard to do everything else right. But, in my moment of self doubt, God reassured me of my number one priority and that is to love Him with all my heart, mind, and strength. Not to worry or beat up on myself. That same principle applies to my kids. Yes, they will fail, they are born sinners after all. But, because of God’s grace and daily opportunity for repentance He draws us closer to his goodness, even through all of our shortcomings and missteps.

When Reagan went to school the next morning, she was excited to give her note to her friend. And last night concluded with this reassuring text from her teacher. 

The phrase ‘cultivating character’ just kept replaying in my mind. Character is the root of it all. Developing character by reinforcing consequences (good and bad) is what ultimately brings about better children. Character does not make a child blameless, it simply nudges their innermost heart to think more of those lasting things like how their actions make someone feel, or how their disobedience results in consequences, or how bending rules also bends your integrity. 

So, may all that I do as a parent position my children to be of great character. And no better person to learn our character lessons from than Jesus. He who knew no sin laid his life before the world so that his character of selflessness, humility, care, compassion and love shone down. 

Even when life is busy, when I’m feeling guilty for being a working mom, when my kids won’t listen, when it feels like I’m herding cats, the response in every situation is to be a person of good character that my kids can learn from. They are watching and I must never forget that! 

Teaching them, loving them, guiding them, and ultimately being the example of compassion and care that this world needs far exceeds any lesson in a book. At our house, we cultivate character one apology letter at a time, along with other things of course 🙂 Lots of hugs, kisses and memories made along the way. 


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