Let’s be honest. Every child has the potential for beginning to believe you, Mom, are their personal servant. No matter, how much we make them do chores or serve others outside of the home, even the sweetest, most loving, generous child would often rather be served than to serve.
Christian parents will often turn themselves inside out making sure their children are involved in serving the Church and their communities in hopes of raising a child with a servant heart. Unfortunately, I have seen children and teens who will haul boulders in broiling heat for strangers and then will go home and become the most selfish, demanding task master to their mother and siblings.
You see the trick to true, godly service is that it comes from the heart. Not a heart that feels momentary pity and wants the “high” of helping others. No, godly service comes from a heart full of love for others. A heart willing to put the needs of others before the wants of itself. A heart that loves the pauper as much as the prince. A heart willing to serve mom, dad and siblings as much as total strangers.
If your child takes you for granted and has trouble serving at home, it’s a heart issue you need to spend some time helping to shape in more godly ways. There are really a few relatively simple things you can do to move your child from t-shirt service (there always seems to be a t-shirt involved) to heart service. Here are a few of my favorites:
- In careful, loving ways help your children understand the difference between what is required of you as a parent and what you do in service to them because you love them so very much. If your children are sensitive or are very tender-hearted, you will need to be very careful how you word things. You don’t want your child to feel guilty or as if you would rather be doing something than parenting them. Rather you want them to understand the vast amount of things you do purely because you love them. The reality is the government and society don’t really expect much from parents – basic food, clothing and shelter and making sure they get to school and get a minimum amount of love and positive attention. Everything else they receive from you and your spouse are purely from your servant hearts, because you love them so very much. You will probably need to give specific examples. For instance: The government probably would not care if your children received the same balanced meal of baked chicken, brown rice and broccoli for lunch and dinner every day. Yet, you often fix some of their favorite foods – perhaps even some you are personally tired of cooking and eating. The same with clothing. A couple of pairs of jeans and a handful of shirts would probably keep DFCS from your door, but each of your children probably has a closet fairly full, if not overflowing with clothes. It is a difficult, but important concept for your children to understand about you and about God. You could give them a lot less to meet the “requirements” of your position as parent, but you love and want to serve them to show them your love.
- Do not allow your children to take your service (or the service of others) for granted. This means saying please and a heartfelt thanks for every request. It also means being considerate of your schedule and the other demands on your time. There are times when each of your children will need your undivided attention for an amount of time. In general though, your children need to understand your time and service needs to be divided between all of the members of your family, as well as others outside of your home. Any “demand” made by a child should go “unheard” and definitely unmet. Sometimes the secret to good parenting is selective deafness. “I’m sorry, I can’t hear anyone when they are taking someone for granted.”, may give your child a moment of thought before demanding the service of others. If it doesn’t, wearing a dirty shirt or not having a snack will not be the end of their world and perhaps the more painful consequence will result in less demands in the future.
- Encourage your children to look for opportunities to serve others in your family. Letting mom and dad sleep in and fixing them breakfast should not happen only once a year. Siblings should be encouraged to help each other and do nice things for each other. Not to stay out of trouble or to manipulate others into doing something, but out of a loving, serving heart.
- Allow your children to “catch” you and your spouse serving each other in loving ways. Coffee in bed, foot massages, giving up a favorite program or movie so the other can watch their favorite may all seem like tiny things. Over the course of the years though, your children will have been surrounded by two people who regularly serve those in their own home as much as they serve others. Children learn best by example.
- Encourage your children to regularly sacrifice something they want to do in favor of allowing someone else the opportunity to do what is important to them. As parents of an only child, we were very purposeful about this in our house. We made a practice of pointing out on vacations for example “Now it is time for daddy to do something he really wants to do on this trip, just like you got to do such and such that was very important to you. He does a lot for us by earning the money we need, so let’s serve him by going with him and allowing him to take his time and enjoy his turn.” Part of being a servant is realizing the world does not always revolve around your desires and at times the most godly thing you can do to serve others is to let them be the one who chooses the activities.
- Pay attention to the heart more than the behaviors. Developing a servant heart is a process that can take a very long time. All of us have those times when we want to be served much more than we want to serve. On the other hand, sometimes people can do all of the right things but do it from a heart that wants to manipulate or score points on some list. We can’t read hearts like God can, but if you know your child well, it’s often easy to tell when his heart is in the right place or if she is faking a servant heart by merely behaving in expected ways. Encourage “heart” attempts even when they are less than perfect. Point out concerns about heart issues if you are still questioning the attitudes you see even behind “perfect” servant behavior.
If your child can develop a godly heart for loving and serving those in his home, the chances are much better he will have that same loving, servant heart when working with those outside of the home. If she only serves people outside of the home, but refuses to lovingly serve her family, chances are great her servant heart is not fully developed and needs some extra help from you. Either way, training your children to serve at home, will make your home a more loving place to be.