I was born and grew up far away from my extended family in a time before the internet, so I had little contact with them and no heirlooms except for a handful of sayings. Among them was one my mother had heard from her aunt and which she was fond of repeating, that it is important to “give your children happy memories.”
The Bible has a lot to say about child rearing, including Ephesians 6:4, which says; “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord”
There’s two parts to that command, and the first one is no less important than the second. In fact, the first is a pre-requisite for the second, and therefore giving my children happy memories isn’t just a good idea I heard from my mom, it’s a Biblical command. Failing to do so is to more or less guarantee that they’ll be provoked to anger and contempt towards me and their mother. Under those conditions, when they’re old enough to start making their own decisions, the last thing they’ll do is take us seriously when we attempt to discipline and instruct them about the Lord, or pretty much anything else.
All this was on my mind a lot this last month and a half. My sister-in-law’s children (and their wider circle of friends, most of which came to Israel from the former USSR) already had it pretty good before I entered the scene, as they got tons of presents, special food and fun from celebrating Hanukkah, Western Christmas, New Year’s and Russian Orthodox Christmas around this time of year. Then their aunt married me, an American, and Thanksgiving entered the mix as well. There’s also a couple of birthdays for different family members in December and January so we kind of go from one party to another at this time of year. The rest of the year we make sure to get together at least once or twice a month for group trips to the zoo, or a ballgame, or maybe just to the mall.
In between those big family trips, I make sure to spend at least an hour a day with my sons. My older son likes to play checkers and other board games with me while my younger son just likes it when I sit on the floor next to him while he plays with his little trucks or builds stuff with his wooden blocks or magnet sets. If the weather allows I take them out to the park and we play soccer or pass around the football or whatever. Before they go to sleep, my wife and I take turns reading Bible stories to them.
The result is that these kids get LOTS of happy memories from all these things we do together as a family, and although it costs a fair amount of time and money, all the parents and grandparents agree that it’s not so much an expense as it is an investment in the long-term cohesion of our extended family. Also, these activities provide endless opportunities for teaching these kids lessons about God and the Bible from everyday encounters with ordinary circumstances, people, events and locations (and don’t think that just because we’re in Jerusalem you can’t do the same thing with your children where you live. You can and you MUST!)
I don’t know everything about children but I do know one thing, they need to feel loved and valued and they’ll usually believe anything, and follow the example of anyone, who gives them those things. If they don’t get them from their parents, they’ll reject their parents instruction and example and follow something else. Usually, that something else won’t be good for them.
May God give us all the wisdom, patience and foresight to give our children happy memories, to love them, enrich them, give them our time and attention, so that they will take their instruction from us and follow our example instead of leaving us confused and devastated in our old age, wondering what went wrong.