This is a common phrase heard around our house, especially after breakfast when we’re cleaning up the empty cereal boxes.

We collect box tops…you know, those squares on cereal boxes, juice containers, etc. I’m not sure what we do with them exactly– I think send them in somewhere and then they will give money to a school of our choice? I don’t know. It just seems like a good idea to collect them.

Aly and Asante have gotten really good at spotting box tops. They spy them in the supermarket and beg me to buy that product. “But MOOOOM, it has a box top! We collect box tops!” (Funny how they “want the box tops” on all the sugary cereals but not on the boring, adult cereals. But that’s another story…)

Tonight as I was pouring some juice for Jake and I, shortly after we wrestled settled the last kid into bed, I thought about how interesting it was that only a couple months ago, the kids paid no attention to that weird square that floats around on a surprising amount of our pantry products. Now they are quick to see it, and insistent on doing something about it.

Isn’t that much of what the long work of parenting is? Training our kids to see things that perhaps they wouldn’t see otherwise. And then doing something about it. Our family’s core values are faith, generosity, compassion, equality, and creativity. Jake and I are constantly pointing those things out- “Wow, Aly is being really generous to Momma by sharing her grapes.” “Asante, way to show faith in Aly, trusting her that she won’t knock down your building since she said she wouldn’t.” They have begun to recognize these values in themselves and others, and have joined in on the encouragement. “Aly, you are being very creative. Nice job.”

Of course, it goes beyond the playing out of values in a family system. The long work of parenting may also include teaching our children to see the needs of others that are so easy to simply overlook. To help my child learn to see someone in need and then take that next hard step of offering a hand (or a word, or an ear, or a dollar, or whatever)- this is part of my job as their mom. I think this work is also teaching them to see sin in their own hearts and actions- their greed, selfishness, violence, etc. To train them to label not only their emotions (which any parent of a 2 year old has become really good at doing), but to take it a step further and help them understand what’s going on in their hearts (and how that has affected how they speak or act towards another person in that).

I’ve realized that to do this takes time, persistence, patience, forgiveness, and a changing of myself too. I have to learn to slow down, to observe, to listen, to reflect, and then to act. Often the acting is the hard part. I’ve had to ask my kids for forgiveness a countless number of times. I’ve had to explain (and then confess) to Asante why I didn’t help someone who he saw was in need.

But I think it’s good to have our children watch us as we learn and re-learn. To see our struggles. To witness our failures. To even question why we did or did not do something.

This work of parenting is tough sometimes, but somebody’s got to do it, right?

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