It seems to be universally accepted that being a Family On Mission with very young families is just plain hard. What do you do with all those kids? It’s a question that comes up over and over again. One answer I’ve heard around the movement is that you should consider hiring a baby-sitter to watch the kids in another area of the house while the grown-ups do their thing. I totally get that, but it’s not the path we’ve chosen over the last few years. Somehow we’ve managed to eat, pray, sing, plan and work together week-in and week-out as a family that can include more than 20 young kids. Yes, it’s a mess some nights, but mostly it just works.
Recently, I was reflecting on all the little things that we’ve learned about how to make this work and I asked my girls what wisdom we could pass along and my youngest said:
“That’s easy! You just get a some foam blocks and a box of matchbox cars and put them on a low shelf and that always keeps the littlest kids happy…”
I just stared at her. Could that really be an important lesson we should pass along to others interested in leading missional communities made up of young families? As I thought about it more, I realized that these simple toys have become our secret weapons:
What my 10 year old daughter had recognized was that these toys have become the property of the whole family. Every young child knows where they are and whoever arrives first heads straight for the family room and pulls the blocks and cars down off the low shelf. They end up all over the house, but they’re easy to clean up and every child knows where they go when it’s time straighten up at the end of the night.
I think those simple toys they play with every week help the kids to think of our house as an extension of their home. They feel a sense of ownership and belonging that also means they intuitively know that the same rules apply here as their own home. I think this is a big deal. It creates a sense of family that you could never explain to a two year old, but they intuitively understand when a place feels like their home. They understand that they are expected to clean up here in the same way they are at home, because this is just another “home”.
You see, making missional communities work with a bunch of young families means getting beyond just calling ourselves a “family” and somehow actually becoming one. And here’s the thing, our kids will often know before we do. As adults, we can talk ourselves into all kinds of idealism but our kids see right through all that. They know. As a family, we have good days and not-so-good days but we face them together as a family and we don’t hide from each other. We help each other get through the hard days and we enjoy the sweetness of the easy days together. We understand when a toddler suddenly won’t be happy with anyone but Mom, but then celebrate together a month later when he’s a social butterfly again.
Our home is where things are easier, where we can rest from the effort of simply being away from home. How can you make the house where you meet as a Family On Mission more like home for the young families that join you there?
For us, it starts with foam blocks and Hot Wheels…