Modeling Noble Behavior to our Children
By LESLIE LUDY
I once heard about a young wife who was extremely purposeful about welcoming her husband home after a long day at work. She put dinner on the stove, lit candles, played soft music, took a bubble bath, and put fresh make-up on before he arrived. Each night, her husband walked into a peaceful, beautiful, loving sanctuary. His wife put her very best efforts into making their time together memorable and meaningful, and his appreciation for her was off the charts.
I’ll admit that this scenario isn’t realistic for many of us. Being a mom of six children and in full-time ministry, it can feel next to impossible to put that kind of time and energy into welcoming my husband home at the end of the day. But even though it may not be possible for me to do exactly what she did, I am always on the lookout for ways to bring honor and beauty into my marriage and home life — to show my family that they are worthy of my best efforts and my highest respect.
This is easier said than done. We live in world where honorable behavior at home is considered old-fashioned and ridiculous, and where crudeness and selfishness at home is expected and even exalted. Have you ever heard those “newlywed jokes” about men who turn into obnoxious beasts and women who let their appearance fall apart as soon as the wedding vows are spoken? The sad thing is that, in many modern marriages, it’s not just a joke but a reality. Married couples often assume that once you have “locked in” your spouse’s commitment to you, you no longer need to work to win his or her heart, and that you can now be sloppy and careless, throwing all dignity and honor to the wind. This attitude, if cultivated, can quickly taint the entire atmosphere of our homes and even spill over into our parenting.
When we adopt a mentality that says, “My family doesn’t care how I act,” we end up with homes that are completely devoid of godly honor. It’s no wonder that so many parents today see marriage and family life as mundane, unromantic, and dishonorable. Sloppiness, selfishness, rudeness, and crudeness in the home today are far more common than nobility, honor, and decorum. But remember what God says about marriage in Hebrews 13:4? “Marriage should be honored by all…” (NIV). Marriage is a sacred institution, designed by God, deserving of our highest regard and respect. The slobbish, dishonorable attitude toward marriage that our culture promotes is the opposite of the way God intended a husband and wife to behave in their homes.
In a world that esteems crudeness far above decorum, how can we bring back the lost art of godly honor to our homes? It all comes down to the example we set.
Lifelong romance between a husband and wife can never be cultivated when honor is absent. And it is impossible to train our children to become little ladies and gentlemen if our own standards for honor are dismally low. If we behave dishonorably, they will too. If we demonstrate decorum, respect, and nobility in our homes, they will too.
As I shared in my book, Set Apart Motherhood:
I am finding more and more that with young children, actions speak far louder than words. It’s vital that our kids see honor lived out in front of them on a day-to-day basis. I cannot call them to a high standard in their little lives if that same standard is not being honored in my own life. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to teach them to not yell at their siblings if I myself was constantly losing my temper and yelling at them. It would be hard to teach them how to live a disciplined, orderly life if my own habits were continually sloppy.
When it comes to training their children in honorable behavior, many mothers over-teach and under-model. A well-known quote says it best: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” My words of instruction to my kids should be merely icing on the cake, a reinforcement of what they see me living out every moment of every day. What a high and serious calling this is!
It’s all too easy to become lazy and haphazard in our behavior patterns at home, especially toward our spouse. When this happens, our children quickly follow suit, treating each other (and their future spouses) with the same rudeness and disrespect. If your marriage and family could use an infusion of good old-fashioned honor, here are some practical ways to begin bringing it back, starting today.
1. Build an Honorable Marriage
I shared in Set Apart Motherhood that Eric and I have made it a high priority to set the example for our children by cultivating an honorable marriage. For example, we try to speak only words that edify each other. We don’t put each other down or joke about each other’s faults. We seek to be quick to ask forgiveness for wrongs. We treat each other with respect by listening when the other person is talking, showing interest in what each other is saying, and looking for ways to encourage each other. We don’t “let it all hang out” and allow crudeness into our behavior patterns, even when it’s just the two of us alone together. We protect each other’s privacy. We take time to look nice for each other. These are all simple habits that, by the grace of God, we seek to cultivate and model to our children.
Home life is a place where we should feel “at home” and comfortable — but it should not become a place where selfishness reigns. Too many couples behave with respect and dignity around their co-workers and friends, only to act like cave people the moment they sit down in their own living rooms. For some reason, our culture has convinced many of us that it is our “right” to throw manners and dignity out the window whenever we are hanging out at home.
At home, men often feel the freedom to burp, scratch, and tell obnoxious jokes, and women often feel the freedom to dress like slobs and act selfishly, using the justification, “Why does it matter? I’m just hanging out with my family — and they’ll love me anyway.”
But if we only control our behavior and put effort into our appearance while we are in public but not around our family, we are sending the message to our spouse and children that they are not as worthy of our respect as other people are.
We must remember that who we are at home is who we really are. It’s not the image we portray to the public, but the way we act behind the scenes that reveals the true state of our hearts.
A simple way to start cultivating honor at home is to bring honor into your marriage. Even if your spouse doesn’t behave honorably, set an example by showing honor in your own habits and actions. Can you put more effort into your appearance at home? (I don’t mean wearing an evening gown and high heels while mopping the floor. But beware of adopting the sloppy-sweats-and-messy-ponytail as your signature look!) Can you slow down and listen when your spouse is talking to you, and show genuine interest in what he is saying? Can you put more effort into creating an environment that cultivates peace, joy, and meaningful conversation?
Even showing basic manners to your spouse can go a long way in cultivating an honorable marriage. 1 Corinthians 13:5 reminds us that, “Love does not behave rudely.” How many marriages could be completely transformed by adopting that one simple principle!
2. Raise Little Ladies and Gentlemen
In Set Apart Motherhood, I shared some things that we are doing in our home to help shape our children into honorable ladies and gentlemen:
Children are naturally inclined to spit out their food, scream just to be heard, snatch toys out of their siblings’ hands, and interrupt adult conversations. Honorable behavior does not come naturally to them. So, it must not only be modeled, but diligently taught.
Eric has a special time with Hudson every week where he teaches him how to become a Christlike gentleman. As he was preparing for this gentleman-training, Eric drafted thirteen principles of gentlemanly honor, which he continually teaches and reinforces to Hudson in creative and practical ways. The list is as follows:
- Always demonstrate honor (no rude behavior)
- Live a clean and orderly life
- Be an alert and enthusiastic student
- See what needs to be done, and do it!
- No grumbling, no complaining
- Protect the little guy, train to defend the weak
- Don’t be a pushover to pain
- If you make a mistake, make it right, and quick
- Always tell the truth
- Show respect for authority
- Be extremely generous
- Eat what is set before you
- Face the creepy crawlies with confidence (don’t be a wimp)
We’ve told Hudson that when he begins to excel in these behaviors on a consistent basis, he will be ready to join Daddy on ministry trips overseas. He takes his hero-training seriously. It’s not a list of “dos and don’ts” he’s forced to follow, but rather an exciting vision for what God wants him to become.
Harper and I have been going to tea at Nana’s house. She gets to wear a pretty dress and learn how to sit properly at the table, show gratitude to Nana for her hospitality, and cultivate the art of gracious, dignified femininity.
We haven’t yet developed a specific list of “womanly honor” principles for our girls, but I am working with them on many of the same areas that Eric is training the boys in, such as asking for things politely, showing respect to adults, and being thankful for their food instead of complaining about it. And, of course, there are a few girl-specific things they are learning too, such as how to be ladylike when sitting in a skirt, and how to behave properly around boys their age (for example, don’t try to kiss them on the cheek or sit on their laps!).
All of our children have a time each evening when they practice sitting still, calmly with their hands in their lap while we read to them, engage them in conversation, listen to an audio book together, or talk about specific truths from God’s Word. When one of them begins to slouch, flop, or squirm, we remind him or her, “Sit like a gentleman,” or “Sit up like a lady,” and they (usually) respond happily and quickly, because they understand what those terms mean.
Gentleman and lady training is a primary focus in the Ludy home. Our children are just beginning to learn these honorable behavior patterns, and sometimes it’s daunting to see just how far they have to go on this journey! However, they are catching a clear vision for the men and women of honor God desires to shape them into and the foundation is being laid.
It’s also important to teach kids the reasons for learning honorable behavior, otherwise it will just become a duty or obligation they may resent as they get older. We often remind our kids that Jesus Christ is honor personified; during His earthly life, He treated women with dignity and respect (see John 8:11); He honored authority (see John 5:19); and He graciously served those around Him (see John 13:14). And when He overtakes our lives, He desires to cultivate those same qualities in us. Explain to your kids that living honorably is a way we can glorify Jesus Christ, follow in His steps, and reflect His nature to the world around us.
Throughout our years in ministry, Eric and I have noticed that when kids are pointed toward honorable behavior as an outflow of their relationship with Christ, they will avoid falling into the dangerous traps of stiff legalism or selfish rebellion as they grow older; they will honor God’s behavior patterns as an outflow of their love for Jesus Christ. And that’s the only kind of honor that lasts.