What I learned about family during our Cross-Country Engagement Tour
READ TIME: 6 MINUTES
We have been on the "Cross-Country Engagement Tour" in several states in the last month with several different families.
It all started with our engagement. As Russell and I were discussing the possibility of marriage, I told him that he had to ask Mamak for permission to marry me. Mamak is my best friend’s mom. An angel of a woman. A prayer warrior like none other. A woman who cries out to God on my behalf. A woman whose mere giggles inspire me. She is someone whose love reflects God’s heart. For Russell to have her approval means the world to me.
I wasn't used to approval, because I've always been the Lone Ranger who doesn't need anyone's approval. But being surrounded by family lately, I've learned to open myself up to allow them to speak into my life. Here are some more lessons I've learned...
First Stop: Daytona
Our first stop was in Daytona with my fiancé’s immediate family. This family is full of love for each other. They are real. They know each other’s greatest triumphs and their worst moments, and they love each other no matter what. I heard stories of the valleys which they rose out of together and stories so silly that we cried laughing just by recalling the memories. This family has embraced me as if I was a part of them for my entire life.
Next Stop: Illinois
Our next stop was in Illinois to visit the Stoelk family. This wasn’t technically an engagement stop, but it was just like being with family. The Stoelks are extended family by way of my dear friend Amber. We celebrated Amber’s pregnancy with a gender reveal party, and guess what?! It’s a boy!!!
The Stoelks are your quintessential mid-west family: strong, loyal, undeterred. They are unfazed by today’s problems. They love each other with that solid love that's like a baby in his mama’s arms. It's strong. It's sturdy. It's trustworthy.
Third Stop: Louisiana
The third stop was in Louisiana to see all the folks I grew up with. In this town of 15K people, everyone knows you: the good, the bad, and the ugly. My best friends (Amber & Ashley) threw a wedding shower for Russell and me that gave me alllll the feels. We celebrated our upcoming marriage with the girls I grew up with and their parents. It was awesome to see how we’ve all changed, and yet together we are still the same group. When I’m with them, I’m always right at home. These people have seen me during the worst of times –talkin bout you, high school! – and some of the best of times. Irregardless, they never judged me. They only ever nudged me toward truth and enveloped me in grace.
Final Stop: South Carolina
The final stop – you think you’re worn out? I lived this! – was in South Carolina, the true South. Coming from Louisiana and now living in Florida, I always say you have to head north to get back to the Great South. This is never as true as it is in South Carolina. You know you’re back in the South when summers are spent on the porch…in the 100* heat. Within the same weekend, Russell’s grandma threw a 70th birthday party for Papa and a wedding shower for us! Grandma was entertaining all weekend and housing two sets of families, and she did it all without batting an eyelash. It wasn’t work, and it wasn’t stress. It was simply her expression of love.
What I learned about family
During this month-long cross-country tour, I picked up a thing or two about families that I would love to share with you.
What’s strikingly apparent is that the habits parents build are highly indicative of the child's lifestyle. It's as if habits are cross-generational. And I realized this is a widely applicable discovery!
Parents who build habits of love and acceptance produce children who love and accept people.
The children recognize whether or not they are accepted just as they are, and they see whether those outside the home are accepted just as they are. Either way, the children usually follow the same line of thinking. If the parents aren’t critical, but find ways to share in common experiences, joys/, sufferings, and understanding with people, the children will have that as their foundation of interacting with people. If parents are loving and peaceful to people, the children have that in their DNA.
I learned that family accepts. As such, they don't divide. They don't point out their differences and separate themselves. They magnify their similarities and accept.
Families who raise children to accept people without jumping hurdles will raise the next generation of adults who will be peace MAKERS, bridge BUILDERS, gap INTERMEDIARIES. They will actively reach out to their neighbors to break bread. They will actively spread love and not division. Their children will be confident in their identities and have confidence to reach out to other people without heightened fear of rejection. Because if people reject them for their true selves, it may hurt but it doesn't make them less than the opposing person. (This point is roughly paraphrased from Dr. Brené Brown.)
Another area in which parental habits are indicative of children’s lives is in the area of success. If parents build habits of success — discipline, self-control, resilience, etc. — the children have those habits instilled in them. The children can build on top of their parents’ habits of success rather than starting from scratch.
The easiest area to recognize cross-generational habits is in health and wellness. And yet one of the least detectable areas is that of spirituality. Let’s talk easy first. If we want it to be foundational for our children to live healthy lives, we must choose to be healthy ourselves. Gluttony and obesity do not need to end lives prematurely for generations and generations and generations and…you get the point. In your family, you can change it within your generation. The question we must ask ourselves is this:
Are we willing to sacrifice to give our children the best start in life?
We have to be willing to openly discuss health, nutrition and exercise. We have to conquer our own love of junk foods before we can train our children to eat their veggies. (This, coming from a self-confessed fried anything-aholic. Hey, I’m working on it!) But we have to look in the mirror and decide whether we can give up momentary pleasures for our children's sakes.
It’s true that the effects of health habits are easy to see (which unfortunately ends up being an area of quick judgement), but what’s more important than health is spirituality. If we are only exercising spiritually for an hour every Sunday, we are raising our children to be spiritually malnourished. But if we prioritize spiritual growth, we will raise children who are well-grounded in the only thing that will last their entire lives plus some!
I've seen so many people throughout my life who know the value of hard work, who are well-traveled and well-cultured, who have stunning personalities and are so personable; and yet, they are spiritually bankrupt. Truly, it’s far more important to cultivate a child's spirit than it is to aim for a child to have a good pedigree. If you believe this, your actions have to reflect this. Your personal habits have to reflect this as true.
If there’s no better reason to examine our habits and decide what we need to work on, it is this:
Our children will be endowed with our thought processes, and their starting line will be wherever we place it.
That gives us reason enough to reflect on our lives and what we wish to change. It is not enough to just settle in life because you have already left your formative years. We must want more for ourselves if we want more for our children. Our children are the future, and they will progress far past what we can comprehend for ourselves. But why not give them a head start in teaching them that they are capable of more.
It probably isn't going to be easy in our own lifetimes to conquer our demons/gremlins/bad habits; we might fight them our whole lives. But in our conquering, we will teach our children the better way rather than they watching us passively let our demons conquer us. Secondly and very importantly, as they watch us strive for better, they will know they can change their lives with self-reflection and discipline to change. Correction: strive is too pretty of a word. If I’m honest, my attempts to conquer my demons have been bloody battles, with no clear victor for months and sometimes years. It’s in this battlefield that we learn that we have more in us to give. It is in this battlefield that our children see that they might have more in them to give.
Of no small coincidence, during our cross-country engagement tour, I read the book Daring Greatly by Dr. Brené Brown. (I highly recommend it!) Dr. Brown made the profound statement:
“Be the adult you want your children to be.”
In this blog post, I write as a future mother, and a future grandmother. I write as a woman who will challenge myself to establish the good habits I want my children to pick up. The most important habit I hope to transfer is one of love and acceptance, and the second is the power to defeat my own demons.