“No, we don’t answer the phone or text during meals; we are present to each other.”

“Yes, we are still going to pray before meals when friends are over.”

“No, we aren’t going to watch that show, because it doesn’t fit with our family values or faith values.”

“Yes, we are ushering at church as a family, because Jesus teaches us to serve our neighbor.”

I am a parent of 10- and 8-year-old children. Perhaps, like me, you feel parenting is a never-ending discussion around “yes and no” with your kids. I remember telling my kids one worn-out day that if they would stop asking so many irrational questions—like whether they could have candy before dinner—I wouldn’t have to tell them “no” so often. I had to laugh at myself while saying it.

Our role as parents is to set healthy boundaries for our children to learn to live into on their own. “Healthy” does not mean “rigid,” nor does it mean “wishy-washy.” (If anything, I discovered that consistency is key.) But my spouse and I are imperfect. We don’t always say “yes” or “no” to the same things. I might be more flexible about how long the kids brush their teeth; he might be more rigid about how well the table is cleaned up.

However, one area we agree on is faith. We want our children to have a vocabulary of faith that grows with them as they tackle increasingly difficult life challenges. This often means our “yes” or “no” needs to be backed up with “why” we believe or behave this way. This inevitably takes longer, but it’s paying off in what feels like the very long run (years later).

Our “no” or “yes” needs to align with our values, and the more often we can explain it through our vocabulary of faith, the better.

Now, as the school year begins, I’m noticing my kids aren’t asking for new backpacks—even after patching holes—because we “reduce, reuse and recycle,” and they know to use the backpack they have until it truly wears out. When my daughter asked if she could switch classes because her close friends from last year weren’t in the same class, we said no, because God has gifted her with the ability to make new friends. Our “no” or “yes” needs to align with our values, and the more often we can explain it through our vocabulary of faith, the better.

Matthew 5:37 reads, “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes,’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.” This verse comes within the context of not swearing, with the emphasis on keeping your word. I try not to play the “because I’m your mom and I say so” card. Part of building a vocabulary of faith means taking the time to explain my decisions. The children can disagree with them, but they become aware of values behind my point of view.

When push comes to shove this new school year, and as we parents find ourselves in a tennis match of “yes and no,” where will your vocabulary of faith lead you?

Practical tips

1. Validate your kids’ feelings with words such as “If I’m hearing you correctly, you want …” And respond with “Our family values are …”

2. Use the Spark Story Bible Psalm Book: Prayers and Poems for Kids to encourage conversations about God caring for us in the midst of our mix of emotions.

3. Be gentle with yourself and your kids as you adapt to schedule changes with the new school year. Let them know you are adapting too and find ways to laugh as much as possible to let off steam.

Janelle Rozek Hooper
Janelle Rozek Hooper is the ELCA program manager for Ministry with Children and the author of Heaven on Earth: Studies in Matthew (Augsburg Fortress, 2010). Learn more about her at evescuriousgarden.org.

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