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Character Counts
Every Friday my column appears in several newspapers. Here's this week's, inspired by a New Year's post I wrote a while back.

In my New Year’s column, I painted a picture of how common sense has been sacrificed over the last five decades. Boy, did many readers take me to task for being so negative! I didn’t realize how bad things were then. And today life really is a lot better. Their kids are doing great!

And I’m glad for them. Mine are, too! But that’s one of the problems with anecdotal evidence: remember when Nixon’s 1972 presidential win confounded New York journalists, because no one they knew voted for him? They had a closed system of acquaintances, and so they thought the world was other than it was. Similarly, our own little circle may be thriving, but that doesn’t mean that all families are. The rates of family breakdown and delinquency today over fifty years ago shows a definite trend, and it isn’t pretty.

Nevertheless, the readers had a point. Their kids are doing well, and just because our culture may be going off the rails is no reason that our own kin have to follow. On an individual basis, we can challenge the norms and beat the odds. We all know that; that’s why we have so many New Year’s resolutions, even if they do have about as good a chance as being honoured as Dion did at becoming Prime Minister.

Yet have you ever noticed that most of our resolutions concern weight? We’re going to exercise. We’re not going to sneak the kids’ chocolate. We’re going to diet, at least for the next few days before our resolve passes.

Being healthy is certainly an admirable goal, but I’m curious as to why we focus so much on food. Other variables influence our health, too. For men, especially, being married is a health boon. It’s the equivalent to never having smoked. And common law relationships don’t have the same health bonus. Divorce, on the other hand, is a health killer. So if we’re really interested in health, maybe we should focus on our relationships, too!

The same is true for our children. We want them to succeed and do well in life, but we tend to focus on academics, as if that’s all that counts. But if we want to raise kids who will be independent, motivated, and responsible, good marks are no guarantee of anything! We all know brilliant young men with no drive who waste their lives on video games. Intelligence is not nearly the determinant for future success as work ethic and morals are.

I think many parents, though, just assume that their children will turn out okay. They give them the best toys, an easy life, and help them to succeed in school, assuming that this will steer their children into becoming good citizens. But without a real moral foundation, there’s no guarantee that this will happen.

Our culture is spreading a message which is the exact antithesis of real success in life. It says that appearance matters more than ethics; that sex is the way to popularity; that money can buy happiness (and so can electronic gadgets); and that the best thing in life is to have fun, not to be productive. The only way for our children to combat these attitudes is for us to take an active role in their lives and show them the benefits of acting responsibly.

Our New Year’s Resolutions for our children, then, should primarily focus on character. If you raise a child with good morals, the rest will follow. If you raise a self-centred, irresponsible but intelligent child, they’re unlikely to go far. So this year, can you teach them to do chores, so that they learn basic life skills and learn to think of others before they make a mess? Can you refuse to allow your children to call each other names, to gossip about others, or to degrade anyone else? Can you stop watching movies or TV shows that promote the wrong message?

Our society has many dark corners, making it easy to believe that life is inevitably moving in the wrong direction. But we can beat the odds if we start focusing on what really matters. This year, prioritize your relationships. Prioritize character, both in yourself and in your kids. And maybe we can finally build a culture where goodness and kindness are truly valued.

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At 9:37 AM , Blogger Mrs W said…

Haha to be honest I want to win the new book because that will probably be the only way I get to read it for a while, and I really need it. Anyhow don't count the first several links though because I was having trouble with the link and so I tested it a few times, so it wouldn't be fair to count those.


At 1:51 PM , Blogger Terry @ Breathing Grace said…

When you get these blanket statements of "But my kids are doing fine", I can't help but wonder exactly what that means.

My kids are doing fine, too, but as are kids are in school, we have an up close and personal look at the dysfunction in our society in a way the average homeschool family may not. If the majority of people are bereft of character, that spells a bleaker future for us all. The "me and my three" mentality is a dangerous one to embrace.

Things are better in many ways, but in the ways that matter most, things are markedy worse.

I'm currently reading the book Home-making, by J.R. Miller. It's an old book, written I believe in 1882, but there is a telling quote in it that I think is worth sharing:

"Homes are the springs among the hills, whose many streamlets, uniting, form, like great rivers, society, the community, the nation, the Church. If the springs run low the rivers waste; if they pour out bounteous currents the rivers are full. If the springs are pure the rivers are clear like crystal; if they are foul the rivers are defiled. A curse upon the homes sends a poisoning blight everywhere; a blessing sends healing and new life into every channel."

And the family unit in this 21st century is definitely on shaky ground.


At 7:11 PM , Blogger Mel said…

I agree, character does trump the rest. If we raise our children to know right from wrong and that life is not fair, and that hard work is what we all have to do...while there are no guarantees it does give them a shot.

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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