Nobody ever said parenting would be easy. All the daily struggles seem to keep getting in the way. But wait a moment. Could it be that those irritations and distractions are the very things God intends to use in building our children’s lives?

Growing boys are awkwardness with elbows. Our five sons spilled so many drinks at mealtimes, the older ones developed trigger-quick reflexes, lifting the plastic tablecloth to contain the milky rivers. In the frustration of the moment I was often tempted to lose my temper and scold them.

But one thought held me back. God thinks “generationally,” calling us to construct the next generation one building block at a time, one glass of spilled milk at a time (see Genesis 18:19, Deuteronomy 6:7, and Psalm 78:1–8). When we respond to spilled milk with grace and mercy, we teach our child patience, and we place another strong stone of self-control into his character. But when we handle problems in an unbiblical manner, we risk laying flawed stones that will crumble under pressure.

As parents, we represent God to our children. What we do each day, and the spirit in which we do it, makes a lasting impact. Their understanding of God’s nature is formed not only as they hear our teaching, but also as they observe our actions and attitudes. The closer we walk with God, the better we reflect His image (Genesis 1:27).

We must teach the truth of God’s Word from the youngest ages, but children are not as likely to accept our words if our actions are unbiblical. They note how we react to daily irritations—the small stuff of life—and they absorb those responses into their vocabulary. For better or for worse, our children will imitate us and even employ most of our parenting approaches when training their children.

What is the small stuff—the spilled milk—at your house? Your husband’s socks on the floor? Look beyond them, remembering that he faithfully walks all day long in those socks to help support his family; your children will learn gratefulness by observing your attitude.

Think of other small stuff, such as wiping sticky fingerprints from the door or hunting for misplaced books, papers, and tools. These moments can become opportunities to teach our children deeper truths, just as the washing of the disciples’ feet was a springboard for Christ to teach about humility and mercy (John 13:4–20).

We ask ourselves, “What am I building into my children? Am I throwing together a haphazard shack, making it up as I go along? Or am I intentionally building a cathedral, realizing that God uses everyday experiences as the stones of a carefully thought-out structure, which He intends to be a blessing down through the generations?”

Sometimes we’re told not to sweat the small stuff. But the small things become the building blocks of our children’s character. Our response to the inevitable daily annoyances impacts the quality of construction in the next generation, and right responses give us opportunities to reinforce truths about our Creator and His work.

Remind yourself: I’m not just cleaning up spilled milk—I’m building the next generation

Marcia Washburn sweats the small stuff from her home in Colorado. She enjoys speaking to parents from Main Street to the jungles of Ecuador on home education and parenting. See www.marciawashburn.com for information about her books, articles, and presentations.

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