Habits of the Household – Review

Justin Whittle Earley, Habits of the Household: Practicing the Story of God in Everyday Family Rhythms, Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2021, xiv + 226 pp. $19.99

Habits of the Household is a practical book, not meant to be merely read but to be applied and practiced. The underlying assumption that motivates the habits Justin Whitmel Earley suggests is the conviction that we are the things we do without thinking. That is, our character is formed by our habits. The little, most insignificant actions of our lives are not really insignificant at all. We are formed by those moments—they make us who we are. But their impact is much larger than even that. Our children are formed by our habits. 

The book proceeds to offer reflections and suggestions for the various aspects of our day that we often don’t give a second thought to. From Waking (ch 1) to Bedtime (ch 10), our Conversations (ch 9) and Discipline (ch 3), what we watch (ch 4) and how we treat our mealtimes (ch2), our Work (ch 7), and Play (ch 8), our habits are revealing who we are, and are forming who our kids will become. 

So the question is, “What kind of person do you want your child to become and how will you get them there?” The culture of the home, created by the habits of the household, plays a significant role in our children’s development. We want to be people who are shaped by the Gospel through and through. And we want our kids to be shaped by it as well. Therefore we should incorporate habits that reinforce the good news and bring us together throughout our day.

A couple of the most poignant takeaways for me:

1. Small Consistent Habits have huge effects over a long period of time. 

Water consistently flowing for millennia over the same soft ground creates a riverbed. Keep it up exponentially and you get the Grand Canyon.[1] Similarly, the easiest way to make someone a lifelong follower of Jesus is to 1. Be one, 2. Have a kid, 3. Instill small habits consistently over the 18 or so years they live under your roof. It really is as simple as consistently showing your kids how to read their Bibles by reading it yourself around them and saying a prayer before meals to remind everyone where the blessing comes from and the posture we are to have regarding the blessings of this life.  

2. The goal of Discipline is Reconciliation not Retribution

I recognize the statement above makes me seem petty, vindictive, and a horrible father, but the truth is that many of us, myself included, approach discipline in a manner that implies we’re more concerned with behavior management (punishing bad behavior and rewarding good behavior) than we are about our relationship with our kids. The problem with any bad behavior is not in and of itself what the behavior is but what it does to our relationship with our kids or what it does with our kids’ relationship with others. Therefore the goal of discipline is not merely about correcting bad behavior (there is a place for that) but about restoring a relationship that has been violated. The Earleys have a rule that every discipline ends in a “brother’s hug” wherein the boys signify the restoration of their relationship through a hug that lasts until they both laugh. The relationship is mended through an acknowledgment of the offense and confronting the heart that gave rise to it. The boys must apologize while making eye contact and being as sincere as they can be. Earley points out that our words often lead our hearts. When we say something as if we mean it, we actually start to mean it. (pg 85) The apology does the heavy lifting of repairing the relationship while the hug marks the capstone of the reconciliation. The underlying point of this approach to discipline is that our Children are Image-bearers to be discipled. (pg 76)

[1] This point has been made many times, and quite effectively. See Smith, James K. A. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2016.

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