I got into my hot car after the final stop of my morning errands. A foul-up at the self-checkout was going to make me late for a lunch date. I hate being late and I lost my composure as I drove to meet my friend and her 11-year-old granddaughter for lunch and a movie. I rolled through a Stop sign as I turned right. I drove above the speed limit. I changed lanes more often than I should, to save—what? a few seconds?
As I got out of my car in the restaurant’s parking lot, an older man driving a white pickup truck pulled up near me.
“Where did you learn to drive??!!” He raised his voice, “that was some reckless driving!!! You better be careful.” And then he drove away.
No profanity. No name-calling. Something bothered him. Could it be that he followed me because he was actually concerned about me and/or the other people driving around me? That’s what I chose to believe, and I took his warning to heart.
“Our character is not like a statue. It is more like an unfinished story.”
That’s a quote from Lewis Smedes, and he went on to say: “To speak of character is to admit that there is a thing called humankind. We are not simply a huge collection of individuals, each one of his and her own kind. There is a kind of person we all are meant to be. There are some human qualities that God intends every individual member of his great family to share.
“There is a universal moral pattern, a shared character, an image of God, that is meant to filter through the private windows of all of us unique individuals.”
With steady perseverance we keep coming back, again and again, to allow the image of God to shine brighter in our own lives.
Tweetable: With steady perseverance, keep coming back to your focus on self-control in action. I lost focus and a gruff but kindly stranger taught me a lesson. Click to Tweet
How do we become much more intentional and specific about the kinds of relationships kids need at home, at school, and in other places they spend time? In attempting to bring insight to this question, Search Institute proposes five essential actions in a family’s developmental relationships. A majority of families with children ages 3 to 13 in this study, want help with how to “share power,” one of the five essential actions.
These young people are saying to their parents and adult relatives: Hear my voice and let me share in making a decision.
A family’s reservoir of relational power
The following ideas from Search Institute illustrate “that families share power through the everyday ways they interact with, care for, and invest in their relationships together”:
- “Respect the child’s opinions, even when you disagree.
- When you’re in a disagreement, take time to understand each other’s point of view.
- Be open to changing your opinions on important topics based on what you learn from the child.
- When the child doesn’t understand what you’re trying to teach, try to show her or him in a different way.
- Create something new together that neither of you has done before. Options could include devising a new recipe, building something, painting a picture, or creating a piece of music.
- Develop new interests based on things you learn from the child.
- The next time the child comes to you about a large or small problem, don’t provide the answers or solve the problem. Instead, say something like, “Let’s see what you can do,” and then ask the child to find solutions with your guidance.”
I like this one
One way I share power with kids is to provide them with two positive choices and they make their decision without interference. For example, with a preschool child at the park, I’ve said, “It’s time to go home now. We can walk to the car through the picnic area or we can walk around the swing set. Which is best for you?” With older kids I might offer two different, parent-approved snacks to choose from.
What works in your family?
Tweetable: Sharing power within a family is not easy to navigate. Evaluate your family against these seven actions as you interact with, care for, and invest in your relationships together. Click to Tweet
Within my family I’m a great-aunt, and to some of my friends, I’m “like-an-aunt” to their kids or grandchildren. I’m also “like-a-grandma” to two dear children. What spiritual impact can extended family have on kids?
Time well spent
We’re inching our way toward time well spent with the children we love. I find that kids appreciate one-on-one time most. Sherry Turkle, psychologist at MIT, says,”There’s a brand-new dynamic. Rather than compete with their siblings for their parents’ attention, children are up against iPhones and iPads, Siri and Alexa, Apple watches and computer screens.” Extended family can give children additional undivided attention outside of busy everyday family life. We listen and mirror back to a child what we hear, which helps them process and accept what they feel and think.
Discover life’s purpose
When’s the last time you pulled out your phone to do something and you get distracted, and 30 minutes later you find that you’ve done 10 other things except the thing that you pulled out the phone to do. There’s fragmentation and distraction.
For kids who do this, there’s something on a longer-term level to keep in view: that sense of what you’re about.
Extended family has the luxury of spending a child’s free time with them. As we have fun together without gadgets, we adults can create a shared narrative with a child, a shared truth or shared facts. All of these strengthen a child’s foundation upon which they discover their moral purpose. We’re empowering a child to become the person he or she wants to be.
Tweetable: Two more easy ways to empower children to become the person he or she wants to be. But first, put down those gadgets but not before you check this out! Click to Tweet
“I asked the boys to find something they wanted to give each other (in secret), and told them that afterwards we would use some scrap paper and wrap the “gifts” up. They happily ran around trying to find things (my two-year-old usually came back with things that were way too big to fit into the paper) and I helped them fold the paper around the objects before they gave them to each other.”
“They also asked me to give them presents (and gave presents to me), so we all took turns sharing the wrapping paper and presenting gifts to each other. It was amazing how much fun they had with this!”
Handling gifts, a frequent childhood occurrence
Janice Kaplan’s story from her family is a reminder of the year-full of birthday parties to which kids will take all kind of gifts. Then there are the gifts kids are going to receive on their birthday and various holidays throughout the remaining months of this year.
My Aunt Alice likes to say that class isn’t wealth or beauty or education; class is manners.
Janice Kaplan says that the simple activity described above was one way she helped her sons learn the manners of gift-giving, and she is teaching them to:
- Practice thinking about other people while we choose gifts.
- Practice saying “thank you.”
- Practice looking for the good qualities of the gift (for example, “Wow that is a really bright highlighter!”).
- Discuss that someone gives a gift to show love to the other person, not necessarily because the other person wants the thing they are receiving.
- Discuss the possibility of not getting what you “want.”
- Remember the purpose of gifts, that they are a sign of love.
I like Janice’s use of “practice” because it indicates that gift giving and receiving is a skill children can use to express their love and appreciation. And when they receive something from us, don’t all of us like hearing those magic words, thank you?
Tweetable: A mom’s excellent idea for reinforcing the skill of giving and receiving gifts in her young sons. Here are the details. Click to Tweet
A neighbor of mine shared his mother’s words of wisdom in our local paper. It got me thinking about how I’m passing along wisdom to the children in my life.
My neighbor’s (partial) list
- You don’t dress to impress. You dress to show your respect to others.
- Life’s not fair. Get over it and move on.
- Don’t let your career find you. Find what you were made to do.
- Knowledge comes from school. Maturity sometimes comes with age. Wisdom comes from the Bible.
- Something worth doing is seldom easy.
- Your logic can be perfect, but your facts could be wrong.
Obviously these are not the only words of wisdom that my neighbor lives by, but he’s found a way to frame life by a series of sayings leading to a satisfying life.
There’s power in wisdom
We want the kids we love to end up knowing how to judge rightly and follow the soundest course of action. We teach by example, springing from our:
Wait for a kid’s “hmm” or moment of silence
I usually know when I’ve made connection with a child. Typically it’s followed by a few second of silence as they process a new thought. Sometimes they look off into the distance for a moment. We can leave an even deeper impression when we make eye contact or touch their shoulder or arm as we’re speaking. I learned from Becky Bailey that “connections on the outside with others build neuro-connections on the inside.”
Wisdom is what I hope to impart to kids
When we open our ears and eyes to what kids are feeling, acting out on and thinking about, we build on their life experiences and their perceptions of the world. Our power lies in asking follow-up questions or making 10-words-or-less observations about what they’ve shared. This promotes wisdom in them, a legacy I find worth leaving.
Tweetable; Each day, so much information comes to us and the kids we love. Check out the benefits that Wisdom has to offer. Knowledge is necessary, but search for Wisdom like a treasure. Read more. Click to Tweet
“During my marriage, my ex and I discussed taking our kids to various houses of worship. They were curious about—envious of?—their churchgoing peers. Though we viewed organized religion with suspicion, we still wondered, How would our kids know what they believed about everything if they’d never been exposed to anything?” (Amanda Avutu)
Amanda’s own curiosity guided her response to her kids.
- “What did a spirituality built on the tenets of love and hope look like?
- If I could separate faith from organized religion, could I become a believer?
- What could I gain from contemplating everything I’d summarily dismissed in my youth?
- What did I want to practice—cynicism? Judgment?
- What if—through charitable work, acts of kindness, the lessons I was teaching my children—I had been practicing all along? Maybe I hadn’t forsaken religion; I had just reimagined it.”
Amanda’s way with her children
Recently, I drove the kids to Ebenezer Baptist Church, here in Atlanta, for Sunday service. Save weddings, they’d never been inside a place of worship. We listened to a descendant of Robert E. Lee preach at the pulpit of Martin Luther King, Jr., and I thought, We are all capable of so much more change than we realize.
My children and I now have plans to visit Buddhist, Hindu, and Jewish temples; a mosque; and at least one more church. Not as voyeurs, or converts, but out of openhearted curiosity and respect.
Ideas for your family
- Respond actively when children express curiosity or envy over their friends religious/spiritual beliefs.
- Work out an age-appropriate plan to explore spirituality with the child. Any combination of these resources is possible:
- Attend houses of worship
- Internet search of faith traditions or ethical systems
- Read together children’s books based upon sacred writings
- Keep your focus on listening to the child’s thoughts; ask follow-up questions to help the child process more deeply; allow the child to lead next steps; give priority to those next steps.
(In an old issue of O magazine, I ran across an article that featured the words of author Amanda Avutu. They struck a chord.)
Tweetable: How #Martin Luther King’s pulpit still enlightens a modern-day family searching for their spiritual identity. Click to Tweet