Our children are our most important guests, who enter into our home, ask for careful attention, stay for a while and then leave to follow their own way.” — Henri Nouwen
My wife Lauren and I have learned so much from our friend and mentor Brad about parenting. When one of his sons was about to start middle school, Brad took him aside and told him what to expect. “Tucker,” Brad said, “some kids change in the sixth grade. Some kids might start acting mean, and you may lose some friends and get some new ones. That’s okay and that’s normal.”
Brad went on to talk about what other things his son might encounter transitioning to middle school. They covered friendships, bullying, and how to stick up for other people. Brad was giving Tucker a context to understand and process his experiences as a rising sixth grader.
What impressed Lauren and me about this conversation was how common it is in Brad’s parenting. His relationship with his children is one long conversation of guidance. One of the roles he embodies as a parent is as a trusted guide. His children are on a journey called life, and there he is, framing their experiences, giving them some context to understand their life and reflect on it as they find their own way.
Learning from Brad’s example, I recently talked to our son about bullying. He’s five years old and our conversation can only go so far, but I wanted to bring it up. Bullying is something that most children are not prepared for, but is very common. Unfortunately, it can begin before anyone has told them about it or given them tools to deal with it.
Bullying can be confusing for children because they feel that if someone is angry with them, they must have done something to deserve it. It can feel a lot like getting in trouble with their parents or teachers. So instead of telling their loved ones, the child who is bullied may feel ashamed and stay silent. The issue compounds itself when children have not been given any guidance about it before it happens. So I wanted to talk to my son about it.
“Hey Rowan,” I said, “do you know what bullying is?”
“No,” he said.
“Well, have you seen any kids being mean at school?” I asked.
“Yeah, there is a kid at school who doesn’t listen to the teachers and calls people names,” he said.
“Well bullying is when a kid continues to be mean to other kids. They do it for no good reason.” I said.
“Yeah. You know how we joke around with each other and say silly things to each other? Friends do that and it’s fun. But when you tell your friend to stop it, they do. Friends stop teasing when you let them know you’ve had enough. Bullies are kids who don’t stop when you tell them to. Rowan, if you have kids at school who do not stop teasing when you ask them, they are not your friends and are acting like bullies. I want you to know that you can tell them stop and that it’s not okay. Tell an adult and know that you can tell me and Mom about it. We’ll always be here to support you and do whatever we can to help you.”
I don’t know how much of that conversation he absorbed. But I do know that he’ll at least have some language when he encounters bullying. He’ll know that his Dad gave him some guidance about the rocky terrain he’s encountering, and that if he needs any help, he can come back and let me know.
As parents and caregivers, we get to offer our children guidance as they experience the world and their place in it. They are our guests as they learn to find their way through life, faith, love, death, loss, and everything else that makes up the mystery and wonder of a human life.
There is a prayer in the Book of Common Prayer that goes like this:
Almighty God, we entrust all those who are dear to us to thy never-failing care and love, for this life and the life to come, knowing that thou art doing for them better things than we can desire or pray for; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
In all of our loving, caring, and guidance-giving, we are offering ourselves to persons who have their own free will. We cannot protect our children from every bad decision or dangerous path. But while they are with us, we can guide them – then entrust them to God’s loving care, knowing that God is with them and that they are enfolded on every side by God’s love, both in this life and beyond.
[Photo credit: Pexels, Public Domain CC0 license.]
How do you start the “guidance” conversations with your children?