Lessons I learned from my kids

Children are the best teachers and lawyers. Yes, you read right. Children are truly the best teachers and lawyers. I came to this conclusion this past week while I was dealing with several “grown up” issues between members of a church ministry I am assisting as a volunteer director. There were apparently several complaints from newer ministry members about one of our more “experienced” ministry members who is in a leadership position for an upcoming retreat (we’ll call her Loraine to protect her identity). These newer members claimed that Loraine was being blunt, rude, and often left the younger members feeling as if they’d just been hazed into a sorority or fraternity.

As one of the leaders in the ministry, I was assigned to oversee and assist our group leaders in guiding newer members through the retreat preparation process. No, it’s not an easy job, so I can understand the level of stress our sister Loraine must have been experiencing. At the same time, however, I had a responsibility to keep the peace and to ensure that our newer church ministry members were not discouraged by the harshness of our leader’s words or actions. After much investigating and even taking the matter up with our executive board of directors, in the end no one wanted to step forward to register a formal complaint against Loraine which made me look unorganized and misinformed in front of the newer ministry members, the board of directors, AND was cause for Loraine to be quite upset with me on a very personal level.

You may be wondering how my children “taught” me a valuable lesson about this very adult matter. While I had all my facts straight and did my due diligence in looking into the issue and presenting the matters as I had understood them, in the end everyone was too concerned about getting Loraine kicked off the ministry team and/or the repercussions that could occur as a result of such action. Essentially everyone chickened out and left me standing in the midst of a the mess to clean up and lick my wounds.

I went home that night to my husband and children feeling as if my fellow ministers were going to judge me harshly despite the fact I had followed protocol for following up on complaints, and done my best to calm everyone’s tempers. I felt dejected and like a failure. At one point, I mentioned fearing that I myself would be judged and accused of playing favorites. The whole time I was pouring my heart and soul out to my spouse, my children were happily playing on the living room floor. When I couldn’t pour anymore of my woes out on my husband, my oldest boy, Robert, came over and asked me why I was upset. I told Robert that I was upset because people at church were mad at Mommy. Robert proceeded to ask me if God was angry with me. I told him I didn’t think God was angry with me, but that all the people I tried to help probably were peeved. His childlike, but infinite wisdom shone through in his response, “But they don’t matter. God is happy, so it’s okay.”

And it truly was okay in the end. My son, the little teacher, was right. In the end, the opinions and false judgements of my fellow ministers were not what mattered. What mattered was that I did my best in the situation faithfully and God (and God alone) knew my heart. What others gossiped about or talked about afterward was irrelevant. The only person whose opinion mattered in this ministry was God alone. I walked away from my brief episode feeling better thanks to Robert.

I mentioned that kids also make great lawyers. I know this from experience having tried to trick my youngest son, Gregory, into doing something by promising him a special treat for completing the task. It’s no secret in our home that Gregory is sort of a cross between a grizzly bear and a wild boar – he’s either cranky that you are interrupting him or he’s running around with reckless abandon in an effort to go absolutely nowhere. On one occasion while at a weekly church service with the family, Gregory was being especially ornery, but also making a lot of noise to let the whole world know he wasn’t happy to be in church for the second time that day. My husband couldn’t get him to settle down even as Gregory was starting to pinch and hit his big brother, Robert. In my desperation to keep everyone quiet, I told Gregory that if he could manage to behave himself throughout the rest of the service and keep his hands to himself, then we would be able to go out for dinner to get his favorite dish – chicken strips and French fries. That promise seemed to do the trick.

Fast forward to almost two hours later, I was tired and my ears were ringing from what I thought was an oncoming migraine. All I wanted to do was go home and call it an early night. Gregory had other plans when we got to the car. Being the perceptive boy that he is, he quickly pointed out that I was driving in the wrong direction because the restaurant was in opposite direction of where I was headed. I told him that we weren’t going to the restaurant because it was late. The lawyer in Gregory said, “But we have to eat dinner like you promised.” Insert my husband’s question about whether I promised Gregory dinner for good behavior or not. Gregory then proceeded to remind me that I promised dinner if he behaved for the rest of Mass and kept his hands to himself. Miraculously, he had kept that end of the bargain despite the fact that he was humming and chit-chatting to himself in pretend play instead. He was right, of course. He kept his end of the deal and it was now my turn to keep my promise. My little lawyer even had a witness in his big brother, who undoubtedly also wanted dinner.

The lessons I learned from my children, the teacher and the lawyer, were simple truths that we are meant to live each day. First, the opinions of others should matter less than our own opinion of ourselves, and most importantly living a life of integrity. For me, that life of integrity means living in a way that I can someday come to God’s throne and give an honest assessment of how I lived my life. What we think of ourselves and being able to look in the mirror and say “I did my best” is what matters. Secondly, we need to think before we speak. I made a promise to my son out of desperation to keep him out of trouble and quiet, but not thinking far enough ahead about the time of night or how exhausted I might be from a full day of activity to actually fulfill that promise.

This brings me to my third point. Don’t make promises you are uncertain you can keep. If you do make a promise, be a person of integrity and keep it to the best of your ability. I’m not a fan of making absolutes, especially in promises, but if I do then I have to think about it before actually speaking the words. If I know I’m going to be too tired, too busy, or too broke to keep that promise, I’d better reconsider what I am going to offer. As exhausted as I was, I wasn’t so spent that I couldn’t keep my promise. We ended up going to dinner, which was a good thing because my stomach was growling by the time we sat in the booth at the restaurant.

Children really do make good teachers and lawyers. Their innocence and simple understanding of the world (not to mention their ability to remember things that matter to them) gives them a unique ability to call things out as they see them – plain and simple. I have a friend who loves performing magic tricks for his high school students. He usually tests his tricks out on his 5 year old daughter, Lisette. Almost without fail, he knows that a trick is good or not if he can impress Lisette. More often than not, Lisette is not wowed by her dad’s efforts, but the few times she is it is because she was unable to figure out what her dad did to trick her. A child’s ability to observe and see things for what they are, true or fake, real or imaginary, again speaks to their innocence and simplicity. To a child, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck, then it is a duck. This is why some of the best decisions I made for my family are because my children gave me their opinion on the matter without filters or the need to impress their mother.

Would our world, our lives, and our relationships with others be different if we could approach them in very much the same way as children do? What lessons have you learned from children or those who are childlike? Comment in the space provided.

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