how we speak to children

My friend Libby is forever telling her students that excuses belong in the trash can.  I think she even had a pail labeled “excuses” at one time.  Without a doubt, she’s a compassionate and forgiving person, but I think we could all take a dose of her no-nonsense medicine at some point in our lives.  I had a big spoonful of it this morning fed to me just this morning by my 3 year old son.

Mom, why did you say that mean to me?  You were happy just a minute ago.

He’s at that stage where he asks 19 questions per hour, and at least 10 of them he already knows the answer to.  Another 5 of his questions don’t really have an answer unless you want to get into philosophy or metaphysics.  I’d just finished an hour-long, unplanned visit to my doctor — with two kids and a loud baby in tow — when he asked,

Mom, why is this the way?

Gadget Mobile“We’re driving this direction because Mommy is still saving up for that Inspector Gadget-Mobile we want.  Otherwise, we’d be sprouting helicopter blades right now.” Okay, I didn’t say that.  I wish I had.  Sometimes I remember to use humor, but today I was more focused on getting out of the tightly crammed parking lot and getting the promised milkshake rewards.

I don’t know, Ben.

My words were clipped, and my cadence conveyed my annoyance.  Even a 3 year old knows tone, and we are foolish to forget that.  If this tiny 4-word sentence held enough meaning for my very young son to comment on it, what is it like for kids who hear daily that their very existence is, at best, an annoyance?  Sarah Mae recently wrote about an incident in an store that left her crying in the parking lot, and I’ve had so many similar experiences.  In a store, in a kitchen, in a school, at a gas station, way more children than you might realize are hearing horrendous, spirit-murdering statements from those who should love them.

I wish you were never born.

You screw up everything.

My life would be so much better without you.

To these fear-mongerers I’d like to say: No excuses.

  1. Bring the worst of your life’s circumstances to the table and they still won’t get you a “not guilty” plea in front of your judge.  Of course you’re angry that something bad happened to you;  you wouldn’t speak like that if everything was swell.  You can’t bring a worthy excuse regarding your own pain.
  2. Your judge is God, who created that precious child to be a tiny reflection of himself.  It really doesn’t matter if the kid asks 47 Q/hr.  It doesn’t matter if she just ruined your plans for the weekend out of her selfishness or if he did exactly what you told him not to do again.  You cannot bring a worthy excuse regarding how bad you think your child is.
  3. Newsflash:  All children are born selfish, impatient, and needy.  It’s a parent’s job to help grow them out of these traits and grow them into that reflection of God they were intended to be.

Parents are hurting, and they’re hurting their children in turn.  How can we teach parents to apologize and mean it?  How can we help them steer their pain away from their children and toward healing?  How can we warn teenagers and young adults that parenthood is so much more than having some cute picture to post on Facebook?  I find all of these lessons in Jesus.  He models humility, he brings peace and healing, and he grants undeserved grace to me over and over again.  My excuse pail runneth over.

I apologized to Ben, and I told him I’d work on not being mean.  He said, “Okay.  I’m still happy.  I love you.”  Parents who say and do really horrific things to their children and parents who get snappy over silly things have this in common:  we need mercy and grace and miraculous help to get over our selfishness.  I am so very grateful for a child who speaks grace to me.

What are we going to do for these kids?  Yes, we.  I don’t have an answer yet, but I know that a large mass of people need to take note, pray, and… I’m hoping someone knows what comes next.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. – Psalm 19:14


2 thoughts on “how we speak to children

  1. During my 2 years as an in-home family therapist to low-income, under-educated, under-represented, minority families in Philadelphia I heard and saw things that broke my heart on a daily basis. I’m with you on the ‘no excuses’ but I think the “reasons” for these words and actions is really important and speak to the brokenness of us all.
    You ask good questions, too. “How can we teach parents to apologize and mean it? How can we help them steer their pain away from their children and toward healing?” Exactly! How can we help a young, food insecure mother with little reliable support, living below the poverty line, and no models of what we would call good parenting? Or, a parent who has been (is)continually abused, verbally and/or physically, by parents and spouse with no champion to proclaim their value as a human being?
    Your answer is on point: Jesus is the answer. The one who can suffer atrocity and love/serve his violaters. Not an easy task. What we all need is transformation; revamped thought-world. Parents know better than any that loving a selfish sinner requires a big picture perspective that doesn’t come easy. Part of our work as ambassadors of God’s kingdom is to practice kingdom-living here and now, and repenting when we fall short (like you did with Ben). Know that your work with kids is participating in the transformation of minds and the propagation of a clearer vision of how things ought to be.

    Proud of you, LWL!!!

    • “…the propagation of a clearer vision of how things ought to be.” YES. I think if I respond more fully to that, it’d be an entire blog post. Hmmm. Thanks for generating that topic for me!

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