Our children know us better than we do. Sometimes that’s a frightening thing.
As the father of two little boys, I can pinpoint moments when I’ve assumed they were lost in their own worlds and not paying attention to anything I was doing. Then I found out they were watching, listening and recording my behavior in terrifying detail.
Many parents have uttered prayers that their children’s memories would fail in the presence of certain company, at school or — heaven forbid! — in the middle of the children’s sermon at church. Yet, the little recorders keep on recording. Our children are watching and listening to us. What we say around them matters.
Whether we like it or not, we are constantly teaching our children. For better or worse, our words and actions are constantly affecting them, shaping them and influencing the people they will become.
That’s both good and bad. It’s good, because they are listening and learning. In that time, we parents, grandparents, teachers and adults have the opportunity to instill positive values in them. It’s bad, because we can so easily instill other parts of ourselves such as bad habits, prejudices, fears and grudges. Those are probably the parts we wish they wouldn’t see or hear. Perhaps we even pray to God the little recorder in their heads would turn off, just for a second.
I’ve heard so many parents in the past few months describe how interested their children have been in this election season. They are genuinely inquisitive about our political process. However, I’ve found those comments are generally followed by a lament that the process seems to be so filthy and unsuitable for young minds.
As a parent I agree, but I confess I’ve been far more concerned about what children are hearing from our mouths than anything they may have heard on television. If it’s true that our society is becoming more and more divisive and more polarized, then we only have ourselves to blame.
The next generation could continue that trend. They could also break away from it. If that’s to happen, then the new trajectory begins with us — the parents, grandparents, teachers and adults — who influence them daily by what we do and say.
When our children look at us and listen to us, it is not of utmost importance that they see a political party or hear criticism of our supposed enemies. What really matters is they see and hear people of integrity, humility and respect. It’s important they see us treating each other with kindness and hear us speaking honestly but respectfully about those with whom we disagree. More importantly, it’s vital they see and hear us treating them with respect.
Our children need us to set the example. They need us to share God’s love with them. They need us to listen to them and to each other. Then as we see them growing under our influence, we might offer different prayers — not of fear, but of thanks.
The Rev. Lee Koontz is the senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Gainesville. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.