So much of parenthood is spent worrying about our children’s educations — ensuring they meet their milestones, giving them the academic edge to get into the best schools, filling their time with activities that will teach them how to love learning. And while these things have their value, I’m starting to realize not only how much they already know, but also how much my kids teach me every day. I now have three children under four, and already they have taught me some of life’s most important lessons and shown me, in their own simple ways, how to embody the values we all strive to live by.
Lessons in Grace: This morning, my daughter — just two months shy of her second birthday — woke long before the sun and quickly found her way into our bed, draped in the early morning darkness and my tired, heavy arms. In no time, my three-month-old woke as well, eager to be fed. As I sat up nursing the baby in bed, I mindlessly reached to stroke her face and found another little hand already in its place. My older daughter was laying next to me, silent and in complete darkness, not realizing anyone could see her, soothing and caressing her baby sister’s hair. Here was the baby who had essentially stripped her of half the attention she was used to getting, who even just this morning had taken her mother’s embrace away from her in order to be held and nursed, and yet she was offering this silent, gentle show of affection with no expectation of getting anything in return. It was a simple act of undeserved love, a heartwarming gesture anchored by a more soulful strength of character. It’s a scene I won’t soon forget and an attitude I hadn’t even realized I was aspiring to.
Lessons in Patience: They say when you pray for patience, God instead gives you opportunities to practice being patient. I must have been praying pretty hard, then, because I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten stuck behind a toddler going up the stairs with nine bags of groceries and a screaming baby in my arms. From their endless whining to the constant flip-flopping and need to argue the opposite of every point made throughout the day, I seem to always feel that pull to lose my temper. The backseat crying, the public shows of defiance, the freaking snail’s pace when we’re already 20 minutes late — my kids never fail to give me shots at improvement, but they always show me that kindness works better than force. And as time wears on, I can feel my patience growing stronger and steadier, my frustration and anger replaced with empathy and compassion.
Lessons in Forgiveness: I would be lying, though, if I said I didn’t sometimes still have those moments when I fall short and explode, followed by an immediate torrent of guilt. They’re children, they’re learning, and I’m yelling instead of teaching. When this happens, I’ve learned to humble myself and tell them I’ve made a mistake. I explain to them what I’ve done wrong, tell them what I should have done instead, and let them know I’ll do my best not to do it again. Each time this has happened, I’m amazed at their willingness to forgive. I know this won’t always be the case, but at this age, children don’t hold grudges. They don’t hold things against me and bring them up later. They fall into my arms, let me rock them and kiss them, and ask me to play cars with them. They’ve modeled an example I wish I was brave enough to live in my own adult relationships — love, hurt, forgive, love again.
Lessons in Daring: My kids will scale any structure you put in front of them — from furniture to door frames, shopping carts to refrigerator shelves — and launch themselves off of it. They’ll stand in front of a room full of people, take of all their clothes, and start dancing to the teapot song. One time, my son ran into the middle of a soccer game full of “big kids,” grabbed as many orange cones as he could carry, and ran off the field with them. Who does that? They do all these things with smiles on their faces — boastful, gleeful grins and laughter in their heaving breath. They are living life and loving it. For better or worse, they don’t yet let fear derail every impulse or dictate every choice. They’ve taught me to let go, within reason, and feel that sense of adventure and daring again. After all, what’s a few scraped knees compared to the rush of racing pantsless through Macy’s?*
*I do not condone this.
Lessons in Trust: Accompanying the fearlessness is a necessary and inherent sense of trust. They trust me to catch them when they climb too high, trust me to heal their boo-boos with a kiss, trust that I won’t lead them into a situation that will hurt them beyond repair. When they do feel apprehension or panic creeping in, like when the horses in the parade trample a little too close for comfort or when they awaken from a scary dream, my presence and embrace alone are enough to calm their racing hearts. They trust us to protect them in a sense that is more knowing than hoping. I fear for the day I won’t be able to protect them from the pain the world throws at them, but for today, their example of optimistic belief in others inspires me to rest my faith and trust in someone (or something) beyond myself.
These things can’t be taught in workbooks or educational videos. Whether they are born with these inclinations or we’ve somehow accidentally instilled them, our children have a lot to teach us. If we’re brave enough to swallow our pride and open our eyes and hearts, we’ll see just how much the teachers have to learn from the students.