Sitting at the volleyball game of your oldest niece, you catch sight of your brother, sister, niece, and nephews coming up the bleachers to join you. You know they all will acknowledge you at some point soon, but the one you are looking forward to the most is the smallest one of them all. You don’t know why, but it feels like it will be the most genuine expression of them all.
You see him walking hand-in-hand with his mother, as he always does. He hasn’t noticed you. His little legs stretch to elevate himself one step higher than before. He won’t accept help because he’s becoming a big kid, and big kids don’t need help. Ask his older brother. One step at a time, he works his way up the bleachers.
He makes it to his seat. His mother hands him an opened bag of candy. He begins eating his candy, and observing his environment. The moment is coming. His eyes will wander about as he takes in the room he has entered into. Kids running around on the court while adults and other kids watch from the stands. He bobs his head left and right, enjoying his food and entertainment. He looks behind him to see who’s in the stands. He sees your face.
In the span of a second, his brain tells him who you are. You are fortunate enough to see it connect for him. Anticipation is rising. That’s uncle. He knows it, but how would he respond? He squints his eyes in delight, stretches his cheeks wide, and smiles with the truest happiness you’ve ever seen. There are no pleasantries. There is no familiarity. He’s genuinely happy to see you.
It is the kind of expression that gets lost in the habit of living. Where it would take an adult months or years to drudge up that kind of expression, this little boy does it without thinking, every single time he sees you. Not only will he smile, but he will come and hug you. Then, after contemplating, he will hit you, as if activating the machine that is Uncle Rio, to come and play.
There is an innocence in children that motivates. They don’t know that eventually, they will become accustomed to mom and dad coming home. They don’t know that loving uncles will occasionally find excuses to call, text, or visit. Every experience is fresh and new.
Though I wish we lived in a world that didn’t put them in harm’s way, we are not afforded that luxury. Outside the security of certain family members are perverts, police, drug dealers, gang affiliates, racists, manipulators, and abusers alike. There are evils which these boys and girls have yet to experience, understand, or even hear about.
How do you tell those children that hugs will become less innocent? How do you tell children that every random person isn’t looking to play with them, but, in fact, some are looking to harm them? How do you tell that little girl that many men will only see her as a tool for sex and seek to control her body? How do you tell that little boy that there will be no true support for him as he tries to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders? How do you tell a child it only gets worse from here? Eventually, there will be crime, bills, voting, overwhelming responsibilities, and evil. How do I tell them that their experiences with me are an oasis in a world of pain?
I don’t feel like I can tell them. I don’t want to be the adult that shatters their hopes and dreams. I don’t want to be the face or voice of bad news. Baby girl, men could get paid more than you for the exact same job. Baby boy, many in this world will only see your possessions and never see your heart. Teaching them about the world and how to live in it is a daunting task.
Raising children is taxing, and these aren’t even my kids! I am terrified about not knowing how to discipline my future children! What will my kids learn from me both intentionally and unintentionally? The saying is, “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” but no one really explained what the rod was.
Could the rod be a shepherd’s staff, in that a child must learn to labor for the things he or she wishes to have? Is the rod a miraculous staff, like those owned by Moses and Aaron, which God used to activate some of the most powerful phenomena ever recorded in history, meaning that my kids must learn to be willing vessels for the will of God? Is the rod simply a tool used to spank children who have been bad? Spanking must be easier than stoning, right? Is the rod one thing, or is it many things?
Discipline is a subject that varies from family to family. As for my house, we serve the Lord. However, there is no point in disciplining a child if I, as the parent, do not first discipline myself. Who am I to demand something of a child that I myself do not commit to? Will I be a hypocritical parent, too?
My nieces and nephews have been excellent practice for me. For them, I watch my mouth. I try my best to not be the source of their vulgar language. The explicit songs and rated R movies never get played around them. For them, I try to be there. I will not unintentionally teach them to be selfish and self-centered. For them, I watch the company I keep and the activities I do. I’m trying my best to avoid the, “Well, you used to,” conversations.
Children learn everything through the way you carry yourself. There are habits I didn’t know I had until I saw my nieces and nephews mimicking me when I lived with them. Because of this, I have changed the way I behave, even when I’m not around them, so that I do not slip when they are in my presence. I try to always act how I am with them around everyone else, so that the change is not drastic for me.
Being in the view of an impressionable child is a heavy burden. Whether you want them to, or not, they will learn from you and do as you do, even when you say not to. That is why I do not bring just anyone around them. I cannot teach my nieces and nephews that it’s okay to hang with manipulative, vulgar, lying, rude, insensitive, racist, misogynistic, judgmental, violent, faithless, perverted, or meager people. They need to know that it requires more to be family. Anyone I bring to them is family, and not everyone should have access to good family. The people who meet family are the people you know the most. You can’t bring passing strangers around.
We all need to be more aware of ourselves. There is no one like a child to show you that you have some terrible habits, because they will end up doing it. I’ve seen children curse, do perverted dances, imitate sex noises, confess grueling details of home life, and draw pictures worthy of CPS (Child Protective Services) visits. Do you have any habits or friends with habits that the CPS would condemn? More importantly, do you have any habits that God would condemn?
God said, through Paul, that we should be like children when it comes to evil. Children can be selfish, greedy, violent, and liars. However, the evil children do can be easily snuffed out. The evil children do pales in comparison to the evil of adults. We need to be like children, and not explore the fullness of evil, so that the children who come after us don’t suffer because of us.
There are too me parents lacking self-awareness. There are too many adults be selfish. This world is not ours. It belongs to those who came before us and those who come after us.
One of my favorite sayings growing up was, “Put it back the way you found it.” It insinuates that you altered the room, display, or object when you interacted with it. It insinuates that you should clean up the mess you made, or put the objects back as you found them. It was used whenever we made a mess of someone’s room, or when we put a product back on the shelf incorrectly. It is rude to enter into someone’s home or business, and trash it without cleaning it back up, especially when you are capable of doing so.
This is how we should treat Earth. This is how we should treat people’s hearts. If the earth or person is worse off after we’ve interacted with it, we failed. There are billions of people who need this planet. There are thousands of people who need one person. We should not be so careless with our treatment of either. We should be selfless, and only do things that will benefit everyone. At some point, we have to learn that this life will never be about our individual selves, but everyone. We need to do better by everyone, so that our children do not suffer the consequences.
Though my children aren’t born yet, I have worked on myself to be a better father. With good examples abounding in my life, I have found ways to be more loving, nurturing, ready-to-listen, and a better leader by example. There are many ways to ruin a child, just as there are many ways to hell. But the narrow road remains available for the ones who truly seek to be better, live better, live easier, and be blessings. Remember the children are watching, and please be considerate of your audience. Leave this earth better than you found it. Do it for those who will come after you.
Be the hero,
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