After reading the title of this post you are probably expecting to read something completely different than the type of post this is going to turn out to be. Take a minute and stick with me, because what I have to say might be something you need to hear.
There was a song that I grew up singing in church. It goes something like this:
Jesus said love everyone.
Treat them kindly too.
When your heart is filled with love.
Others will love you.
I don’t find fault with having a heart full of love and I especially believe you should always treat others with kindness. I am also not rejecting the teachings of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but as a parent it is my job to teach and help guide my children onto the path of adulthood, and there is an important lesson we are missing if we tell them they have to love everyone, without exception. All of the time.
Sometimes there might be someone my children find hard to love and by my insisting that they need to love and accept everyone NO MATTER WHAT, this could leave them feeling at odds with valid reasons for their mistrust. In those cases it is more imperative for me to understand their feelings, rather than to tell them how they SHOULD feel.
To explain, let me tell you a story. When I was a young girl there was a man that my family attended church with. Outwardly, he professed all of the right things and appeared to be the model example for what a Christian and even human should be. However, I always felt uncomfortable around him. He had never done anything directly inappropriate to me that would have been an obvious red flag, I just didn’t like to be around him very much. While I was in High School, he married a young widow who had a daughter. His new stepdaughter was several years my junior, but she was a sweet girl and I liked her. One day after I went away to college and returned home for a visit I was informed in a passing conversation with my mother that this young girl had grown up and when she was a teenager she had revealed that this man, her stepfather, had been sexually molesting her for years. The stepfather was tried and found guilty and was sentenced to prison for his crimes.
This whole sad event has always remained in the back of my mind. There was nothing I could have done for this young girl at my age and relationship to the family. I wasn’t in a position to have changed the course of events. I could, however, remember the lessons I learned from this tragedy and apply them when I became a parent.
Over the course of my life, there have been people I have met, who for one reason or another, I didn’t feel inclined to establish any kind of a lasting relationship with. Call it my “internal RADAR” or whatever you will, but there are people I will just avoid, and that is OK.
Because of this, as a parent, I do not force my children to “love” those they may feel uncomfortable with. We WILL however have a discussion about why they feel the way they do about a person. Also important to me is to teach my children that they do not go out of their way to hurt or disparage those people without just cause. Ultimately, I have kind-hearted children and I will respect their opinions and decisions in this area, especially as they become more accustomed with people in general and gain life experience. At that point, their capacity to love and understand others will be able to come more into line with “loving everyone.”
Right now I expect to see different levels of love and trust as my children age and grow. My 15 year old is far more able to express what she is feeling in comparison to her 4 year old sister and she has a little more life experience behind her, but just because of that I don’t take things at face value because one is older than the other. There have been times when I have seen my normally gregarious 4 year old cower behind me when meeting certain new people and I am fine with that. If she feels shy and needs time to warm up to someone, well then so be it. If she never warms up to someone, then she and I are going to have a little chat about the reasons for why she is feeling that way.
That is my job as a parent to help show her how to trust her gut in order to form healthy and well balanced relationships, because there is a fine line that we as parents and a society walk each and every day. We want our children to be accepting and kind towards others, but we also know not everyone in this world we live in has noble or virtuous intentions towards us and them.
This doesn’t mean that we need cower in fear and suspicion of everyone. Just that we listen and take heed a little more often when that still small voice inside of us or inside of our children tells us to slow down and approach something with caution. Sometimes this may mean we need a little more time to learn to love someone.