by Amy Mullen
There are a thousand questions parents ask themselves through the years as they raise their children. The biggest and most common parenting question has got to be: “Am I doing this right?” That question is often murmured as we shake our heads at ourselves. We want to do the best job we can, and we often feel as if we are failing, or are about to fail. As it turns out, some of this is not as hard as we think it is. Sometimes, the smallest things yield the biggest results.
My son was born early at twenty-eight weeks. I prayed a lot during the seventy-seven days he spent in the NICU. During those prayers, I promised I would raise him to be a good man. If there was one thing I could do in return for God’s healing touch, it was to raise him to love everyone and treat everyone with respect.
I had already done a pretty decent job with my daughter. This is not a brag because I have no idea how I did it. She, at fifteen, is the champion of the underdog. She befriends anyone who needs a friend, does not fit in, or seems lonely. She spends time with kids other children ignore. She is kind and open-hearted. I am proud of her, but I certainly cannot take all of the credit for the young woman she is becoming. I give her most of the credit.
I often thought I could use the same techniques with my son as I did with her. The problem with this is I am not sure what I did or how I did it. It was probably a hundred small things said during a hundred unremarkable conversations we’ve had. She was a talker and she has always been big on asking questions. Perhaps I said the right things at the right time, but I cannot be sure.
This hasn’t worked out with my son. He is not nearly as chatty as my daughter was at a young age. I had to think of new ways to introduce him to the same things my daughter asked me about as she grew up. My attempts to get his attention, at times, failed. If I was not talking about the limited number of subjects which caught his rapt attention, he was not interested for more than a few minutes.
My son is a shy boy so it was hard for him to open up to those outside our household for quite a few years. My neighbor is a Sunday School teacher and my son grew to trust her. He loves learning about God and Jesus through her. He took what he was learning and ran with it. This opened up the one possibility now within reach – prayer.
Like many religious families, we pray each night before bed. The prayer is the same each night, but with a twist. When we first started praying together, I would add something different at the end of the prayer each night. I would offer thanks for something from our day, or I would ask for healing or protection for someone we love. At first, I did this on my own. My son would patiently listen each night. After a while, I took it another step. Before we began to pray, I would ask him what he thought we should be thankful for or who might need our prayers.
At first, he seemed to be unsure of what to say. I did not give up though. When he did not answer, I would make a few suggestions so he could choose the one he thought was the best. Then, I stopped giving him suggestions and again asked him for his own. What happened next warmed my heart considerably.
My son caught on. Though he was thankful for things like play time with friends, or perhaps his newest toy, he was thankful. Though he sometimes repeated the same request for healing, he instinctively knew who needed the prayers. He was thankful his neighbors could afford the new carpeting they needed. He was thankful for getting a nice teacher in first grade. He was also thankful his daddy came home from work safely.
His compassion grew as he prayed each night. I still say most of the words for him, but he tells me what he wants to say as he bows his head each night. He prays often for his grandmother, whose health is not the best. He prays for a friend who routinely gets in trouble at school. He prays for people who are sad and do not have any friends.
I am proud of my son. Through his prayer requests I see his compassion for others growing by leaps and bounds. He instinctively knows who needs the prayers the most, and I see this same compassion when he plays with others and from reports from his teacher. He has never singled anyone out for being different. I have never received a report of him saying anything inappropriate to another student, nor has he been involved in any bullying at school.
I am proud of him thus far. I know at seven it is far too early to say he will be a shining light of tolerance, love, and compassion, but so far it looks promising. I don’t know how to explain his thoughtfulness, but I’ll take it. I don’t know if I am responsible, but if I am, it is due to prayer. Through God my son has learned to love. I will do everything I can to reinforce this as he grows into a young man.
So, even though we as parents may think there are some mysterious answers we are missing, it is at times the small things that yield the biggest and best results. It is not nearly as hard as we think it is to raise children with good hearts and open minds. Children who will love each other will change the world with their compassion one day. A little thing like prayer can truly make a difference.
Even better, you do not have to be a Christian to use this method with your children. You can be of any religion – or of no religion at all. If you do not pray, you can simply slip being thankful and being considerate into your daily conversations. These do not have to be long conversations either. It only takes a few minutes a day to make a world of difference. Being thankful does not have to be reserved for Thanksgiving Day. Recognizing someone is struggling or needs help does not have to be reserved for the day they land in the hospital. Instead, small moments each day add up to spectacular results.
You do not have to be a parenting expert to raise kind children. You do not have to have an intricate plan to teach them to care for others. All you have to do is engage with them, listen to them, and learn with them. Use your instincts and you’ll get it. After all, you know your children best.