mind your manners, or lessons in love
Parenting is humbling on so many levels. Every day I’m reminded of this, sometimes in every moment. I think there is something so authentic about little ones, so untarnished, and because of this the lessons that mine continue to show me are deeply genuine. I’ve watched as something that seemed like a fundamental lesson in manners has reached much deeper not just into their hearts, but mine as well.
As a parent, it is clearly my responsibility to teach my little ones how to treat others. In our house the rules mostly all come out of the golden rule: when Jesus was asked which of the laws was the greatest commandment he answered “7 “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’“ We show love in our house in all we do and say, with kindness, and respect. This is often demonstrated through good ol’ manners: please, thank you. Especially when the Little Ones are really little, it’s just rote teaching, laying the foundation for a deeper heart understanding. But recently, I’ve seen the fruits of this in such a powerful way.
“Thank Mommy, for making my breakfast.”
“Thank you, Daddy, for driving us to vacation.”
“Thank you, Mommy, for reading this book to me.”
“Thank you, Daddy, for swimming with me.”
Over and over again I’ve heard my Eldest, my dear boy, claim his gratefulness for things big and small. Nobody told him to do this. There was no nudge on the shoulder, no prompting to be polite. He has been counting his blessings. And I’ve had to stare down my own lack of gratefulness. I’ve seen my tendency to shake off the multitude of daily blessings, and I’ve been humbled by his genuine thankfulness. I tenderly receive his thanks, and am a gracious recipient of this lesson of love.
These little ones have also taught me about loving forgiveness. It started innocently enough: when one of my little ones lashed out, either in physical pushing and shoving, as kids do, or in a spout of verbal destruction, I’ve always required them to offer an apology. Now, I know that an 18 month old might not completely understand apologizing or sincerely feel sorry for a behavior, but I do believe that it is the foundation for loving behavior. As they have grown, they have learned the power of these words and the deeper heart behind them. My response as the recipient of an apology has always been not to say “it’s OK” but to say “I forgive you.” There is deep power in these words, and I want my kids to feel that. I don’t think I ever really required this response from my little ones, but by modeling this behavior and giving them the words to say, it has become their immediate response. Not just to one another, which is powerful to witness, but to me as well. This is truly humbling. When the Eldest and I have had our head-to-head struggles, and I offer my sincere apology, I hear his heartfelt offer of forgiveness. In a sibling squabble over toys not shared, this I’m-sorry-I-forgive-you exchange has become almost commonplace. Though I’m sure rote at times, it is a foundation laid for loving one another, and a constant reminder of the rules of love that reign in our house. It is also innoculation against grudges and resentment as each issue is met head-on.
All is not perfect in our house, of course, and my little ones often forget to use these seemingly simple manners. But their authentic love is always visible, always on the surface, and I hope that this is something that I continue to cultivate in them. I am humbled by the choices they make so easily to love one another, even when loving is hard. I’m humbled by their wild enthusiasm to not take our blessings for granted. I’m committed to learning as much as I can from these little ones. I’m counting my blessings.