More is Caught than Taught
Updated: Feb 3
Over the weekend we watched Shrek the movie with Nora and Max. It was the first time we watched it with them and honestly, the first time we watched it in years. Maria and I couldn't believe that it came out over 20 years ago! And since we hadn't watched it years ago, we forgot that they refer to Donkey in two separate scenes as a Jack*ss. #ParentingFail
When I heard it the first time, I told them that it was a word that we shouldn't say. Max looked at me, perplexed, and said "how is Jack a bad word, that's my cousin's name!" The conversation only got better from there as Nora had me define what this bad word meant and explain why it can sometimes be used as an actual name for a donkey. I thought we put it to rest, but then the word was said again and we went right back into it.
Ultimately, I am thankful that we can have these conversations as a family; that they feel comfortable asking and learning about, well, anything. At the end of the movie, Shrek and Fiona fall in love and to their surprise, she stays as an Ogre. It was a time to remind them that if they ever want to get married, the most important quality to look for in someone is what's on the inside, not on the outside. Nora's at that stage where she likes to talk about love, pretend her Barbie's are married, etc. So, we've talked about this a lot and have shared with her that the reason "mommy and daddy fell in love is because we saw how much each other loved Jesus."
Right after the movie, Nora went on to write down a 4 step list (picture below) to get married. Her spelling and grammar is a little off (give her a break, she's in 1st grade) and she wrote it over the dolphins, but it's a great 4 step process:
1) Look for someone to marry.
2) Ask them questions.
3) Ask them if they love Jesus.
4) Date with them.
Now, Maria and I have never laid out any dating and marriage process with Nora; she's 6. As her Dad, she won't be able to date until she's 30 anyway ;-) But she's heard us talk about loving Jesus and looking for that in a potential husband/boyfriend (at this age, it seems like these terms are interchangeable anyways). And we not only really believe this, but we lived it out and we saw it modeled to us by many before us.
This post is not about patting ourselves on the back because our daughter wrote down a cute process on some dolphins. This post is not about patting ourselves on the back because our son didn't know a bad word because he's never heard us say it. This post is about the reality, the weight, the privilege we have to shape our kids' hearts and minds by how we live. And this idea has been thrust to the forefront of our minds these past two months as we grieve the loss of Sophie.
It is hard to grieve. Full Stop. It is hard to grieve in front of your kids. Yet our kids are looking to us when they feel sad, angry, frustrated, etc. Can they express what their little bodies, minds and hearts are feeling? Will they be told to "stop it" or "not right now because it's time for bed" when the grieving comes on? In order for them to have this space, they have to see mommy and daddy do the same.
I think our instinct as parents is to hide how we feel, especially if it's sadness, in order to "protect" them from feeling sad. Instead of having the goal of keeping them happy, healthy and safe, what if we pursued the goal of helping them grow and mature? In theory we want all of those, but in practice, in order for them (or anyone) to grow and mature, they have to endure pain, suffering and hardships in life.
So, we have to teach them, but the only way to teach them is if they see us live it out: more is caught than taught. We have to let them see our heavy hearts grieve; we have to let them see our disappointment with God; we have to let them see our tears when we set up the Christmas tree and wish Sophie was with us for the Holidays. And we also have to let them see us hope, see us comfort one another, see us stay rooted in our shattered faith so that they learn how to grow and mature when life is not good at all.
Bad words and future dates are important, but hardships and sadness will be a part of their lives, our lives, until we see Jesus face to face. And whether you have kids or not, you have influence; family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, they will look at you as to how you process pain publicly, how you grieve your losses, how you hold on to faith when life is falling apart around you.
More is caught than taught.
As someone who verbally teaches consistently, I've been hit very hard with this reality as of late. And it reminds me of the phrase I heard a thousand times as a day camp counselor at the CYC in Joliet...
"Everything you do, you are teaching."
It's more than my words, it's my actions and it'll set an example, good or not so good, for years to come. I pray that in the future, whenever my kids face hardships and pain in life, they will be able to look back on this time to help them process, grieve and stay rooted in their faith. I know we won't get this perfect, but being honest, open and transparent will be what they learn the most in this season, more than anything we could ever teach them.