It started out as a normal Friday morning. I took my oldest two kids to their weekly home-school gym class. Every week I try to challenge them both to meet someone new in their class. Each of my kids have different personalities, so they both attack this challenge in different ways.
For my daughter, the social butterfly, she sees this as an opportunity to meet a new friend. She does an excellent job of connecting with people and has rarely met a stranger.
For my son, meeting new people is more of an obstacle. He would rather play with someone he knows than to meet someone new. If he can’t find someone who he already has an established connection with, he’s perfectly content playing by himself.
These two different illustrations finally intersected head-on last week, and I’m not sure I was quite ready for the outcome.
It started with my daughter coming up to me in a panic.
“Daddy! Ellington (the name I use to refer to my son on my writings) is being so annoying!” she exclaimed.
I responded with, “Why? What is he doing??”
“I’m trying to play with Danielle and he just keeps following us around!” she replied with devastation in her voice.
Normally I would tell her that it wasn’t kind to leave her brother out. Usually I would force her to let him tag along and make them play together as a team. But this week I decided to do something different and see how it played out.
I expressed to my son that there were plenty of other boys in his class and that he needed to leave his sister alone and find a new play partner. He grudgingly said, “Ok,” and they went their separate ways.
BIRD’S EYE VIEW
As I walked out of the gym and up the stairs to a long hallway with comfortable chairs, I looked for a prospecting seat to start reading the book I had planned to continue. I cracked open my paperback and began digging in. I was excited to finally get some peaceful and quiet reading time in, which is hard to come by in a house with four kids.
The room I was in served as a lobby and had big glass windows to which you could view the auxiliary gym down below. It was a perfect spot to be able to watch the kids playing in their class and also give them space to not feel like dad was watching their every move.
I looked up from my book and saw my daughter and her friend joyfully playing together. I scanned the gym to try to find who my son had met and with whom he was playing. It wasn’t long before I spotted him alone on a scooter, pushing himself around on the lined basketball court.
I wondered to myself why he wouldn’t just go up to another boy and ask him to play. It’s not like there weren’t many other boys in the class playing basketball or pushing each other on the scooters. I imagined all the fun my son was missing out on because he’d rather just play alone than to meet someone new.
It was about this time that I looked over at the end of the gym, just beyond one of the basketball hoops. There in the bleachers sat all the other parents of the children in the home-school gym class. Many of them were in groups of two or three. Most of them were deep in conversation. A few of them were just sitting alone in the stands watching their kids play or entertaining themselves.
I’ve never heard the audible voice of God speak to me, but I do believe he put something on my heart as I sat in the lobby alone that Friday afternoon.
“Children are great imitators. So give them something great to imitate.”
How in the world should I expect my son to be brave and meet new people when I voluntarily chose to separate myself from the rest of the other parents? Instead of stepping out of my comfort zone and meeting someone new, I chose to play by myself.
BEING THE MODEL
I don’t know about any of you parents reading this right now, but how easy is it to tell our kids what they should do, all while not modeling the very advice we are giving? I want my kids to make healthy choices in their life, but if I’m living my life in unhealthy ways, how can I expect them not to do the same?
Kids don’t just do what we say, they also do what they see us doing. Have any of you parents noticed that? Even if they’re doing what we want them to do, a lot of times they just to mimic the way that we do it.
One of my biggest personal struggles is meeting new people. I even take steps to try to avoid giving other people the opportunity to talk to me. If I’m out in public, a lot of times I’ll try to not make eye contact with other people. I even glance to my phone to act busy or distracted to let strangers know that I’m “not available right now.”
I wonder how many meaningful friendships and relationships I’ve missed out on over the years because I’ve failed to face my fear of meeting new people. Even though it seems like every time I’m forced to talk to someone new, something positive happens and I feel so much better afterward. I still fail to step out in faith at the next chance I get to make a new friend.
I’m not sure what fear it is that you struggle to overcome. I do know that it is our responsibility as parents to set the example for how are kids are to act. If we aren’t getting the desired outcome in our children, may we all take a step back and see if we’re modeling for them the correct behavior we’re trying to instill in them.
I know for my daughter, she stepped up to the challenge I had put out to my kids a few weeks ago. She met someone new. The first meeting she only got basic information; the girl’s name was Danielle. The next week when she came back, she built upon that first encounter and began to open up and learn a little more about Danielle. The third week she felt so comfortable around her new playmate that she was willing and wanting to play with her without the comfort of a group of others.
Now I truly understand what Jesus meant when he said,
“Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Kids not only say the darnedest things, but they can teach us some of the most valuable lessons. It’s amazing what lessons a grown-up can learn from his 8-year-old!