I have the privilege of being almost constantly accompanied by four of the best mentors in the world, who also happen to be all under the age of eight. My children have really spurred my growth forward these past years, whether they know it or not. A great thing about children is that they’re often further along the path in certain areas than we are. As we lead and coach them along in life, we need to remember that they can often lead and coach us as well, if only we’ll let them. Here are just seven of the reasons children make great mentors for us:
1-They forgive quickly. One morning last week, I was hurriedly doing my daughter’s hair at the time that we should have been in the car driving her to school. I started lecturing her on all the things she should have done differently so that we would have been on time, and my tone was pretty harsh and unkind. She felt blamed, so she yelled at me and put her fingers in her ears. A few minutes later, right before getting out of the car, she said, “I’m sorry I yelled at you, Mom.” When I apologized for speaking unkindly, she said simply, “I forgive you.” My annoyance and frustration quickly transformed to gratitude and love. My boys have also started saying “I forgive you, Mommy,” sometimes even before I’ve apologized! The words “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” come to my lips much too slowly sometimes, but their example is helping me turn that around.
2-They are sensitive to others’ feelings and to our tone of voice. Sometimes when I’m sad, I think I’m doing a pretty good job of pretending to be happy for my children’s sake, but they can see right through it. They are always quick to try to cheer me up with a hug and a kiss. The other night I got watery eyes after having sneezed, and my 3-year-old Toad man asked, “Are you sad?” They are so astute about reading our face and the tone of our voice. A couple weeks ago, I was asking Toad to hurry and buckle in to his car seat, using a not-too-gentle tone of voice, and he snapped right back with, “Say that again nicely!” I was only too happy to comply. Yes, that’s something he’s heard many times before!
3-They are always watching and listening (although sometimes they pretend otherwise!). When I used my fingers to snag cut fruit right out of the bowl last week, I thought I was being sneaky but Little Miss called me on it. “Hey! You just barely told me that eating with my hands is rude!” Guess I’d better hold myself to the same standards I set for them! They’ve made me more vigilant about my music choices, too. When Little Miss was just two, I stood outside her door listening to her sing a Linkin Park song in her bed, flabbergasted that she knew all the words even though I’d only ever played that CD a few times in the car. Now I know to only play music that I’d want sticking around in their heads. Having little shadows constantly challenges me to be the best version of myself, the one I’d want them to emulate.
4-They notice the beauty and miracles all around us, due to their natural sense of wonder and curiosity. A few days ago we were blessed with the sight of a beautiful double rainbow, which I would have missed if my little Buddy hadn’t insisted that I “go outside and see a surprise RIGHT NOW!” 🙂 Most of the time I get so caught up in what needs to be done that I forget to notice the little things that make life meaningful. When they see a magnificent spider web, or a cool-looking bug, or a bird’s nest, I love it when they point it out to me so I can vicariously experience the magic of seeing the world through a child’s eyes. Last week we went to feed some ducks, and I loved seeing dozens of fluffy yellow ducklings bobbling and paddling around beside their mothers. If it weren’t for my kids, I wouldn’t have had that opportunity and the joy that it brought. Watching the older three lounging together under a tree, pointing out the shapes they saw in the clouds, was probably the most moving experience of my whole weekend. Could anything be sweeter than childhood?
5-They remind us how quickly time passes and to live in the present moment. Change often happens so slowly that we can get caught in a delusion that things will stay the same indefinitely. But the truth is that ourselves and our world change every millisecond. A year ago I was pregnant with my fourth child and not even showing yet. Now I have a solid five-month-old baby boy weighing 15 pounds. And it’s hard to imagine our family without him. I doubt that anything marks the passing of time as well as these little babies. Just after each of my children learned to walk, I always meant to catch on video that cute stage when they walk holding both arms straight up in the air. I always thought there would be another chance to catch it, but then they’d learn to balance without their arms up and the moment was gone forever. These moments with them are precious and fleeting. Even though I’m impatient to be done with getting woken up for middle-of-the-night feedings, I’ll just squeeze these chunky baby thighs, kiss these little dimpled hands, and try to imprint these quiet times in my mind where I can keep them forever. Whenever I take a trip for a few days and come back to my children, I can see how they’ve grown in their faces, speech, and behavior, even over such a short period of time. My children remind me that every moment is precious and gone in an instant, so instead of obsessively thinking about the future or the past, I need to exist in the present. And although the changes in them are much more obvious, they remind me that I, too, am constantly changing and growing.
6-They are adept at forming and maintaining habits. Children thrive on the structure and predictability of doing the same things at the same times each day, so they are motivated to keep habits in place. (However, this may not be a good thing if those habits happen to be bad ones.) My children’s positive habits help me remember to maintain my own. Buddy and Little Miss read or listen to scriptures every morning. Even though Buddy is only five and not yet in school, he is capable of reading over a dozen pages of scripture in a single day! The fact that he chooses to do that freely rather than reading something more “fun” is inspiring to me. And Little Miss also chooses a verse of scripture each week for us to memorize. Every morning on the drive to school, she also reminds us to sing a song, say a prayer and then we each set a personal goal for that day. (Toad Man’s is always “to play with my blocks.”) And then Buddy reminds me to do my affirmations. He’s memorized over a dozen of the ones I say often, and he will prompt me when I neglect to say any of them. (When he parrots, “I love and value myself as a worthy and sensuous woman,” I remind him that that one is just for Mommy to say, but it’s pretty hilarious!)
7-They understand that serving others brings us the greatest joy. My mom and Little Miss have been collaborating on planning a musical program we are doing for a local nursing home next week. She is more excited about this than for her upcoming birthday! She is continually editing her list of songs for the program and practicing them, as well as having her brothers practice the jokes they’re going to tell. Little Miss is also passionate about the little Bangladeshi girl she picked out for us to sponsor after we attended The Compassion Experience. She is so full of love that she donates all the money she earns doing chores to those who are in need. She also insists that we always have “Kindness Kits” full of snacks in the van to hand out to the homeless that we occasionally drive past. Right now she’s in to knitting scarves, and she says she wants to knit them for the homeless. I tried to talk her into just giving them to friends and family instead, because it would be more meaningful to someone who knows her, but she’s pretty adamant that the scarves be for the people who need them most! I’m so glad I have her to remind me of the importance of serving others in these and many other ways, or it honestly wouldn’t be on my mind. And also to relish that warm feeling in your heart that always comes when you help someone else.
Without my children, I’d be a different person, one that I’m sure I wouldn’t like as well. Although I often forget it, keeping in mind that they’re my equals, even my masters in many ways, helps me honor them in the way that I always should.
Readers, I’d love for you to chime in. What important lessons, big or small, have you learned from the children in your life?