As soon as reasonably possible, I stop holding my kids’ hands in the parking lot.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not pushing them out into traffic telling them to figure it out. But instead of teaching them to hold on to me for protection, I teach them to hold on to each other.
As we leave a store, or school, or playground, I remind my girls to stay beside me because we are entering a parking lot where drivers are not looking for little kids – Then I tell them to hold hands because sisters take care of each other.
(I am going to reasonably assume brothers and sisters take care of each other too but my husband and I have 3 daughters!)
It is my mission in life to help my children grow up to be independent adults who are capable of caring for themselves. But that is not really enough, is it? I also want them to be citizens of the world we live in. I want them to be aware and able to look beyond their own needs to show compassion – and act on that compassion – without losing all of themselves to those who would only take.
The very nature of parenting is a one of giving. We give most, if not all of ourselves to our children when they are young only to reclaim pieces of us again as they grow older and grow in the ability to care for themselves. But because parents give, children take. It is what they are born to do – but not forever.
I wonder at the nature of my father’s relationship with his own parents. He is a loving father and husband, diligent and hardworking, spiritual and compassionate. And when he was a kid, his mom told them to go play in the morning and she honked the car horn at night to bring all her sons home for dinner.
Can you imagine sending your kids out into the world with no cell phone and the limits of where they could play were defined by how far their legs would last on a bike? And the ability to hear the car horn at dinner? But during that time, my dad and his brothers learned a lot about looking out for each other.
They learned to give care, not just accept it.
For years I have wondered how to teach our children compassion. First, it has to be something they see. They have to see me and their father be compassionate to each other and to others. But to grow in compassion, they must be in the position to give, to care, and to protect someone other than themselves. For children, siblings are the first relationship to be nurtured this way.
My husband and I do our fair share of refereeing and discipline. We also do our fair share of romping, playing, and cuddling. But we recognize it is our job is to provide stability in our home with boundaries to keep our children safe and to teach them the finer art of impulse control. We hold to the hope our children will know the value of their sisters – not because we fussed at them for fighting but because we looked for opportunities to praise our daughters’ efforts to work together, to show kindness to each other, to share without being asked, to show concern, to help each other solve problems. Simple problems, like helping each other across the parking lot.
So why are my kids expected to hold each other’s hands in the parking lot? Because sisters take care of each other. And in our family, sisters are the first relationship where our children will learn compassion and responsibility for another person.
I want them to expect to be present for each other.
I want them to compassionately care for each other – and accept care from each other – as a model for all the future relationships in their lives.