There’s a film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s autobiographical novel Little Women that includes a moment when Jo, the heroine, receives criticism from her German professor on her first novel…
“It is not written from your heart, it is not written from your soul; when you have courage enough to write truthfully, then your work will be worthy of you.”
This moment has nudged me, pushed me, pulled me to weigh how truthful I’m being when I write. I used to think being truthful was easy but I think great writers know how difficult it actually is. I still hold back because of so many reasons, but mainly fear, mainly ego, mainly insecurity.
And when I think about parenting, I feel like I’m in a similar space where I can either deny what’s really happening in our family, or embrace it as a place to grow.
What’s really happening in my family (and maybe in yours too) is that I’m not seeing the qualities I hoped I would see.
I hoped that compassion and a desire to put others first would be overflowing in my kids. What’s really happening is many moments of fighting our own wants, needs, and desires. We are working through perpetual states of being stuck and hoping that being unstuck is a real thing.
We have great kids.
They are so special.
They are kind and generous.
They are even kind and generous to each other (sometimes).
But sometimes they aren’t.
I am also a great parent.
Everyone knows how to read, and math facts are memorized.
We eat meals and sleep well.
But sometimes, I’m not a great parent.
Sometimes dirty socks in random places in every room in my house can set me into a psycho parent orbit.
And so can moments when my kids don’t seem to care about anyone else but themselves.
I asked my kids if they could help me deliver crisis kits to people in need after hurricane Irma. They whined and complained. Neither would go. It had been a long day of 2nd and 5th grade, and they were sooooo tired and just needed a break. Seriously people?
I didn’t feeling like forcing compassion. Maybe that’s the least compassionate thing I could have done? But I was frustrated. I was going to be setting a great example and they were going to be missing it.
Can you see the stuck?
They were stuck (not being able to see how helping others is important).
And I was stuck (not being able to serve out of a pure heart because I had a goal to help them see what serving looks like). .
So I went.
And I wondered if I should have made it mandatory for my kids.
But as soon as I started serving, as soon as I started seeing the relief the kits and personal connection brought to humans who God loves, I remembered . . .
Going the second mile isn’t something you do for others to see, it’s something you do to set others free.
Maybe in my hopes that my kids would “see me” I was missing the point. And dragging my kids along for the ride might have them missing the point.
Maybe stuck isn’t such an awful place when it helps you see your goals more clearly?
I realized I was starting with answers instead of starting with better questions.
When I returned from delivering kits to our neighbors, I asked my kids to tell me how they would like to serve others sometime.
This simple question was like the roadside hero responding to our metaphorical mini van stuck in a muddy ditch and giving us a little push out. The question got the tires spinning and gave us momentum to get over our impass and into a place where we could explore.
“I want to save every frog.”
“I want to call my friend because I miss her.”
“I want to see if anyone is thirsty, because being thirsty is hard.”
That’s how serving is going to happen in my family.
It’s not going to be organic, motivating, or personal, when I’m telling everyone where they should serve and how they should do it.
To encourage kids to serve authentically from their own sense of compassion, parents should pose great questions instead of imposing all the answers.
Instead of telling my kids when or how they will serve, I want to ask them how they see themselves serving.
Instead of thinking about the hurdles, start asking about the possibilities—by listening and thinking about how to lean into what God is stirring up in your hearts as a family.
This is my confession and my call to you, my friends: that we’d work to uncover individual passions and strengths, and in turn grow more deeply compassionate and able to serve together as families.
Here’s your cue: Start with the next family meal and ask yourselves what situation is in need of a super-hero strength miracle? It could be in your lives, in your community, on your street, in your world. Start writing down all of the ways you might be able to respond, no matter how absurd they sound. Then take the next step together to listen to, receive from, be there for those who Jesus has given you a collective burden.
So if you’re feeling stuck in this same place, take courage.
You can ask a question today that will help you serve from your hearts, serve from your souls, and give you the courage to serve truthfully as a family. That’s when the work you and your kids will do won’t be of you, but of the One who made you.