by Bethany Proffitt
Parenting is the most difficult, and most fulfilling, of any role I will ever have. Nothing else that I do in my life will challenge me as deeply as parenting does moment by moment, day by day. Nearly every moment is a teaching moment whether I am ready or not. Often times, I have something to learn along with my children. Recently, my son asked a simple and innocent question that I quickly realized had some pretty big implications in shaping his worldview. “Mommy,” he asked as we were driving past a grocery store, “why do some people take carts from stores?” I sighed as the weight of the question struck me like a ton of bricks.
Teaching my children life lessons forces me to identify and refine my own worldview, and, more importantly, to consider how my actions support or counter my core values, because my children notice what I do more than they notice what I say.
Sometimes, when I think of passing a previously accepted thought or idea to one of my children, I abruptly change my stance because it’s not in line with the overall lessons I want my children to learn. I’ll use cursing to illustrate what I mean. You might say a particular word, sometimes without noticing, one that you are accustomed to hearing and saying yourself, but when it comes out of your child’s mouth, it sounds foul and unacceptable and you are forced to reconsider your use of the word.
Lately, I have been struggling against the idea of prejudice and how easily it shows up in our daily lives, among family, friends, and even churches. I thought about how easily we pass our prejudices down to our children and was terrified by the idea. One particular struggle was that we often teach values that we think are good, but are actually not so black and white.
Worse, at times, in our efforts to teach our children to be good people, we inevitably label what falls outside of our definition of good as bad.
Because children are developmentally black and white thinkers, they may extend our ideas farther than we intended and can easily begin labeling people who make choices that we approve of as good people and people who make different choices bad people. Just like a curse word out of the mouth of a toddler, I cringe when I hear one of my children evaluating a stranger as a bad person or a good person based on the set of values that we believe are important for us.
As our family values are reflected back to us through the actions and words of our children, sometimes I see them in a new light, which forces me to take a careful and critical look back at what those values are that we both explicitly and implicitly teach them.
Through this process, which is ongoing, I have developed a few overarching values that inform the little day to day, minute by minute, interactions with my children. I am careful to reflect on even the tiniest and seemingly insignificant interactions.
Now back to my son’s question, “Why do some people take carts from stores?” I sighed. I knew it was a teachable moment that had big implications. My mind spun and I hoped I could find the right answer. The same store had used carts that automatically locked the wheels if it crossed the certain parameter of the store just to keep customers from walking the carts off the property and to their homes. To the store, it was a nuisance that customers walked off with their carts. “Well, Honey.” I sighed again, buying another second or two. “Maybe they don’t have a car to put their groceries in to take them home. I don’t know what I would do if I had to bring a bunch of groceries home to you guys and I didn’t have a car to put them in. I know that taking the cart from the store is not right, but I really don’t know what I would do if I was in that situation. I might take the cart too.”
I know that some parents would say that taking the cart was wrong. At a different time in my life, I might have used it as a lesson against taking things that don’t belong. But when I took a deep breath and slowly let it go, thinking about how to answer the innocent question my son asked, I was filled with compassion for the person that I didn’t actually see but had seen hundreds like them over the years.
I desperately wanted for him to look at such a person with compassion and nothing else.
The truth is, I don’t know why some people take carts from stores, or why that person was taking a cart. But I do know that their decision to do so was based on a set of experiences that I don’t share and may not fit nicely into the same black and white set of rights and wrongs that I tend to teach my children. This day, I felt that the greatest lesson this teachable moment yielded itself to was a lesson in compassion. Right or wrong, in the same situation, I might take the cart too.
Bethany Proffitt is the mother of four kids, two boys and two girls, and wife to Keith. They call south Tulsa home. Check out her other articles like, back to school shopping tips, the best Tulsa-area pumpkin patches, the best area splash pads, and her family’s journey through a layoff.