Possible Futures

This week I saw a picture of what I’d like our teens to be like some day, should God bless us with a family.

Children are welcome to stay with their parents during our church’s service (and many do) but parents also appreciate the nursery as a safe place to drop off restless toddlers or squirmy crawlers if the 45 minute sermon segment becomes too much for them. Our church usually pairs a younger teen or tween with an adult in each nursery room (up to 18 months in one room, toddlers through three-year olds in the other). It’s good practice for the kids as they learn to serve others, care for children, teach pre-schoolers, and practice responsibility and leadership in a supervised environment. It’s good for the adults, too, as they develop mentoring relationships with an age-group that is more often isolated than integrated with adults in our culture.

Normally this teenage assistant requires extra help, guidance, and focused attention from the adult. Sometimes training a ten-year old “helper” to sooth a fussy baby or engage a redirect squabbling three-year olds is more work than caring for the little guys themselves. This Sunday, however, was different.

My partner was a 13 year old young woman, nicely dressed in a fashion that was neither too young nor too old, neither frumpy nor immodest, neither too casual nor impractably fancy for work.

She smiled warmly at everyone around her.

She had a positive attitude from start to finish and approached her role with confidence.

She dove straight into the work without requiring instructions and without hesitation, faces, or foot-dragging.

She responded to all comments from me or from the kids with instant eye contact, her full attention, and a welcoming grin.

Every statement to me or any adult stopping by the room was impeccably polite in both tone and speech without seeming saccharine or insincere. “Yes ma’ams” and “no sirs” abounded, far beyond the standard level of the already-polite South.

She was smart, funny, and interesting to chat with.

She was not a goody-two-shoes – her face was full of excitement and the sparkle of life, and her automatic warmth and politeness seemed as natural as breathing.

She behaved with maturity around the kids, correcting bad behaviour immediately, guiding the toddlers firmly but gently, engaging with them on their level, and positively affirming and encouraging their efforts. She played with them, but did not act like them (not always the case with the younger helpers!)

She cleaned up the entire nursery room without being asked.

She spoke with enthusiasm and appreciation for her family without prompting.

She did not shy away from crying children, flinch from the noise, or give in to the occasional chaos, but stood like a rock in the storm.

She was patient and kind.

On the surface she’s had a life that would let people make excuses for “standard” teenage bad behaviour like sulking, rudeness, disrespect, or shirking:  a mother who died, a transient military life, adjusting to a new family life when her father remarried, a dad frequently gone for training or deployment, five kids sharing the attention. But rather than making excuses her father and step-mother have clearly invested huge amounts of love and work in their children. Such responsible, polite, and friendly traits aren’t automatic, and can’t be faked so consistently. They only become habits from long invested training and constant good examples. I’ve never seen such a mature, consistently delightful teenager in my life. Her siblings, older and younger, are equally lovely – clear proof that kids can trained into young adults rather than having their poor behaviour excused as “just being teenagers.”

Some aspects of having kids will always be stressful, and most aspects will require hard work. If we are half as consistent, conscientious, and loving as her parents have been with her I’m very excited for our future family life.

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2 thoughts on “Possible Futures

  1. Sounds like a lovely girl. My Dad (a retired high school teacher) always says kids will meet whatever behavioural expectations you have of them – if you set high expectations they will meet them, and if you set low, well they will stoop right on down to them.

    This is also the man that says we treat teenagers too much like children. We seem to have forgotten that in the past 12 year olds would be out at work and making their own way in the world (they still do in the developing world) – 3/4 of my grandparents certainly were. In fact, at 12 my paternal grandfather worked a day job for Elders (a big agricultural business – still around today) loading the trucks with wheat, and a night was the telegram boy. He worked his way up to the city to train as an accountant; just in time to complete it when the war with Japan started. I certainly don’t think I could have done that at his age. But, I suppose there was never any expectation that I would – as the eighth of nine children he would have seen what was expected of his older siblings, and given the grinding poverty they lived in (my Granddad got his first pair of boots at 12 to go to work) known that his wage was needed to put food on the table.

    Oh, and I am so envious of a toddler room. We have no such facility in our church and it is getting harder and harder to control Ginger through the service. There are just too many temptations to keep her from – last week it was the magnetic white board which she had played with after church the preceding week, oh and the china angel on a corner prayer table. She threw a screaming fit during communion last week (DH was out field – so I suffered alone) because I wouldn’t let her be over with the white board. While everyone is understanding and smile indulgently, I feel so embarassed at my inability to control her. But, ultimately there is only so long you can keep a 17 month old still for (food being our chief pacifier)- we take half the pantry with us as it is.

  2. Your father sounds like a smart man. I think young adults love a challenge. Low expectations for behaviour and work are almost disrespectful of their abilities and potential. My parents had a similar rule: “In our home, there are no teenagers. There are only young adults, and we expect you to act like one.” Not that there weren’t moments when they probably longed to throttle us :-).

    Your grandfather has an amazing story. My grandparents, too, began working at a much younger age. As children they were refugees in World War II Europe with all their parents either off fighting, dead, or in a concentration camp. They had to fend for themselves with the occasional help of relatives, work, and find food for their families. If they could do that by age ten it seems a bit ridiculous thinking teens are only capable of making their bed and yelling disrespectful comments at their parents!

    It’s definitely a challenge keeping a squirmy toddler still – even when they’re being very good there’s only so long a little person can sit! I’m sure those around you respect what you’re doing. An active baby who sat perfectly still would seem unnatural rather than in-control :-). Our church always seems to have at least one toddler or little one who bursts into furious tears when their parents won’t let them grab a fistful of communion wafers. Sorry kiddo, not a snack!

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