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.