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Challenge: Raising Kind Kids

How My Children Teach Me Compassion and Empathy

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A few weeks ago, my husband and I were finally able to snag a date night. It was the week before Christmas and our little town was lit up with twinkly lights on the lampposts and garland galore. We arranged for my in-laws to watch the kids for a few hours so we could hold hands over fancy potstickers and walk the streets window-shopping. We bought gifts for the kids and grabbed hot chocolates for dessert before heading home.

When we got back, everyone at home was sleepy. The kids were clean and in their pajamas, and my youngest was already asleep in his crib. I tucked in my daughter and prayed over her, and as soon as her head hit the pillow, she was also out. We were relaying the events of our night to my in-laws when we heard the doorbell ring. I immediately felt it wasn’t anyone we knew. It was almost 11:00 at night and no one would ring our bell and wake up our kids, knowing they’d already be in dreamland.

My initial reaction, as I believe anyone would feel, was fear. I lamented leaving our outside lights on so bright, beckoning someone to come for a late night visit. I wished we hadn’t passed on that driveway alarm we’d considered a few months before, after a string of break-ins hit our quiet little neighborhood. Instead, my husband and father-in-law quickly went to the door to see what was going on. They found a woman in her thin sweats, shivering on our side porch.

She’d walked to the nearby gas station for baby food earlier in the evening. Then, time passed and it grew dark and colder. She’d expected that someone at the store would drive her home, but no offers were made. So, she’d started walking back. She said she passed our house two times before finally getting up the nerve to ring our bell and ask for help. She was two miles from home and too cold to keep going.

I thought of my babies upstairs. I felt vulnerable and honestly pretty shook up. I believed her, and judging from the pouches of pureed peas she was holding, I didn’t think she was making up a single aspect of her story. Still, I was a mom and my primary allegiance was to my babies, and for all I knew this was some complex cover-up for a more dangerous scheme that was about to go down. Suddenly, my daughter appeared at the top of the steps.

“Go back to sleep, sweetie,” I said quietly, my mother-in-law standing right beside me. “Mama,” she started, rubbing her eyes. “Mama is someone here?” I quickly explained that a woman was outside and needed a ride home to get out of the cold. Her immediate response, “Well can papa just take her? It’s so chilly out there.”

She wasn’t apprehensive at all, and she never hesitated. She didn’t inquire more deeply into her intentions, or wonder why she couldn’t just keep walking. It was totally unnatural for a stranger to be out there, and she’s well-versed on what to do if she encounters someone she doesn’t know, but her heart and mind didn’t go there that night. Instead, she pushed for us to extend grace to the girl, and to offer up a little compassion to someone who very obviously needed it. Oh, to see through the eyes of a child again. To see that kindness and empathy are natural traits that we’re born with, that only weaken the older we get and the more seasoned to society we become. I assured her that we would take care of everything, and sent her back to bed.

Then, I heard our truck start up and realized that two of the best men I know were doing just that. They drove her the five minutes back home and came back with cookies that she’d given them from her house. I went to bed that night thankful that we were kept safe, and grateful that even though the situation could have turned out worst, it didn’t.

It was a lesson I won’t soon forget, and one that my sleepyhead daughter doesn’t even realize she taught me. But as her mom, I’m more aware now that love and tenderness are precious traits to be encouraged and instilled while they’re young. That sweet three-year-old at the top of the steps still thinks that everyone loves her and the world is good. In fact, she said those exact words to me when we took her out for pizza on her third birthday. She thinks that no one fights besides her and her little brother, and when we buried a baby squirrel in our field last summer, she threw some acorns and sticks in the hole in case he got hungry or wanted to play with something in Heaven.

I can’t keep her in a bubble, but I can do my best to cultivate that tender and beautiful heart of hers. Judging from her knee-jerk reaction that uncomfortable night, I think she’ll do just fine.

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