I was up early the other day with my boys, flipping through the channels for something they could watch while I made the first cup of coffee. I hadn’t made it to the Disney Channel yet when a program caught my eye.
The show was a rerun of Wild America, a PBS program from the 80s that featured various wildlife – how they found food and shelter, how they evaded predators, etc. It was a simple wildlife documentary, very popular in its day, but pretty dated-looking compared to the crystal clear images and impressive production value we see today.
I was instantly flooded with memories of watching the show as a child on Saturday mornings…munching Cheerios in my pajamas, sprawled out on a blanket on the living room floor, snuggled up between two of my favorite people…my dad and my little sister.
It seems odd to me now that my sister and I (who were only 4 or 5 years old at the time) would have enjoyed a show that didn’t just feature cute, fuzzy animals, but instead, often showed how they were hunted and eaten by predators or how their young would fail to survive a harsh winter.
But my dad was in charge of the remote, and that’s the show he wanted to watch with us. To his credit, he never tried to shield us from the unpleasant scenes. Rather the opposite. Because he was a hunter and an animal lover, he knew it would do us no good to be sheltered from the truth of the circle of life.
The predators were not unkind because they hunted, they were doing what they were created to do and what was necessary to survive. It was not cruel if the slow or sick were killed – the strongest and fastest had to survive, passing on their genes to the next generation and ensuring the continued survival of their species.
Because my sister and I saw these things play out in the natural world, they were not frightening or shocking. They were real. They were simple. The world itself was less confusing because we knew, at least in the animal kingdom, there was order and predictability.
My father understood that we didn’t need to live in a sugar-coated world, where all the bunnies lived happily ever after, and the wolves became vegetarians. He let us see the truth. It was not overly violent or graphic. Nothing to cause fear or nightmares. But it was the truth.
And I think that’s what all kids are craving on some level. They want to be told the truth (age-appropriate truth, but truth nonetheless). And they want their parents to tell it to them.
Before you think I’m going too far and suggesting that we deprive our kids of imagination or creativity, let me say this. Yes, I want my kids to have the magic of Santa at Christmas, and the wonder of an invisible world of fairies and goblins. I want them to know the inspiration of a superhero who can fly and fight off all the bad guys, and the wonder of a God who creates the entire universe but cares enough about them to count the hairs on their heads.
We humans are complex creatures. Meant to be inspired by the unending sky while anchored by the simple truth that 2 plus 2 will always equal 4. Children are naturally drawn to fantasy, but they also yearn to know what is real.
A 2-year-old insists on asking, “What is this?” every time she sees something new, and a 3-year-old will ask you “Why?” (or “Why not?” if it’s my kid) so many times in an hour that you want to pull your hair out. A 6-year-old wants to understand exactly where Africa is, and a 12-year-old needs to know whether he can really jump off the roof into the pool. They are full of curiosity for both the amazing and the mundane.
So, in addition to all the unexplainable mysteries, I want to give my sons truth that they can build their lives on. And seeing that rerun of Wild America reminded me of some things.
Keep it simple.
Sharing truth doesn’t have to be complicated or preachy. It doesn’t have to be a well-planned object lesson with a craft and a Bible verse (though those are great things too). Most of the time, truth is simple and can be taught just by sharing our lives with our children.
You see, I can guarantee you my dad never thought to himself, “Hmm…these girls need to learn the facts of life. They can’t be sheltered forever. Now what can I do to teach them these important things?”
Of course not. I’m not even entirely sure he was aware of what he was doing. Because he was just inviting us to share a part of life with him. The thing was, he loved to be outdoors and to hunt and to see animals in their natural environments (he still does). And I think he just wanted to give us a little taste of something that mattered so much to him.
This is a key step we miss as parents today.
We want desperately to be “good” parents. We think about our children constantly. We worry about them, we try to make them happy, we wonder if they are okay and if we’re doing everything we’re supposed to for them.
But by making them the center of our lives, we forget to let them see US. I mean REALLY see us – what we love, what we care about, who we are as people. Not just as meal-providing, clothes-washing, toy-buying, chauffeuring Mom and Dad.
They want us to be real people. To be genuine. And to invite them into our worlds, the same way that they invite us into theirs.
What can you do to show your kids who you really are? Is there a hobby they could watch you do or help you with? Maybe cooking a favorite recipe or sewing new curtains.
Maybe sports are your thing (this is the passion my husband easily shares with our boys).
Or drawing. Or hiking. Or Harry Potter. Or an afternoon at the nail salon.
Don’t feel like you have to make it a big thing. Or the kid version of the real thing. In fact, it’s probably better if you don’t. Don’t talk it up too much, don’t ask too many questions about whether they like it or if they’re having fun. Just do your thing and invite them along for the ride.
Lately, my thing is baking. I love to bake. But I also love a clean kitchen, so I used to discourage my boys from “helping” or I severely limited what they were allowed to do, for fear of the almighty mess they’d make. But over the years, God’s been teaching me me to let go of my controlling ways, so now I can invite my sons to join me in the kitchen more joyfully.
They scoop the sugar, roll out the dough, even use the knives without much supervision. They get to see that in the real world, if you put all the flour in at once and turn on the mixer, you get a big mess. And if you measure the ingredients incorrectly, you get a yucky inedible blob. Getting eggshells out of slimy egg whites isn’t as easy as you’d think, and salt may look like sugar, but it’s best not to mix them up. Fresh-baked bread tastes a little like heaven. Chocolate makes almost everything better. Knives are sharp. Stoves are hot. Truth is truth.
We laugh. We make a mess. We clean it up. We make mistakes. We try again.
Our kitchen is a small replica of the real world. And a small piece of their mother’s heart.
Build a legacy.
I like to think we’re continuing a family tradition. My dad shared a piece of his world with us with us through a TV show (and later by taking us out hunting with him), but it goes back further than that.
My mom often talks of fond memories with her grandmother, who took her fishing or just let her help out in the kitchen at home. It was her grandmother’s real life, not watered down or dressed up to make it kid-friendly, but true, sometimes gritty, sometimes messy life. Offered with an open heart that said, “Come on in, little one. You can be a part of this too. You are welcome here.”
And now, I see my parents doing the same thing with my children. Bringing them in, making them welcome in their world.
So go out there and let your kids see the real you. And don’t be discouraged if you’ve forgotten who the real you even is. Let this be your inspiration to discover what makes you tick again.
Your children will thank you for it. They will remember it. And they will be better moms and dads one day because of it.