None of us will parent perfectly-so let’s take that pressure right off our shoulders; but we will always teach our children whether we model life indirectly (as they watch and then model us), or teach directly (“this is how we do it”).
Parents all desire to teach their children important things that will make them better siblings, children, and someday adults. As parents, we wish we could share with you the formula we used for our 2 daughters to grown up to be “30 Something” lovely compassionate women. The formula wasn’t ours, but Gods; God gave them an older brother (and us a wonderful son!) with special needs.
Our oldest daughter told us at age 12 that she would want to care for our son (her brother) when she grew up and we weren’t here any longer. We are certain our thoughts at age 12 would never have been in that direction; such maturity and compassion this young lady had. The younger daughter eased more into that way of thinking; probably because she was the one he most picked on over the years! As she grew up, both she and her older sister were always looking after him and paying attention to how others treated not only him, but others like him. They are wonderful to him but also to their 2 sons each (and a daughter on the way for our youngest daughter in this wonderful mix of grands for us!)
We’d love to think we had steps 1-2-3 on how to teach compassion, but the bottom line is we hope they saw that we showed it; not only to our son/their brother, but to others in our life. Our goals were to help others by:
- Offering help when someone needed it
- Showing care in public as well as in private moments
- Providing meals when it could ease someone’s day
- Calling when a need was noticed; asking how it might be filled by us
- Coming alongside others in real ways: the hospital, at appointments, etc.
- Helping others learn more about special needs and how to show compassion by learning and understanding better
We remember a time one of the girls asked why we were taking a meal to one of our adult friends who just lost her husband to a tragic death. Cindi asked, “Why do you think we’re doing this?” She answered, “Because we want to show her that we care and we’re here for her.” Our daughter was 5.
We also had many opportunities over a 10 year period to care for our parents (Joe’s and Cindi’s) as our children came with us to their grandparent appointments, visiting hospitals and nursing homes, and learning when one of their grandparents tossed a hamburger across the room because they were frustrated in their stage of dementia, how to de-escalate that moment and not cause the grandparent, us, or the workers embarrassment….to teach them love and compassion and genuine care for others. (Talk about “Making Memories!”)
We’ll all make mistakes along our parenting way, but when we purpose to teach directly and model indirectly, we have a better chance of teaching things like compassion and other character traits. If we’re all in a learning mode (parents and children), we’ll all have the opportunity to exhibit what we’ve practiced for others from which to learn! People are observing.
As you consider what people are observing about what you’re teaching your children, what do you think they see? Make changes if needed or stay the course and watch for the results down the road!
Dr. Joe and Cindi Ferrini share their newest book: Love All-Ways: Embracing Marriage Together on the Special Needs Journey (order at www.cindiferrini.com). They are authors, speakers, and bloggers for several blogging sites on marriage, family and special needs. They spoke nationally for FamilyLife Weekend To Remember Marriage Get-a-Ways for 20 years, authored *Unexpected Journey – When Special Needs Change our Course, and have been interviewed on Focus on the Family, FamilyLife Today, Janet Parshall at “In the Market”, Chris Brooks of “Equipped” and various other radio and television venues. Connect with them at:
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(Also used with permission from Ferrini’s and published at FamilyLife.com/articles and copyright by Joe and Cindi Ferrini with some changes in this article form for the KEY audience.)