Not long ago while my friend and I were watching our kids at the park, our sons came running over to us. They informed us of a boy who’d called them an inappropriate word while they were playing in their “secret fort” off in the distance.
I told my son the word wasn’t acceptable and unkind and that we don’t say those words to one another. We only want to build each other up. I told him I was sorry he had to hear that and be affected by it. Before I knew it, the boy had left the park and I couldn’t approach him. Weeks passed by, and I forgot about the incident. Until yesterday.
“Mom, there’s the boy that called me the bad word,” my son said at school drop-off. I looked over to where he was pointing.
“Oh okay,” I replied. “I may go talk to him,” I hesitated a bit.
“Don’t be a bystander, mom!” he responded in a singing, encouraging voice.
I smiled and looked at his sandy brown hair and brown eyes. I was challenged by his wisdom.
I looked at the boy and still didn’t feel it was right to approach him. But I had to do something. So I drove home and emailed our principal, received a response immediately, and he handled the situation with the boys involved that morning. He assured my son that he can always go to a teacher or parent if he’s been hurt and to always share what he’s feeling. I felt reassured as a parent that our principal’s first interest is in protecting his students. My son felt more at ease too.
What struck me in this experience was that even though the hurtful word wasn’t on my radar, it sure was on my son’s. He’d brought it up twice. God was prodding me to take more action as the parent.
According to Merriam-Webster.com, a bystander is defined as:
“One who is present but not taking part in a situation or event: a chance spectator”
In our parenting journey, we’ll make mistakes and not get it right all the time. We don’t always know what to do at the moment. We’ll come across forks in the road where we have a choice to actively take part in our child’s life or stand on the sidelines. But our children need us as their protectors, nurturers, and biggest fans. If they’re consistently communicating the same messages to us, we need to humbly listen. If they aren’t saying anything, we need to draw out what’s in their heart.
“The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.” – Proverbs 20:5
We need to fight for them in a culture that’s increasingly hostile to truth, goodness, and honoring others. So what are some practical ways we can prevent from being a bystander?
- Engage. Engage. Engage. Kirk Cameron’s resource for parents called Engage: Five Lessons for Raising Kids in a Social Media Generation is spot on. We have to be fully present in their lives to know what’s really going on. What’s on their phone apps? Have we set boundaries regarding screen time? Do we really know their friends? Are we aware of the photos they consume, post, and share? We set the rules because we love them. We have the right to know the full story because we’re accountable to God in how we parent.
“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” – Exodus 20:12
2. Take action when sin has been committed. When a wrong has been done by another child or your own, don’t brush it under the rug as if it never happened. Face it head-on no matter the cost. Take responsibility. Acknowledge the sin, work through the conflict and both sides of the story, and aim for reconciliation as far as it depends on you. Training your child to work through conflict and disappointment will be one of the greatest gifts you give because real life will be full of difficult people, let-downs, unfair circumstances, and more. Real-life also involves real consequences for our actions.
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” – Micah 6:8
3. Love your child unconditionally. Some of my friends who were strong-willed children share how much they deeply love their parents today. Their parents had to be firm and discipline often, but they knew it was for their good. They knew they were loved. We can never outdo love for our children. They are God’s and we have the responsibility to teach them his ways and to obey his commands, that are not burdensome but a blessing.
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” – 1 Peter 4:8
Your role as a parent is massive- you’re shaping a life made in God’s image. If you’ve been sitting on the bench, it’s never too late to stand up. Don’t allow any amount of shame or apathy to keep you from starting new. You have much to be thankful for in being able to play an active role in your child’s life.
So, what are you waiting for? Go get in the game!
Samantha Krieger is a pastor’s wife and mom to 4. She is the author of Quiet Time: A 30-day Devotional Retreat for Moms in the Trenches. Her writing appears regularly on Her View From Home, and Love What Matters. Connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.