I was once talking to a young mom and she was asking how to handle a certain situation with her child. Her baby was crying lots at night, and she was struggling to know whether or not to let her baby “cry it out” and cry themselves to sleep or else to go to her baby when they’re crying and comfort them. She asked me for my advice, and I simply said “your baby is your neighbor, and we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.” My point was that if we are sad, or frightened, or feeling hurt, we want to be comforted, and if our children are our neighbors, then to love them as ourselves is to comfort them, even at our own expense.
She said she’d never thought of our children being our neighbors.
But, the point of the parable of the good samaritan is, in part, that all people are our neighbors, so that certainly includes our children. When we treat our children as something less than our neighbors, we sin against them and more importantly, God. Instead, we ought to treat our children as our neighbors, plus so much more! They are also a charge from God to us to care for them and teach them to honor Him. And they are also people who can one day grow to be some of our closest friends.
But, they are at the very least, our neighbors, so what does it mean to love your children as yourselves?
What I primarily think about when I consider this truth is that I am often tempted to be inconsiderate of my children’s thoughts and feelings, as well as being inconsiderate of things like how tired they are, or how stressed out they are in any given situation. I can forget, or be tempted to ignore, things in my children that I would be sensitive to in others.
For example, something I often see in others that I too fail at sometimes is when parents push their kids too hard and then get on to them when their kiddos break down. Think about a time when you’ve seen parents stay out too late with their children, and then when their kids are exhausted and start melting down, they get on to their kids for doing so. How is it loving to do that to our children? If our boss makes us stay way late at work after we’re already completely exhausted, we are upset with our boss for doing that to us. And yet, so often, we don’t love our children the way we want to be loved.
Another example is that just as adults don’t like having things constantly sprung on them, not being able to plan for anything, either mentally or physically, so we ought not to do that to our children. Whenever we have to do something last minute, I try to take a couple minutes and explain to my children what we’re going to be doing and to help them know what to expect. I hate going into situations where I don’t know what to expect, and I try, as often as possible, not to put my children in those situations.
It goes further than that though, because so often, parents have trouble with children because they haven’t told them what to expect OR what is expected of them. For example, when we go out to eat, I take just a few moments before we go into the restaurant and talk with my children about how we are supposed to act in restaurants, and what they can expect of me if they don’t do what is expected of them (namely, they get in trouble for not respecting and obeying daddy).
If we are having company over, I take time with my children and we talk about who is coming over, and how best to act around the people coming over. For example, if it’s some of our good friends who have rambunctious boys like I do, then we talk about where the wrestling room will be. If, instead, we’re having over only adults, we talk about where the kids can go to be louder, and what’s expected of them if they’re in the main room.
In other words, I try to love my children as myself. And this isn’t something I always succeed at for sure, and I have older children as well (18, 16, and 13 at the moment), so loving them as myself takes a very different form than reminding my 5 year old that we’re not to touch everything in the grocery store! But, I try to do so, and I try to consider them as my neighbors. Whether that’s considering my older children’s particular weaknesses and struggles (are they introverts or extroverts, easily embarrassed or thick-skinned etc…), or having the guts to apologize to them when I wrong them or fail to consider them, I strive to love my neighbors as myself, even the ones under my charge in my house.
Now, I probably need to say right here that I’m not saying that parents shouldn’t train and discipline their children or that they won’t have to do what’s best for a child even if the child doesn’t want it, but that doesn’t mean that in those moments we’re not loving them as ourselves. We want what is best for us, and there are plenty of times when we don’t know what that is and need someone else to tell us. As a matter of fact, we can all think of times when we didn’t want to hear someone’s advice, and ended up knowing that it was good for us. We all want people who will tell us what we need to hear, even if it’s tough to hear it. So, to give that to our children, by disciplining them and thus teaching them to be disciplined people, is certainly a loving thing to do!
And it goes further than that, because we learn what it means to love our neighbor from our Lord and Savior, who although he was infinitely better and bigger and wiser than us, still came to us and loved us and became our neighbor. He is the good samaritan who helps his neighbor who is in great need, even though it cost Christ everything to do so. We learn so much about parenting from Jesus. He gave up the comforts of heaven and lived his life constantly giving of himself in order to comfort and care for us.
Whether it’s the temptation to forget to love them the way we would love our friends, or to speak about them in ways we wouldn’t speak about others, or speak TO them in ways that we would never speak to others, remembering that our children are our neighbors is so helpful to our parenting.
And when we remember what God has given to us, and how much we have in Christ, and what great comfort and love we experience in him, then it is easier for us to suffer for a little while in the night when our children won’t stop crying. And it is easier to take extra time to love our children the way we want to be loved.
So dear parents, remember the gospel, which shows the great lengths that God has gone to in order to make us his neighbors, and to care for his neighbors, and then remember that your children are your neighbors, and love them as yourselves.