We braved a trip to a museum a couple of weeks ago and I had an exchange with another mom that really stuck with me. The outing went really well, even with all the new and different restrictions. We kept our masks on the entire time, utilized the hand sanitizing stations, and remained in our family unit, keeping 6 feet apart from the few other families that were there. Our girls didn’t miss a beat and loved exploring and interacting with each other. But, there was one exhibit where a darling little toddler tried to tag along and play with them. This girl’s mother steered her away repeatedly and I encouraged my girls to move onto the next display whenever she would show up. It was heart-breaking. They just wanted to be friends. At one point, the other mom looked at me in dismay and asked, “What are we teaching our children?”
It occurred to me in that moment just how hard this is on young families. We want our babies to build social skills and learn to be kind to each other and get along. We want to teach our toddlers to share and process their big emotions in a healthy way. We want our young, school aged children to learn inclusion and acceptance. It seems impossible to teach them these things during this time of isolation and social distancing. It is frustrating and disheartening.
But something my husband had mentioned to me came to mind and as she corralled her child away I responded, “I think right now, we are teaching them respect.” She smiled and walked away and we went on to the next thing, but our short conversation came back to me again and again.
What are we teaching our children? We may not be able to bring our babies together to socialize, but we can show them by our own example how to be kind to others. We may not be able to referee a toddler play date, but we can help them learn how to handle the stress and anxiety of being quarantined, even as we process through those emotions as well. And we may not be able to encourage our older kids to hug a kid who is sad or to reach out to a child in need, but we can teach them that we are social distancing out of respect.
As a matter of fact, my husband has stopped using the phrase, “social distancing” and tells our girls to “keep a respectful distance” instead. Simply changing the word “social” for “respectful” changes the connotation from something that we are required to do whether we agree with it or not, to something we choose to do out of kindness for others. If our children learn anything out of all this, it is my hope and prayer that they learn kindness. I want them to grow up with a compassionate love for all people. Isn’t that what God requires of us to begin with?
When I was younger, I spent a week at a summer camp that was coordinated by my aunt, who was a children’s minister at the time. At the beginning of every week my aunt would talk to us about the rules for behavior and the various policies we would need to honor. She would quote the same verse every single time and it is now ingrained in my head. I can even hear the inflections and see the hand motions just thinking about it. But it is just as applicable today as it was back then, perhaps even more so. 1 Peter 2:17a “Show proper respect to everyone.” Said with a formal bow and followed by outstretched hands (are you proud Aunt Claudia?)
If I were to pick a Scripture to go with the unique struggles of current events it would be this one. “Show proper respect to everyone.” Not simply to people who agree with you or even just people in authority, but to everyone. Not because they deserve it, but because God commands it. And not even out of obligation, but out of love.
So we will not be socially distancing right now. Instead, we will keep a respectful distance out of love in order to show kindness to others. And that is what I want our children to carry with them. When this pandemic has passed (and it will), social distancing will pass with it. But respecting others will always be a current issue and that is what I want to teach our kids. Respect. Kindness. If they learn nothing else, let it be this.