Whoever welcomes a little child in my name welcomes me.– Matthew 18:5
It is one thing to have children. To create a true home is quite another matter. Preparing a place of love and security for children is one of the most wonderful things parents can do. Such a home will reflect our love to God and our love for our children. Jesus tells us that whoever welcomes a child in his name welcomes him (Matt. 18:5).
Unfortunately, many parents lack a sense of what this means. Some simply have no time for their children: they are too busy to be bothered by them. Others remain emotionally absent from them even while they are physically present. You can see these parents in playgrounds and parks all over America and Europe, talking and texting on their phones while their children run around them. They may be physically present but their minds are elsewhere, planning for the next day or hour, and catching up on friends, news, and work.
A true home is created only when parents are ready to drop everything with joy, giving their hearts and minds to the children in front of them. Those who do this begrudgingly will reap bitter fruit. A child's emotional development depends on the love and attention he receives from his parents; those who do not receive these things at home will falter in the wider world which they must inevitably enter. What they need in the way of guidance, security, and love must be given now. Tomorrow is too late.
Parents who love their children will spend time with them as regularly as possible – and be there for them. Indoor activities like reading aloud, working on hobbies, and above all eating together give vital opportunities for interaction and a sense of togetherness. So do outdoor activities like playing ball, hiking, fishing, or backpacking. These provide the sort of positive experiences that children will not forget as they grow up, marry, and raise families of their own.
But being with our children – and being there for them – should not be confused with giving them things. How many of us come home from a business trip laden with gifts for our children, but still have no time to simply sit with them, to hear about what has been going on in their lives? How many children set these gifts aside, unsettled and still looking for real love? Even young children and infants can be negatively affected by having too many toys. By filling their beds and rooms with stuffed animals and books, we hinder the development of both personality and character – and we hinder appreciation, too.
Birthdays, graduations, and other celebratory occasions are an important part of home life, too. Aside from simply being happy times, these events can nurture and help children grow; they are times when we can thank God for them and let them know how much we love and appreciate them. But it is the priorities we set in our everyday lives that have the greatest impact on our children. The most extravagant party can never replace the security a child feels from time and attention given on a regular, daily basis.
Physical safety is no less important than emotional security. Parents who love their children will keep them away from hot stoves and open water, from high windows, moving vehicles, and poisonous medications. And while it is often said that modern parents err on the side of over-protection, this can never be used as an excuse for neglecting the proper supervision of young children.
Sometimes, creating a space for "family time" will require determination and energy, especially when children are playing outdoors with their friends, and you call them in for dinner. Most children will not be happy about such an interruption, but once a routine has been established, they will look forward to it.
Among my best childhood memories are the evenings when our family would sit on the stoop and listen to our father tell us stories about Jesus, about the early Christian martyrs and other men and women of faith throughout history. We lived in the backwoods of Paraguay, in South America, where there was no electricity. When darkness came, abrupt and early as it does in the subtropics, we lit candles and continued to sit in the flickering light. Our house was not far from the edge of a rainforest, and we often heard wild animals in the distance. When we were frightened we sang together, and our parents told us of the courage that comes from having a personal relationship with God. This became a reality for us.
But no matter how a family chooses to spend its time together, a few minutes at bedtime are always crucial. Younger children need the security of a good-night kiss, a reassuring word, and a short prayer before they go to sleep. Children who are afraid of the dark or of being alone — especially those who are unable to express their fears — should be reminded that they have guardian angels watching over them.
However, true security depends on more than comforting words. Children find their deepest emotional and inner security when their parents' love is demonstrated in deeds – and not just at bedtime, but from day to day. Speaking of family life in general, Mother Teresa says:
We must not think that our love has to be extraordinary. But we do need to love without getting tired. How does a lamp burn? Through the continuous input of small drops of oil. These drops are the small things of daily life: faithfulness, small words of kindness, a thought for others, our way of being quiet, of looking, of speaking, and of acting. They are the true drops of love that keep our lives and relationships burning like a lively flame.
From Why Children Matter by Johann Christoph Arnold.