In my role as family pastor I frequently talk with parents who are concerned that their child is being treated unfairly at school, on a team, or even at church. Usually, the conversation revolves around the parent’s attempts or desire to “fix” the situation and force the teacher, coach or leader to be “fair.” Honestly, as a parent I can sympathize. It is tremendously painful to see our kids deal with hurt feelings and it can break our hearts to see them faced with the harsh realities of real life. I have seen my own child hurt because another parent pulled strings to get something for their child that mine was told was unavailable. I have seen the pain and confusion in my child’s eyes when he discovered he was excluded from an event his friends were a part of. And in those situations and many others I have faced the same temptation to protest the unfairness and step in and “fix” it.
However, I am convinced that we do our children a terrible disservice when we do choose to step in and manipulate people and circumstances for their benefit. I am not suggesting we should not protect our kids from physical harm and do all that we can to ensure their safety, but I am suggesting that there are worse things than hurt feelings. As parents, we are given the responsibility to shape the heart of our children toward God and teach them what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We must prepare them to live real life in a manner that is pleasing to God. That means both introducing them to some of the realities of real life and teaching them how a follower of Jesus should respond. If we “fix” every situation we deem unfair, we train our kids to believe that this is the reality they should expect in life. They begin to believe that they can only function properly if everything is stacked in their favor. Perhaps even worse, by always protecting our kids from all potential for hurt feelings and painful or uncomfortable social situations we miss out on an incredible opportunity to train our kids in one of the most difficult aspects of real life – responding properly when you are wronged.
Let’s face it; even as adults this is one of the most difficult things we ever do. Most of us can handle doing the right thing when life is going our way. However, it is when we are wronged, mistreated, or slighted that we struggle to act as Jesus would. This is something we must all work at! Because of that fact, I want to challenge you parent to parent to consider embracing your child’s difficult social situations rather than fighting them. Instead, use the opportunity to teach them some valuable lessons like:
- Life isn’t fair. I know it’s cliché. I know it’s very grumpy old man of me. But it is true. Most of the time, life is not going to be concerned with treating you fairly. Can your child handle that? They will need to in order to succeed in life.
- Consider another perspective. Oftentimes I feel hurt even though it was not someone else’s intention to hurt or offend. Teach your child to consider a perspective other than their own when they feel they are being treated unfairly.
- Turn to Jesus. This is not meant to be a trite, churchy answer. This is an invaluable lesson we must all learn and should certainly teach our children. When you experience, pain, suffering, or mistreatment of any kind you should always turn to Jesus for comfort. Go to him in prayer. Seek comfort in His Word. Teach your children to lean on Jesus rather than to depend on retaliation or any resolution for our well-being.
- Respond with kindness. Retaliating to unkindness just make things worse. We should teach our children to respond with kindness, especially to minor offenses and slights. The Bible even says to respond to evil with blessing (1 Peter 3:9).
- Be humble. When my child is mistreated, I can use that to remind them of the pain we sometimes cause others and help them consider the grace and forgiveness they want to receive when they are the offender.
- Calmly confront. Many people grow to adulthood without ever learning the important art of biblical confrontation. Teach your child how to respectfully and peacefully confront an offender. This will take him or her far in life.
- Show God’s love. The Bible constantly urges us to show love in all situations and relationships, including everyone from your neighbor to your enemy (Luke 6:27-31; Gal 5:14). We must teach our children that the responsibility for showing God’s love does not end just because we are treated unfairly.
This is not in any way an exhaustive list of what can be learned from difficult or unfair situations, but I hope that it challenges you to consider the tremendous benefits of allowing children to face some of the natural discomfort and unfairness of life rather than always swooping in to protect them from reality. I hope you will consider that since reacting to mistreatment from others is so difficult for us as adults, we certainly can’t expect our children to magically figure it out once they are grown. They need practice now, even though that practice may mean some hurt feelings in the short term.
So, next time your child comes to you with an interpersonal or social problem, pause before you give in to the impulse to “fix” it for them. Perhaps instead you could take advantage of the opportunity to simply comfort, pray and teach. It might be hard at first, but the reward in terms of life-lessons learned and Christ-like character is well worth it!