Circles of Influence
by Susan Besze Wallace
A relative makes a tasteless remark. A commercial or news teaser jumps ahead of your child’s sensibilities before you can push “mute.” Teenagers in line for a movie drop curse words like litter for your family to wade through.
The circles of influence surrounding our kids are many and mighty. It’s easy to get caught up in the physical upkeep of these little humans, but their hearts and spirits get bruised too, and deserve just as much attention.
I’ve been thinking about how I was raised — on a suburban postage stamp, corralled by chain-link and wooden-slat fences — and about how my kids live now, in a house with no fences. Parenting in today’s world feels like that. Exposed.
Some things they hear or see whoosh over our kids’ heads. Other times, we know a little innocence has been lost. This year our family saw a horrifyingly harsh exchange between a child and his parents at a sports game. I felt paralyzed.
It’s our daily choice as parents whether or not to use bubble wrap, earmuffs and blindfolds to raise our children — as tempting as that is — or to deal with these circles of influence with forethought instead of fear.
Here are some ways to prepare for those moments of negative influence:
Talk a little less about what you are keeping them from and more about what values your family is pursuing. Incessant shielding with great fear can create fearful children.
Be aware of what influences you can and can’t control. We can turn off TV, not relatives. But we can monitor exposure to both.
Stop and assess before you address a situation by freaking out. Ask yourself what can be taught in the moment.
Don’t judge or condemn people. Keep the focus on behavior.
Be proactive. If you worry about how talk or images of war impact your child, research appropriate ways to interact on the subject. Same goes for crime, poverty, etc. Great resources exist.
Talk with your spouse about what “fences” each of you experienced as kids and what values are most important to you as parents. With a partner you won’t feel like the sole “appropriate police.”
Tell stories. Try telling simple but entertaining bedtime stories about the virtues you’re trying to instill. A little boy is a hero for telling the truth. Loyal tiger cub brothers protect each other. A little frog learns that even small creatures can have big hearts. Just go with it!
There are boundaries we must enforce. But along with what we keep out, we must keep good going in. In my fenceless yard, the stray cat is always going to be a part of life, just like my children running into questionable language and behavior is inevitable. It’s how we deal with these situations, and how we deal with them as a family, that matters.
Writer Susan Besze Wallace lives in Northern Virginia, where she and husband Todd have been known to yell “Earmuffs!” to their three sons.
Build a little fence of trust around today;
Fill the space with loving deeds, And therein stay.
Look not through the sheltering bars Upon tomorrow;
God will help thee bear what comes of joy and sorrow.