I used to say I hated kids, with the exception of my daughter of course. I think it was my defense mechanism against parents actually. I find it really difficult to interact with parents who have some particular opposing values from my own. Parents who assign gender to toys, excuse boys abusing girls with “he likes her,” and are more comfortable with their kids consuming massive amounts of violence than the slightest hint of sexuality in films or literature. Those parents are quite difficult for me to get along with. So as a result I put forth this notion that I hated kids. This worked. It excused me from many Chuck E. Cheese parties, babysitting, and circling up with the other moms at school activities. Then I wound up working with children and youth in my church but I hung tightly to my mantra of not liking children.
Somewhere along the way I had started to buy it. I actually believed that I just didn’t like kids. This helped fuel my inner critic who wanted to attack my own parenting. I would say to myself, what kind of mom doesn’t like kids? Eventually I modified it to; I don’t like kids, except UU kids. It explained my joy in teaching RE classes but enabled me to still keep my distance.
Over the years I have done a lot of spiritual practice and soul searching. I have come to realize another layer in my story about not liking kids was in reality being around children reminds me of being one. I did not like being a child. So to avoid having to deal with the feelings that came up around my own childhood, I could just avoid kids unless I was sure I could control the environment completely. Teaching RE started that way. I thought as the teacher I could control the environment. Wow, was I wrong!
The essence of teaching is meeting the students where they are, sparking young minds and following them where they want to go. The kids in my RE classes taught me a lot about how to relax and roll with it. They showed me the beauty that can happen when you let go of curriculum and focus on relationship. Still, these were UU kids. I felt I could trust them more than the general population.
Now I direct a religious education program. This is my career and my spiritual calling. It’s great to be around all those UU kids, but I also greet families every week who have never stepped foot in a UU church before. Their kids are, well, they’re not UU kids! Not yet anyway. Something in my brain screams “Red alert! Red alert!”
I take a deep breath and become the adult I think every child needs in their life. I become so fully present when greeting these kids that there is no room for me to build any walls of defense or tell any stories which do not aid my role in creating a safe space for these children and engaging their spirits and minds. Magic happens. Something inside me heals a little more with every interaction.
On the worst days, the Sundays when I wake up and wish I didn’t have to work but could instead just sleep a little longer, I find these children save me. I may show up sleepy and a bit cranky, but as soon we sing the opening hymn the walls around my heart break open. There’s always a small group of children who sit next to me in the Sanctuary. They have their orders of service and hymnals ready. When the music starts they stand and follow the words with their finger so they don’t get lost. If it’s a song they’ve never heard, they look at me because they know I will scoot in closer and I will sing a little louder and that together it’s going to be okay. They know that here it’s safe to try. It’s safe to not know all the words or the right key. They know that here it’s about relationship and being together.
In my year of serving my congregation I have discovered something amazing. I love kids. They are my teachers. I am honored to be able to sing songs with them, play Simon Says on the playground, decorate cookies, make mandalas, laugh and grieve together, and so much more. It’s a career and a spiritual calling doing what I do, but it is so much more than that too. More than I have words to say.