Jon and I walked through the door labeled “Parenthood” in our early twenties, having been married three years and seeing it as the next logical and casual step. If we could have had the hindsight we have now, we might have chickened out altogether (I’m glad we didn’t), or at least entered parenthood appropriately shaking in our boots. I don’t think we realized our own inadequacy or the solemn responsibility of keeping another human alive—let alone teaching them all they need to know to become independent, law-abiding citizens.
In retrospect, we appreciate not only how immense the task, but how valuable the involvement of other adults in our kids’ lives. Where would we be if it were not for grandparents, aunts, and uncles willing to step in for baby-sitting duty in those early years when a short break for a date or a nap felt like the difference between life and death? Where would we be without Sunday School volunteers who reinforced the lessons we felt ill equipped to teach? Without the teachers and coaches who put in untold hours of paid and unpaid time, building into our kids? Without youth leaders during the years when we parents were the stupidest people on earth? Without other parents who welcomed our noisy and messy kids into their homes, demonstrating healthy relationships in the middle of normal family conflicts and chaotic schedules? We’ll never know the full impact others have made, but we feel eternally grateful for it.
A simple opportunity to give back came to us this past year. One Wednesday evening a month, our living room has filled with half a dozen junior high boys and their youth leader, Jed. Our house is little, and we were surprised to be asked. But the cozy space can work in favor of bonding. The boys are one of several small groups who meet in homes on these monthly nights. It provides them a safe place, away from home, school, and church, just to hang out together.
It’s the easiest way in the world to play hosts. We need only clear the dining table so they can play games, open the door when they arrive, and make sure they have access to fresh water and a litter box. I mean, washroom. Once they’re all here, Hubby and I usually retreat to our respective corners of the house. In fact, I’ve written more than one of these posts relaxing on my bed while the energetic laughter of the boys provides a soul-stirring soundtrack in our normally quiet home. It gives us a regular flashback to the days when our own kids and their friends filled the house with noise.
Sometimes I don’t emerge until they’re gone. I’ve even been known to fall asleep before they leave, and they do a great job of cleaning up after themselves. On those occasions when I do overhear their conversation from the kitchen or from my office, I marvel at Jed’s comfort level with the boys. He speaks their language and earns their friendship.
I love something Andy Rooney once said: “Most of us end up with no more than five or six people who remember us. Teachers [and youth leaders] have hundreds of people who remember them for the rest of their lives.”
I deeply admire anyone who works with youth. Listening to Jed patiently explaining the rules of a game and laughing with his guys makes me glad I only need to provide space for this to happen.
Working with youth will never be my number one gift, but I am confident of two things: first, every one of us can make at least a small investment in our greatest natural resource—our children. Second, it really does take a village to raise a child.