In what seems like a previous life I had the privilege of walking with my husband in the realm of student ministry. I started a newly-wed, and finished a young mother. My oldest turned three just weeks after my husband accepted the call into full time worship ministry.
All that said to say --- I don't think I ever really 'got it' until now.
By 'it' I mean that I didn't get the weightiness of the trust it took for parents to allow me to be an influencer in their child's lives. Don't misunderstand me. I knew the call itself was weighty. There wasn't a decision made or advice given to a student without a load of prayer involved, but I never thought much about what it required of that parent to allow me the privilege to give that advice.
And this year, my oldest started Kindergarten. You know, it's one of those milestones that few parents, mothers especially, escape from unscathed. There are tears, sometimes many. There is sadness, sometimes great. And there is emptiness, often heavy. I think all parents feel that.
I knew I would be different though. From the moment he started his last year of preschool I knew I would struggle. I've never understood those who pump fists and shout for freedom at the start of a school day. What I don't understand most is passing my child over to a person I've probably never met, for the greatest portion of their best awake hours, to become, in theory, one of the largest influencers in their lives.
I have a problem with that. Just sayin'. (And I'll totally say it outloud... or... well, type it bluntly, I'm totally considering homeschool.)
Please don't judge me. I know a lot of teachers. (I used to work in an elementary school.) I would choose a great many of those teachers to be a providing influencer in the life of my child. I don't know that I would choose many of those to be the primary influencer in the life of my child, and that is not a hit to the teacher at all. For me, it is the weightiness of the responsibility that God gave to me the responsibility of training my baby up in the way of the Lord, and unless I can get to know them for, say, a few years, and then have them endure an in-depth interview process, I think giving that responsibility away from 8-3 every day is preposterous. (Honest, not judging those who feel 100% okay in public school at all, either. I've been one of those for a long time, and I firmly believe God calls us to different things, at different times, for different reasons. AND - we are still in the public school system right now!)
Before I go any further, allow me to mention that this post isn't about public school (or private school, or homeschool, or unschool, or any other kind of school, for that matter). No, this blog isn't even about shielding my children from the world or other ideas that could have been assumed. This blog is actually about the fact that I know, without a doubt, that my child needs us - their parents - primarily in their lives, but they also vitally need other influencers in their lives.
I'm setting us all up here. I'm so thankful for the parents who allowed their student to hang out and talk to me at our house, when I now know that they so badly wanted to be the one talking to them. I'm so thankful they trusted me to be an ally, an advocate for their child, to be their voice. Because, lets face it, at some point, our kids need adults who aren't us.
And here's what this post is about: what am I looking for in an influencer?
My kiddos are still young. I still have a chance to formulate relationships with men and women who can watch my kids as they grow and speak into their lives when the extent of the guidance is the correct way to swing the bat in baseball or how to treat a teammate who just struck out and lost the game for the team. Those relationships will soon be the ones who may get the privilege of talking to my children about the party they've considered sneaking off to, or about the bullying they've endured at school. We are so lucky to have awesome church friends, other parents, ministry leaders, and coaches speaking into the lives of our kids, and, trust me, we've seen our fair share of, well, not good influencers.
Men in the church abandoning their families.
Coaches in little league yelling at kids who aren't their own.
Worse, dads yelling at their own kids and ripping apart their performance.
And it's made us diligent. It's made us ask tough questions. And it all leads me to this (deep breath and drum roll, after that novel):
5 Traits of a Great Influencer:
1. No cowards. For real, be real. Life gets hard. This one is huge. My kid comes to you and wants to sneak out to that party, a great influencer needs to tell them they've lost their ever loving minds and their parents will not deny wrath for such an offense. Feel free to share your own "I tried this and you really shouldn't go down that path" stories. Then, they need to relay the message. Secrets and safety do not mix. Scale the scenario down a notch, and if you happen to be my kids coach or tutor or be teaching them some skill, if my kid's not performing his / her best (hear me, I'm not talking perfection here, their best, which implies that the influencer knows my child well enough to know their 'best performance'), they need to have the grace and the courage to drive them to do their best. And one more biggie on not being cowardly: a great influencer knows when and how to apologize. We are all human, and in relationship, we all make mistakes. I don't care if you're 40 and the time comes to apologize to my 4 year old. Do it. I do. All the time. Is it humbling? Miserably. But we all need that from time to time. Bonus points if you teach my kid the proper times for him / her to apologize, too.
2. Established relationships. This stuff is messy. There's nothing more frustrating to me than someone who doesn't really know me from anyone and wants to start spouting off advice or tell me things I need to change. Nope. Chances are you'll make me mad and I'll do the opposite. Some of the hardest things I've had to hear are from people who love me the most. That established relationship is the only thing that allowed me to really hear and consider what they had to say, and it's also the only thing that kept me in the relationship after the hard thing was heard. Don't think you can choose where you have an influence and where you don't. One thing I learned in student ministry, nothing was 'out of bounds'. Ask any coach, teacher, mentor, etc. You'd be surprised the things that kids / students confide in them.
3.) We have to be on the same page. We live in Texas, and we are Cardinal fans. Chances are, we aren't going to find many friends around here pushing the Cardinals for us to our kids. But- great influencers are going to know our faith, and even if they spiritually don't have all the answers for our kids, they are going to know that our answer is always going to be one that aligns with our faith, and a great influencer will echo that.
4.) They meet our kids where they are. I noticed something during our son's little league baseball game the other day. (May I mention, for the record, we have amazing coaches.) He is in coach pitch now and the coach has tailored a specific style of pitch for every kid. He knows where they like them. He knows where they hit the best. He knows what speed the ball needs to come in, and he knows where it needs to cross the plate. Does he try to stretch them? Yes. But when push comes to shove in a game, if a kid typically hits the one that's fast and a little outside, that is the pitch he's going to throw them. This also aligns with number 2... knowing my kid, but it fits just as well here. My son isn't much of a talker at first. He's a little quiet and gets nervous easy, and the only way to bring him out of that is to talk to him, often, and it's sometimes awkward, but that is meeting him where he is. Eventually, he'll talk back. My little girl, well, she'll talk your ear off. You want to meet her where she's at, you gotta be able to listen. Fast forward 10 years and meeting them where they are may look much different, but a great influencer is going to not only meet them there, chances are they aren't going to leave them there either.
5.) This one goes without really mentioning, but I feel compelled to mention it. Be a good influence. Yeah, I said it. Want to be a great influencer? Set an example for my child to follow. Ultimately, I want them to follow Christ, but they learn what that looks like in a visual way by watching men / women who are already do it. Display attributes they want to mirror. Don't throw your hat and yell at an ump. And if you do, apologize --- to the ump, preferably in front of my kid, and then to my kid (and all the others). Hear me, hear me, I'm just as guilty as the next one. We had a little league game last night and I was off the bench and fuming mad as my little man hit an in the air to center field double then got called out for 'throwing his bat' (he in NO WAY threw his bat, and a boy from the other team had all but taken out the third baseman EVERY time he had batted with no thrown bat call... did I mention this is a U7 league?!). I watched my "young for the league" kiddo CRY in the dugout and my mom claws came out. I had to focus and think about what he was seeing in me at that moment. I aired my frustration in a private way to those around me and didn't end up needing to apologize, but I could have. It happens. It does. But let's think real hard about the behaviors that our kids will come to mimic.
So there it is. Be a great influencer. Be one that is true, present, on our side, flexible and worth mimicking. You are treasured more than you know, as you are being trusted with our most. prized. possessions. We are handing you a bit of the reigns of the responsibility and weightiness that we've been given by God, and trust me, that is not a decision we have taken lightly. And we are ever thankful for those who have allowed us or are allowing us the same investment into theirs. Thanks for traveling this journey with us... it really takes a village. I just prefer to choose mine ;)
What other things do you all look for in a great influencer?