I said “crap” the other day and my children lost their “crap.”
“You said the C-word, Mom!” They simultaneously chant and sneered at me. I rolled my eyes and cursed some more internally at how judge-y these children of mine have become. I know it’s because they are taught not to swear at school, and developmentally they are still young moral police who view things in black and white. (I know, crap isn’t even that bad, you see what I’m working with here?!)
Obviously, I do not wish to raise little judgmentalists. As a progressive Christian, inclusivity, grace and non-judgment are all values I hold dear and hope to pass on to my kids. However, judgment of the fundamentalist variety has created a negative connotation of the act of judgement, which is also a critical life skill to shape our morality and virtues. I don’t want my kids to judge others with arrogant superiority, but I do want them to develop sound judgment of character, in both themselves and others, that helps navigate their personhood as they come of age.
No ideology or principle has compelled me more than my heroes who embody beauty and truth as shining examples. I want my children to be able to spot that in others and strive to become like them. In the meantime, how can we hone the craft of judgment so that it isn’t toxic, but one borne out of a desire for truth and mercy? Here are five things to keep in mind as we help our children “judge” others:
Internal Character vs. External Actions – I remind my kids to look beyond people’s behavior and notice the person’s attitudes and posture. To continue using cursing as an example, I frequently remind them of my many beloved friends who swear like sailors. I want to train their eyes to see beyond crass language and obnoxious external behaviors to find whether there is kindness and mercy. This requires them to not write people off from first impressions and dig deeper to uncover a person’s heart. My experience is if you’re looking for goodness, you’ll often find it.
Patterns of Behavior – In our modern culture of public skewering by angry tweets, it seems one mistake is enough to sink a person’s reputation. I want my kids to learn to judge patterns of malevolence and not on one-off misbehavior. If a friend says something mean to them, they have the right to feel angry, but I’d help them to find some grace, reminding them we aren’t always nice ourselves. However, if there are repeated offenses, and the same “friend” continues to exhibit nasty behavior over and over again, it is time to walk away and find new friends.Context – No person emerges from a vacuum. I remind my children that they have habits which reflect our family traits, and the places we have lived influence who they are. Their friends act the way they do because of complex reasons. We can help them to begin practice judging by context and not merely by individual action by asking, “Why do you think this person talks this way?” Maybe her family does this, or the friends from her last school did that? These are good probing questions we can introduce to our children to get them curious about why people act the way they do.
People Change – Raising children is a fantastic time of life to teach how people are capable of change. Although it is controversial whether our personalities evolve, I believe it does, and I recommend this fantastic episode of NPR’s Invisibilia, called the Personality Myth, which debunks how consistent we like to think our personalities are. The reality is that we can and do change, according to circumstances, chemical influences, and spiritual awakenings. Children undergo a tremendous amount of evolution in a short 18 years, and I like to talk with my kids about how their classmates have changed from one year to the next so they learn how we do not remain static, and our judgments of other people needs to stay fluid.
Plank in Our Eye – Above all, I’d like for my children to remember Jesus’ memorable teaching of the plank in our eye. I want them to cultivate the virtue of humility and a deep reverence for the Imago Dei in each person. Every person has value. This does not mean they need to befriend every person, or to refrain from drawing healthy boundaries. But it does mean reserving grace and redemption even for the biggest of bullies at school and in life. It means developing a growing sense of humility as they mature, and extending an extra dose of empathy as they interact with increasingly wide social circles.
It is true that God alone can judge the hearts of humans. However, we are more than capable of judging the fruit that emanates from the lives of those around us. Learning to examine the virtues of those in our community helps to challenge and change us, hopefully for the better.
My kids maybe judge-y about my language around the home, but that’s okay… for now. My hope is they will grow into mature adults who learn to judge with humility and grace.