Have you ever caught yourself looking at someone, seeing something that you felt you were much better at, and then making a huge critical judgment? You know, the kind that makes you feel rather superior? One of the phenomenon of teaching our children at home is that we have a wonderfully beneficial environment for teaching them good manners and good values and for developing virtuous characters. There may be a hidden drawback, however.

While it is true that our children may not be constantly surrounded by people with different values and practices yet, what of the many times when they do meet or see people acting differently from themselves? If teaching them to be kind, for instance, makes them extremely critical of someone they see who is not doing quite so well in the kindness department, I think we may have missed a most important point! While we’d love our children to be well mannered, we surely don’t want self-righteous, critical, priggish children. When self-righteousness is played out it always reveals a mean nature.

But, you say, how do you work on the one attitude without producing the other? I don’t have a pat answer for that question. I’ve seen children who seem to have tender hearts even for the down and outer, or the guy next door who doesn’t watch his language as much as he should, or their own peers who haven’t learned all the intricacies of table manners. Then I’ve seen other children who are always commenting, “Oh, did you see that guy he was having a drink!” or “That guy got mad and yelled real loud, he isn’t a good man,” or (in a derisive tone) “that child doesn’t even know enough to put her napkin in her lap!” and so on…over an infinite variety of whatever behavior the child has been taught to do or not to do.

How do we teach them what is right and at the same time help them to do it with a, “This is about me, personally–I want to take the log out of my own eye,” attitude, rather than with a “This is what’s wrong with you,” or the “You’ve got a splinter! You’ve got a splinter!” demeanor?

The world is full of broken people…we are all broken people…and our children will make some poor choices along the way, as well. Therefore, I present for your consideration, the idea that among the things we work so diligently to teach our children, one we should not neglect is mercy. We all need it-they will need it. It is especially important to be full of mercy because as the Bible states it is the way that we, ourselves, are blessed.

I guess, then, we should make it our task to fall in love with mercy and practice it. We do this as we move away from put downs and criticisms and thinking better of ourselves than we ought, and we focus more on valuing people whether they are perfect or not. By this I certainly do not mean to validate wrong behavior or have our children do so. I’m talking more about teaching our children to develop a deep sense of compassion and care for people, because they are people, rather than falling into a habit of feeling superior and acting judgmental and critical.

Isn’t it amazing how often we ourselves criticize someone for a behavior (just because that isn’t our particular problem) and conveniently forget several problem areas in our own lives? Maybe we could help our children by suggesting that before they make a critical remark about someone that they think about the things that they themselves don’t do too well-and about how they would want to be thought of and treated?

As in all things leading our children into lives that reflect mercy must be done gently…not critically…by little questions, and great examples on our part and connecting the ideas to those they have already thought about.

As we love our children and teach them, may they also see in us the noble qualities of kindness, patience and mercy for our families and for our fellow man.

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