My little girl’s new winter coat showed up on our front porch when I was feeling particularly down about the world. These days, maybe more often than not, I feel like I come up short when I search for the goodness I know is out there.
I didn’t expect to find it in a toddler’s winter coat.
We zipped it up, and she twirled and laughed. Then she stopped to look up at me, so sweet, so pure. Beaming, she whispered, “I’m beautiful, Mama!”
She wasn’t looking in a mirror. She didn’t need affirmation. She felt beautiful because she radiates a natural beauty from within. She is a light in an often dark world, as kids always are. She is so big-hearted and so warm, and she doesn’t withhold that goodness from anyone, including herself. I want to be more like that.
This small moment, like so many others, caught me unprepared for a big lesson, and I felt the tears pool behind my eyes. I think we parents spend so much time trying to teach children how to properly grow up that we forget how absolutely perfect it is to be childlike. To be genuine and guileless, to be truthful and trusting and unguarded and inquisitive. To be compassionate and kind. Adults should strive to accurately describe themselves with these words, so it’s worth noting that children embody these traits innately.
In fact, if we’re willing to pay attention, I would argue that when it comes to the most important foundational lessons in life, there are no better teachers than our own children.
Think about this:
1. Kids are tough and resilient. They demonstrate brilliantly how to bounce back from a disappointment or a hurt. What’s done is done, then they’re on to the next moment, the next experience.
2. Children are quick to forgive, and they show us how to let go of things that don’t really matter. At the same time, though, they’re absolutely unable to forget the things that do matter to them. And they make no apologies for it.
3. They’re honest but never malicious. They automatically think the best of people. They don’t worry whatsoever about what others think of them, either; they’re authentically themselves.
4. The smallest children don’t see differences. They’re the most naturally inclusive beings on the planet. And when children do start to notice differences in others, they marvel. They find differences fascinating and extraordinary. And maybe the best part is that even when differences are scary, children quickly turn fear into curiosity. They want to understand. They want to appreciate others, even if they can’t articulate it.
5. Kids love to learn, love to try, love to do. And success isn’t something that’s specifically measurable for them. In fact, success is learning, trying, doing, and being. Little ones wake up prepared to tackle these tasks, and they go hard at it. At the end of the day, feeling fully accomplished, they push off sleep — with still more to do or discover — until the boundless energy finally runs out, and sleep is a welcome rest to get ready for more tomorrow.
Truly, for a child, there is always an adventure to be found, a friend to make, a person to love, and someone or something more vulnerable to care for. All in a day’s work.
6. Tiny people are so inquisitive. They instinctively wonder about why people do what they do, but they don’t take any of those things personally — not yet. Shame and self-blame are things that we teach them. On their own, they simply wonder, watch, and listen.
7. In the very beginning, they are so fabulously non-territorial with things. Because things don’t actually matter, and littles don’t have a worldview of scarcity. In fact, to little ones, there is so much to have and to experience in this world, and there is more than enough for all of us. It’s amazing.
Then, while they’re discovering the concept of “mine,” children remind us of something we so quickly and repeatedly forget: it’s important to give to others, to share with others, to make sure others have enough. We try to teach them this lesson early, but it’s a lesson the world works feverishly to take away. We tend to un-learn it over time.
8. Kids are logical in the best and simplest sense. They don’t over-complicate, and their earliest expectations are spot-on. They ask to be fed because they are hungry. It is neither an emotional need nor some excessive desire they feel they have to earn. Kids expect to be cared for because no one deserves to be sick, or cold, or lonely, or hurt. Kids seek comfort, togetherness, and relationship because that’s the purpose of being human. Kids understand these things. Most adults have forgotten.
9. Before they can use complex reason or logic, children already understand (better than adults do) how to truly love others. No conditions. No demands. And they give limitless tries when those they love have wronged them. More tries than we deserve, if we’re being honest.
10. Unlike grown-ups, kids appreciate and treasure, more than anything else, the things they can’t see or touch. Attention, connection, love, and time. They truly don’t ask for much. But they’re willing to give all they have.
* * * * *
So, as I watched my baby girl twirl, I found myself in tears. And I remembered that for every single time she has called herself beautiful, she’s probably told me ten times that I am beautiful, too.
Lord, let me be more like this child, I prayed quietly.
This is true goodness. This is everything I want to be. All wrapped around a toddler in a new winter coat.