"I have three more dads at church who have to approve of everything I do!" Laughter broke out around the room when my 15-year-old daughter, Ashley, made that comment to her friends.
She was exaggerating, of course, but several moms and dads in our church do, in fact, take a healthy interest in her upbringing. As I listened to my daughter, I realized how much she and my 11-year-old son, Wesley, have benefited from their relationships with caring adults.
Hebrews 10:24 reminds us to "consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds." Adults can play an important role in stirring up love and good deeds in our children. My husband and I have noticed areas where these multigenerational relationships have directly influenced our son and daughter.
Our friends are a diverse group, covering several distinct life stages. An older generation of surrogate grandparents supports us and loves our kids. Other couples in our group have school-age children, and we stand alongside one another through the parenting process. Our social circle also includes teens and tweens who are Ashley's and Wesley's ages and even younger children in elementary school.
Our homes look different, yet they are filled with the same values. For example, when we visit the homes of the older generation, we usually have a well-planned, homemade meal served on real dishes. In my home, everyone is welcomed to home cooking, but guests usually help prepare food when they arrive. When we visit the homes of the younger couples, we may eat a store-bought meal.
In all three situations, our families experience true hospitality and the love of God's people. The children see the same principles demonstrated in different ways, suited to each family's lifestyle.
Affirmation of our values
The people who have the most meaningful relationships with our children hold fast to their faith in Christ. We know they will be godly role models for our kids, just as we will be for theirs. Ashley finds comfort in knowing that she will always have someone to talk to, even when it's hard to talk to me. I don't panic when she doesn't come to me with her problems immediately because I know she is getting godly advice from other adults.
As our children grow, they will undoubtedly confront people and ideas that challenge their faith. They need strength and courage to stand up to these challenges. That's why I'm glad their values are reinforced by the adults who speak truth into their lives with love, compassion, consistency and conviction.
A sense of responsibility
Wesley says the adults in our group make him feel as though he's becoming responsible and gaining people's trust. Our friends' willingness to meet Wesley where he is and contribute to his life has helped him build confidence.
Our children have also learned to care for our friends' younger children. Both Ashley and Wesley enjoy playing with the preschoolers and elementary-age kids. When things get out of hand, however, they will gently and lovingly pull the children aside and correct their behavior, taking the role of mentor. The older generation has emphasized caring for others and passed this value on to me and my children; now my children are passing it on to the children following them.
A caring community
What does this multigenerational web of relationships look like for our family? It is the bleachers at Ashley's basketball game filled with her friends and surrogate mothers and fathers. It is a house full of people from all stages of life rejoicing in Wesley's profession of faith. It is a surprise birthday party for my husband, complete with toddlers and preschoolers running up and down my stairs. It is people living out the love of God for the next generation.