People were bringing little children to him, for him to touch them. The disciples turned them away, but when Jesus saw this he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me, do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. I tell you solemnly, anyone who does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Then he put his arms round them, laid his hands on them, and gave them his blessing.
– Mark 10:13–16 (JB)
Children remind us of the miracle of life and of the continuing opportunity for renewal. We recognize that children have that of God in them as do adults. We are called, therefore, to treat them with respect and dignity and to stay in dialogue with them. While their abilities and weightiness vary according to their experience and clarity, we cherish the contributions that they make to family, meeting, and social life.
Our children are given to us for a time to cherish, to protect, to nurture, and then to salute as they go their separate ways. They too have the light of God within, and a family should be a learning community in which children not only learn skills and values from parents, but in which adults learn new ways of experiencing things and seeing things through young eyes. From their birth on, let us cultivate the habit of dialogue and receptive listening. We should respect their right to grow into their own wholeness, not just the wholeness we may wish for them.
– Elizabeth Watson, 1980
We recognize that Friends’ families come in many patterns, each one with its own gifts, abilities, and challenges. Friends try to harmonize daily life with spiritual belief and seek to meet the challenges and opportunities of a changing world. We note also the pressures that children and young people feel from the surrounding culture and especially from their peers. Even such positive changes as increased freedom and equality for women may cause new tensions as working parents seek to provide for children the caring atmosphere that was once the primary responsibility of an at-home parent and the extended family.
To watch the spirit of children, to nurture them in Gospel Love, and labour to help them against that which would mar the beauty of their minds, is a debt we owe them, and a faithful performance of our duty not only tends to their lasting benefit and our own peace, but also to render their company agreeable to us.
– John Woolman, 1758
It is the responsibility of the family, however constituted, to nurture and reinforce our children’s fundamental spiritual life and growth. Family members need to value each other’s feelings, thoughts, and questions, in addition to loving each other. Such a foundation gives children assurance and security to order their relationships with God, with others, with nature, and with themselves. Respectful communication between family members, seasoned with a sense of humor, fosters self-respect and consideration for others, even with the youngest children.
When children learn to pray within the family, prayer becomes a precious part of their daily lives. Speaking to God in their own way, they learn that answer to prayer comes in ways that are sometimes unexpected. Through daily devotions and quiet waiting upon the Spirit, parents help their children to grasp Friends’ approach to religion and to feel God’s love. Experiencing the essence of worship is also fostered through the whole family’s sharing of attendance at meeting.
There is no generation of young minds that finds the truths and realities of religion easy of apprehension. Faith is never ready made; it must always be built. The building process is easier in some epochs than in others, but the structure of the spirit must be reared in every case in the face of real difficulties.
– Rufus Jones,
The Trail of Life in College, 1929
Children learn moral values at home by teaching and example. Friends can be patterns for their children of Christ-like love, self-discipline, and spiritual development. A parent has daily opportunities to show young people how to strengthen integrity through making minor as well as major decisions, for in the family children are introduced to an atmosphere of equality, simplicity, nonviolence, and justice. The family that lives in simplicity, for instance, does not need to preach it. Children who share in the division of household tasks not based on gender learn the importance of equality between men and women. Friends often express the peace testimony by refusing to buy war toys and refraining from corporal punishment. They help their children learn constructive uses of anger, the consequences of violence, and the dangers of addiction. The focus of discipline on loving guidance and setting reasonable limits rather than on harsh punishment helps children to learn self-discipline. Instilling in our children the Quaker principle of egalitarianism and respect for individual personhood will help them to live more harmoniously in their relationships with others.
As children and growing adolescents face the often destructive pressure of culture and conflicting community values, particularly in sexual practices, parents should guide young people to recognize the importance of integrity by emphasizing the need for mutual trust and mature understanding in achieving a long-lasting intimate relationship. Parents will recognize that a truly committed sexual relationship is likely to be beyond the power of a young adolescent, and they will encourage abstinence.
Undergirding a Quaker family is the community of Friends, which bears corporate and individual responsibility for the meeting’s children. Meetings should invite and integrate children and young people into as many of their activities as possible and cultivate their gifts. They should recognize that children and young adults can often do jobs and share insights within the meeting that are usually reserved for the greater maturity and experience of their elders. Younger Friends can strengthen our corporate life with a fresh perspective, with energy and enthusiasm, and with a feeling of accomplishment that can bind them more closely to their meeting and its life as they find respect and meaning in service to their spiritual faith community and to society at large.
Meetings have a particular responsibility to concern themselves when families are in distress. Too many Friends feel the effect of physical or emotional violence inflicted by members of their own families. There may be serious illness, financial difficulties, or other problems within the family. Healing comes through counsel, time, hard work, and supporting relationships. Prayer, love, and forgiveness, with divine grace, are powerful forces in restoring healthy personal interactions.
A monthly meeting alive with the Spirit provides support for its children, parents, families, teachers, and caregivers. In identifying and nurturing the gifts of our children and youth, we pass our heritage on to the coming generation, and they in turn are being prepared to become the future of our religious community.
I have long been convinced that families are the primary agents of social change in any society. It is in this setting that individuals first become aware that the passage of time means growth and change, that tomorrow is never like yesterday. It is in this setting that one’s first daydreams about a different future take place.... The family is not a barrier between us and a better society, but a path to that better society.
– Elise Boulding,
The Family as a Way Into the Future, Pendle Hill pamphlet 222