We met Jeffrey when he was less than two years old. My children were two and four at the time. His parents quickly became close friends. We walked with them through Jeffrey’s diagnosis with autism. We walked with them through the struggles of parenting a child with special needs. There have been many struggles through it, but there have been great blessings too.
My children are 11 and 14. They have known Jeffrey for as long as they can remember. They know his quirks and they accept him. They recognize that Jeffrey isn’t really that different from them. Growing up alongside Jeffrey has been a gift for my children as they have learned to accept people who are different than they are and to love them.
As the boys enter middle school, there are bullies who threaten Jeffrey. I have watched my son cry as he shared his frustration that other boys exclude Jeffrey or say mean things to him. I have listened with a grateful heart as my kids come alongside Jeffrey and refuse to allow him to be bullied.
Jeffrey’s parents tell us how grateful they are for our kids. I tell them that Jeffrey is a great blessing to my kids. He makes them better friends and better people. He has taught them to truly love other people.
I write this because I want parents to be aware of the great blessing that comes with encouraging our children to be friends with kids who are different. These are the friends that challenge and change us. They force us to be selfless and sensitive. They open our eyes to the privilege of valuing people that the rest of the world devalues. They are gifts of immeasurable worth.
It begins with us! As adults, we set the tone for our kid’s worldview. We, as parents, need to recognize that every person is created in the image of God and is to be treated with kindness and respect. Who have you surrounded yourself with? Is your group homogenous- where everyone looks the same and thinks the same and has equivalent incomes? Or is your group heterogeneous- where differences are plentiful and accepted? What example is our attitude toward others setting for our children? Many of us would be angry to learn that our child is a bully. Yet many of us have made fun of people who are different or have excluded them based on sexuality, race, religion, weight, social status, etc.
The world doesn’t need people who are tolerant of others. It needs people who love them. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” (John 13:35)