by Katie Delp
My kids, ages seven and nine, were playing baseball in the street with other neighbor kids. I was reading, while still keeping a watchful eye from our front porch. Gradually, the game shifted down the block in front of a house that can be a place of some unsavory activities. Most notable, it is known for drug dealing.
When I looked up from my book, I noticed one of the young men who is a regular on this tough corner had jumped in as pitcher in the baseball game. The kids cheered as his pitching skills were considerably better than the ten year old he replaced.
I then noticed another man from the corner was passing something out to all of the children. My kids bolted up our porch steps, hands full of candy, begging to have some. I obliged, and let them eat the sweet treats.
Then I asked my husband, “Did I just let my kids take candy from a stranger? More specifically, a drug dealing stranger?”
There are times when I find myself in a tension of following God’s call of hospitality and generosity while also trying to be a responsible parent.
I firmly believe in the dignity of all people and that everyone has something to give. I want my children to recognize that God-given dignity in those around us, and I believe that accepting others’ gifts is one way to affirm and participate in true community.
At the same, I try to teach my kids to be smart around strangers, and I try to keep them away from potentially dangerous situations. Of course, in general, I don’t want them taking candy from strangers, but I do want them to accept the generosity of others.
It’s not uncommon for my kids to be in situations where they have the opportunity to give to others. And I’m grateful for the ways they are learning and practicing generosity. But learning to accept generosity is also important, and this evening on the block, they had the chance to thank a neighbor for the handfuls of candy he showered on them during a baseball game.
There can be wisdom in teaching kids to be cautious of new people. But I worry that too much fear and skepticism prevents them from fully enjoying the generosity of so many in our communities and in our lives. There is no one answer or “5 steps” to know when we should allow our children to engage and accept gifts from strangers, but as I parent in our context, I seek to stay open and listen to how the Lord might be leading as we interact with our neighbors.