Teaching Kids About Dreams, Jobs and Dignity

 “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Adults love to ask this question of children and relish the answers we’re given.

We love to hear the originality and confidence children possess when saying they’re going to be an astronaut or doctor. Out of love for them, but also pride in the way it reflects upon us, we actively nurture our kids’ highest aspirations.  We want to believe our children can achieve anything. The bigger the goal, the more incredible the feat, the more our hearts yearn for its fulfillment.

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Encouraging our children to dream is one of parenting’s most beautiful endeavors.

But there’s another component to consider when talking with children about their career ambitions, and it warrants just as much cultivation as dream-building. This component may not be as romantic, but it’s intrinsic to many of the disparities facing our society and thus deserves to be equally emphasized.

We simply need to do a better job of teaching kids that all work, done with dignity, has value. All work, not just the coveted positions, is necessary to the world we live in. All people, no matter their occupations, are deserving of respect and appreciation.

The Messages We Give Our Children

When I was in high school, steeped in honors coursework, I was asked by a teacher during class to share what “I wanted to be.”

I told him I wanted to be a school bus driver.

His response was not a favorable one. I was lectured in front of my peers on how each one of us is called to “dream big” and use every ounce of our talent to pursue these  dreams. Otherwise, we were wasting our potential.

I wanted to be a school bus driver because I enjoyed driving. I liked the idea of taking children to and from school safely. I loved country roads and the idea of having a route in a rural county appealed. I was also from a low-income household and somewhat uncomfortable with the culture and assumptions that surround an “honors” education.

The teacher’s perspective seemed especially nonsensical to me later that afternoon as I stepped off the bus and said goodbye to the woman who had once again ensured I’d made it safely home from school.

Alas, I went off to college and never became a school bus driver.

Americans love a strong work ethic, but we also have a blatant hierarchy of “worthy” and “unworthy” jobs which consumes much of our discussion surrounding employment. This has caused a tragic cycle of injustice and heartache over what makes a person a worthy contributor to society.

There’s currently a great deal of frustration surrounding the disparity of work, the ability to make a living and the giving and receiving of respect. I’m not an economist or a sociologist, but the lack of dignity given to huge segments of our workforce seems central to our woes. How can we make changes and ensure our children grow up with genuine appreciation and respect for all those who make our society function?

Lessons in Work and Dignity

Millennials in particular are criticized for not wanting to take jobs considered menial or unglamorous. I have not found this to be the case. But even if were true, the irony that Millennials are faulted for having the very attitude perpetuated by so much of society cannot be lost.

Most of us heard at some point in our education that we’d be condemned to “flipping burgers for a living” if we didn’t apply ourselves – having a job flipping burgers being portrayed as a negative thing.

With the economic difficulties, I think we are at a crossroads. There’s a great deal of learning to be done, but we can use our experiences to be more intentional about fueling dreams and teaching our children the dignity of all work.

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As parents we can be intentional about stepping outside our niches and ensuring we have friendships and meaningful relationships with people from a diversity of occupational backgrounds. Exposing our children to this diversity will open their minds to new possibilities and drive home the point that no job is above or beneath them.

We can ensure that the quality of our interactions with others is not dependent on their job statuses. There are few things as painful to experience as a human treated as less important because of the type of service they are providing to society. Our kids need to see that their parents acknowledge the personhood of all. The person cleaning the doctor’s office is just as worthy of respect as the doctor doing the examination. The person serving our food is just as deserving of a sincere “hello” as the CEO dining at that establishment.

We need to debunk the myth of the “lazy poor.” It’s served as a convenient excuse to justify disparities in our society, but we all know deep down that the families working the hardest are often the ones getting paid the least. There is nothing “lazy” about a person holding down multiple part time jobs to put food on the table, or someone who is rolling up their sleeves and doing the job most are unwilling to perform. If a service is necessary for our society to function, but the person performing that service is not receiving a living wage, how can we teach our children that this is a just or sustainable situation?  

Fundamental to all of this is our openness to our children’s dreams, even if they diverge from our own. Perhaps we imagine our kids as Nobel Prize winning scientists. But they may not want to follow the course we have laid out for them. If we give children unconditional love and support, they will grow up reflecting these same virtues to all those who labor alongside them.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have dreams for my children. But the only one I’m really comfortable sharing with my children at this time is a hope that they will live their lives and do their work in a way that treats fairly of all those whose paths they cross.

Between you and me though, the kid who becomes a school bus driver may end up being my favorite.

How do you emphasize to your kiddos the respect due to all who work in our society?

 

 

How I Wasted My Education When I Became A Mother

I was that young woman who graduated college and had my first baby a year later.

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This meant I spent four years working my way through university, keeping down jobs, interning for no pay, and pushing every limit I had to graduate summa cum laude…

Only to become a stay-at-home mom.

Among all the marks against an educated woman, the choice to seemingly do nothing with one’s education ranks pretty high. In those early years of motherhood, I’d frequently be asked if getting a college degree was worth it, since I was “just” staying at home with kids. Did I really need to attend a university to be a stay-at-home mom?

These inquiries were framed as harmless curiosity. But I knew better. And like so many other women, it was all too easy to feel diminished and insecure. However much I wanted to defend my choice, when I was honest with myself, I didn’t know how to answer.

Being a stay-at-home mom wasn’t the intention of my education. And although I never believed it, motherhood was often presented as a hindrance, even a barrier to advancement in many of my courses. Could all the resources, time and money that went into a college education really be justified when my days consisted of diaper changes and the alphabet song? Or was it actually a waste?

As time passed, however, and more of my friends became mothers, it became obvious that this scrutiny wasn’t exclusive to women who stayed at home with their kids. This same test of worthiness and adequacy was being pitted against every woman who had a child. I’d listen to the frustrations and tears of working moms and stay-at-home moms and hear the same insecurities.

You see, when it comes to women and education, our society loves to put us under a microscope and carry out an inquisition.

Will this woman, by virtue of her ability to be a mother, be productive, profitable, ground-breaking, reliable and ambitious enough to merit her education? Will she put it to good enough use?

Or will it go to waste? Will she just pop out babies?

Our society worries a woman will sacrifice too much for the sake of her children. She may prioritize care-taking over time dedicated to her profession. Her thoughts may be too wrapped up in a teething baby to make the same contributions as man.

And regardless of a women’s childcare choice or commitment to her profession, she spends an insane amount of energy fighting against these insinuations of inadequacy.

As these sweeping pressures became obvious, I realized I was in fact wasting my education.

I was wasting my education by allowing this destructive nonsense to have any hold on me whatsoever. Because it’s this constant testing against women that is the waste. Not our choice to be mothers.

So here’s how women everywhere can ensure that we are putting to good use the education we receive.

We need to redefine exactly what society sees as “waste”. Because caring for children, or any human for that matter, is certainly not waste.

We need to confront false ideas that women only be mothers and pressures that women cannot be mothers if they seek real success. Advocating equality in the office, lab and legislature is half the battle. The other half is elevating the value of care-taking to the same level as salaried pursuits. Young children need educated caretakers, and unless we value that care, we’ll go on committing the same injustices that have been perpetuated upon humans for millennia.

And ultimately, we need to acknowledge that raising children is a task worthy of a woman’s – or man’s education. Not only will our education enhance our ability to nurture and teach children, our experiences as parents furthers our knowledge of the world.

A short while ago, I was contacted by alumni relations of my alma mater. They wanted to know what I was doing five years after graduating.  When I was a new mom, I would have shrank from that question. But in light of my education, I stated without hesitation that I was a stay-at-home mom.

So what are your thoughts? How do you put your education to use as a parent?

Go Ahead and Rebel Against “Success”

Our culture loves a success story. It’s this love of achievement that pushes us to perform well, collect accomplishments, and have results that indicate our efforts have been worthwhile. This pressure to excel doesn’t wait until we’ve reached mature adulthood, but rather begins when we’re kids.  

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Although we’re now grown, it’s not too hard to remember being immersed in our youthful scuffle to achieve acceptance in our academic, social and extra-curricular pursuits. Now that we have little humans of our own to nurture, it can be daunting to discern how best to encourage their success. There seems to be an almost constant call to raise talented, over-achieving success stories. And children at the earliest age can be so critical of their own abilities, quickly feeling frustrated if they’re not preforming as well as they think they should.

But as the framework around parenting continues to center around helping our kids “get ahead” in life, we need to take a step back and consider what exactly is being perpetuated here?

When we hear that children of this age feel more stress than the children of the Great Depression (the Great Depression, my friends), and that more minors are now taking their lives than previous generations, it becomes clear that we desperately need to change some things. We need to let them know that the pressures they feel do not define them.

I am fully prepared to rebel against our culture’s obsession with success and am doing so for the sake of my children’s well-being.

One of the ways I’m battling this is by…playing piano. Let me clarify, by playing the piano badly.

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I have attempted to “play” the piano for over half my life and continue to be terrible at it. You’ve never played piano? It’s still possible you’re better at it than me. I took up piano as a young girl around the same time I fell in love with classical music.  Within a year or two it became obvious that there was no greatness in store for me. Even mediocrity would be a dream unrealized. The years have passed, the playing has continued, but the result remains absolutely dreadful. I was and remain just plain bad at it. There is nothing tangible to “show” for all the time.

Except that I still really love to sit down and play.

The thing is, I believe I’ve loved playing all these years partly because of how poorly I perform at this. As the limits of my musical ability settled in, playing became a glorious relief and a reminder that there was more to life than striving for success.

Playing this instrument would not be a part of any success story, but rather, a love story for simply living. There was nothing that could be derived from this time at the bench and fake-ivory keys, except the joy of living in the moment. There’d be no one to impress. There’d be nothing else to gain. It would heighten an appreciation for those who did possess talent, but would never include my membership in their rank.

As a mother, playing piano has continued to be a tremendous reminder that life is more than being good at things. It is meant for experiencing and relishing the moment at hand. It’s amazing how necessary that reminder is on a day-to-day basis.

My children are growing up hearing some mighty poor performances. Right now they happily kaplunk alongside me, with only a minimal differentiation between adult and child. One day they’ll realize that their mommy ain’t that great.

But hopefully they’ll also learn that sometimes it’s okay to be bad at things. It’s okay to seek out time and activities without thought of productivity or achievement. Amidst the pressures to succeed, we are all entitled to love things intensely and not lose heart if greatness isn’t a part of the story.

And if my children can learn these things, it will help them live more authentically, humbly and joyfully.

Children should be encouraged from time to time to rebel against this notion that they must be a success. Not everything is about achieving excellence or exceptionalism. Life is meant to be experienced not achieved, and often times, the way to true “success” is to love something without fear of failure.

So what’s something you love to do that you’re no good at? Are your children getting in on the fun of this as well?

Mommy Has a Squishy Tummy

A few weeks ago while I was reading with my kids, my five-year-old son scooted close to me and told me I had a very squishy tummy.

I stopped reading.

Okay, I frantically thought, I’m a modern woman. Obviously my tummy is squishy and I should be okay with this. There’s a life-lesson for my son I need to be teaching here. One that conveys healthy body image. Or something. I know I should say something.

But the life-lessons weren’t coming to me. All the articles and talks with friends. All those words of wisdom and desire to raise boys who didn’t objectify women. They went out the window. I felt I needed to say something to him, but all the possible words felt insincere.

What I did feel was my stomach tighten, as if a deep inhale could reduce the squish. And then I kept reading.

Following this squishy tummy episode, I realized it had been a while since I had taken stock of, and perhaps confronted, some realities about my own body image.

I’m at a point in life where pondering my physical appearance ranks about #457 on the list of things to think about. For instance, “can I wear this pair of jeans a fifth day in a row?” and “there’s no milk or bread in the house, can I still go one more day without a grocery run?” rank higher than pondering physical appearance on my list. Most days pass without more than a glance in the mirror.

But this moment with my son confirmed the presence of long-lasting  insecurities. I had tucked away these insecurities when I became a mother. Filed them away somewhere to be sorted out at a later date. It wasn’t that I had been liberated from these negative thoughts, I just put them on hold. And when I unintentionally stumble upon #457, the outcome is rarely positive. It’s one that still evokes feelings of inadequacy, criticism and self-depreciation.   

Perhaps you can relate.

So how am I to teach my children about healthy body image when I still struggle?

The answer was sitting right beside me. I wasn’t going to teach my children. My children were going to teach me.

My son had tried to teach me something that day while we were reading. And I missed it. The negative connotation I have with “squish” had resonated so strongly with me that the manner in which it was uttered by my boy was utterly lost.

So let me retell this story, completely this time. Let me put aside any insecurities and knee-jerk reactions. Let me share this as my son intended it.

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A few weeks ago, I was reading with my kids. My three kids, five-years and younger. The children I have born and given so much of my body and soul to care for. As a page turned of a much-loved story, my oldest son nestled close to me, and with a contented sigh, as if almost unconsciously done, said I had a very squishy tummy.

That moment was not a criticism or tease. That moment for him meant comfort and security. It meant contentment and rest. It meant mother and home. As he felt his little body enveloped by the body that had loved him into existence, he felt happy. He liked the way he could so comfortably nestle into his mommy and he spoke that feeling into existence.

Children do not need lessons from adults on healthy body image. There was nothing he needed to learn from me.  Adults need to learn from their children.

Ask children about our bodies and what will we learn?

Children will tell us that bodies are for play, and love and exploration.

They will tell us skin is sticky and soft, occasionally boo-booed and in need of a kiss.

Fingers and toes are for feeling cool mud and warm sand.

Legs are to carry us to where we wish to go.

Arms are for reaching, even if what we desire seems beyond our grasp.

Faces are to be used in reckless expression.

And tummies are for food and belly laughs. They are often best squishy, especially when belonging to their mommies.

Having kids can teach us so much about our bodies. What have you learned about your body after having children?

The Art of Raising Thoughtful Conversationalists

First, let me clarify what this post is not about. It’s not a hankering that we raise our children to speak as characters in a Jane Austen novel.

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Though that’d be awesome

It’s about something more fundamental: raising humans who can talk and listen to one another in meaningful ways.

We have all experienced unbalanced conversations. Perhaps we did too much of the talking. Perhaps we had a genuine desire to share our thoughts, but were not given the space and time by others. When unbalanced conversations become a habit, opportunities to connect are lost.

Among the hierarchy of life skills, the ability to carry on a balanced, thoughtful conversation ranks high. It gives us the ability to connect, forge relationships, delve deeper into those relationships, learn, grow and be inspired.

Conversations do not have to be long. They do not require talkative people. But they do require people who genuinely wish to exchange thoughts and ideas with another.

Our children so clearly wish to be conversationalists. From infancy they babble to us and we inherently invite them to continue with our overjoyed responses. Kids possess the same desire as adults to be included, and to be heard. So much of what they learn is via discussions they forge with the adults who love them.

Children are taking every word in, and replicating many of our habits. It’s in everyone’s best interest to model thoughtful ways of communication. Though we often reflect on the topics that can make up good conversation (past experiences, politics, reality TV), the raw ingredients necessary for meaningful conversations are rarely emphasized. And it’s the ability to appreciate those ingredients that embody the art of thoughtful conversations. So what can we emphasize?


The Invitation

We are not reporters, and we aren’t conducting an interrogation. But the point of conversing with someone is to share thoughts, and in order to share thoughts…we’ve got to invite another person to share! Often times the most genuine way to carry on a conversation is to ask thoughtful questions of another – of their life, ideas, experiences – and mean it when we initiate the question.

It’s very easy, but it’s amazing how rarely that simple act is given to another. When we’re with someone who genuinely wishes to hear our views/perspectives, it is a deeply moving and gratifying experience. We feel included. It opens the door to trust, and confidence.

Listen…and Listen Some More

The greatest gift we have in our trove is to genuinely listen to a person when she or he is talking. Often our minds quickly rush to what we could say next or how the topic at hand relates to our own life. But that’s not what we should be doing. We should be immersed in listening.

Perhaps we have a million things we need to say. We need to listen anyways. Perhaps we don’t agree with what the person is saying. We need to listen anyway. Perhaps we feel our concerns are SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT than what another is speaking of, but we should listen anyways. Honestly, it’s amazing how a crisis or misunderstanding can be so quickly remedied when we give the gift of listening.

Respecting Our Differences

We’re all different. How wonderful and confusing is that?! Some love to talk, others do not. Some love to project, others to soak in. Some have no problem telling the world how they feel, and others need reassurance before they open up (hello, that’s me!). We still seek interconnectedness, despite our vast differences.

As we get to know another, and understand one another through conversation, we can speak with sincerity while also respecting these differences in needs. A little give and take is often a good thing.

It’s impossible to make everyone 100% satisfied, but respecting the person by our side can play a huge role in our ability to communicate to those who are different than us. Even if we miss the mark, our striving for it will often be appreciated. Ultimately, it’s this respect that separates meaningful discussion from superficial exchange.


Raising Thoughtful Conversationalists

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“Tell me your thoughts on Heidegger, brother.”

So how does all this translate when it comes to our kids? I think it’s actually pretty simple.

Actually Converse With Them – Notice how easy it is to half heartily listen to what our kids say? I often use my fatigue as an excuse to “tune the kids out”, but am amazed at how my attentive listening and willingness to converse soothes the source of my exhaustion.  When a child feels respected and valued, it’s a joy to see them relish in a “talk” with their parent. We both walk away having learned something.

Provide Opportunity for Varied Discussion – Building a community of people who respect our children and wish to include them is invaluable. Providing a diversity of opportunities for our children to be a part of conversations gives them positive experiences and confidence they can carry with them into adulthood.

Reflect On Past Conversations With Them – Whether it’s grandma, a preschool friend or a co-workers, if a child has had a conversation (however simple), it can help for us to recount elements of these discussions with our kids.

“Isn’t it nice that Ms. B is going on a vacation?”

“Daddy said he had a lot going on at work today. Wonder how that’s going?”

Remembering aloud these conversations teaches our kids a few things: what we say to one another has meaning and what we share with one another is often worth remembering.

This might sound silly, but among the list of proud parenting moments , hearing (of their own fruition) my two-year-old ask his Daddy how work was or my five-year-old ask his teacher about her vacation is pretty high up there. My hope is that as they mature, their respect and appreciation for communicating with others will be an art form they cultivate.

So what do you think? Are there other qualities of a good conversationalist that should be added to the list? What are ways you help your kids become thoughtful in how they communicate with others?

I’m listening 🙂

 

 

What We Have Is Ours To Share

Join me in welcoming guest contributor, Lauren Hidalgo Gassman to Things I Teach My Children for today’s post!

“This ain’t no one’s house but God’s.” These words have stuck with me since I went to Lynchburg, VA for a Workcamp service trip years ago. Our project was to scrape and paint the siding of an older couple’s home. Unfortunately, the backyard was too steep and our ladders were too short to complete the job. They welcomed us into their home all the same. They knew of the work our group was doing around their community and were thankful for our efforts. When I reflect on the homeowner’s words, I am humbled. His simple greeting reminds me that nothing is really mine because it has been entrusted to me by God.

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While raising a toddler, the word “mine” is said, whined, and cried several times throughout the day. This bottle? Mine. This toy? Mine. This other kid’s toy? Mine. It is a difficult thing to teach a child what mine is: what is his, what is his to share, and what is someone else’s not meant for him. As he gets older, my hope is to teach him that most of his things are his to share.

My husband and I daily reflect on the life we have. This often includes our most valued things: our house, our jobs, our dog, Harley, and our garden. But we love these things not just because they’re ours but because they’re ours to share. I want my son to remember that nothing we have is really ours. The house we live in is a place where friends find comfort and companionship. It’s a place others can call home. Our jobs supply an income but also allow us to do what we love, to share our time and talents to make a positive change in the world. Our dog is not just ours to own. She constantly teaches us to greet others joyfully, to forgive quickly, to observe carefully, and to cuddle tenderly. Our garden is not just to feed our family. The plants sustain the bees and other pollinators. The produce we yield are made into acts of love we give to family, neighbors, and coworkers for nourishment. The scraps are given back to the earth to repeat the cycle.

None of these things were acquired in a vacuum. A realtor (and my talented mother-in-law) helped us find our house. Our parents, teachers, and mentors gave us the tools to earn our positions. Harley was rescued by a caring foster agency. Our garden was built by the previous owners and the soil, seeds, water, and sunlight are not ours to claim. God gave us each other to appreciate, recognize, and better ourselves to continue His good work.

So yes, while we bought that bottle or he was given that toy, its existence is defined beyond our ownership. Many people had a hand in their creation and many hands will benefit after us. As my son grows older, I want him to remember that toys are meant for sharing. Knowledge is meant for teaching. The gifts and talents he develops are not for his amusement. They are meant to serve others. We are meant to serve others.

Gassman Photo.jpgLauren is a wife, mother of one, and Fitness Specialist. Perpetually in gym clothes, you can find her teaching group exercise classes, training clients, gardening, baking or running her online health coaching and personal training business at www.LGFIT.co. She enjoys game nights, road trips where she can sing loudly, and every kind of cereal.

 

You Are Worth More Than Your Busy Schedule

I made a resolution a few years back to not be “busy”. I decided I wasn’t going to use the word and I wasn’t going to seek out the security that came with it.

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When You’re Left Feeling Unworthy

When I first made this resolution, I was coming out of a period of my life that was utterly unbusy. There’s no need to go into details; suffice it say, I was a first-time mom in the midst of frequent moves, a tight budget and an unreliable car often out of service. I was at home. A lot. Like, almost all of the time.

Along with those homebound days came feelings I couldn’t seem to shake. I felt lonely and isolated. I loved my baby and knew taking care of him was important, but I struggled with feeling inadequate in a world that idolizes productivity and busyness. My worries or my desire to find friendship were difficult to express. Who had time to make for me, and why should someone like me ask for it?

There are specific circumstances that make up my personal story. But when we’re honest with one another, most of us face these same fears of inadequacy. We live in a society that equates busyness with value. Who we are is often synonymous with how much we do.

When we’re asked how we are doing, or what we do “for a living”, there’s that lingering pressure to prove our worth to others – to spout off a long list of responsibilities or achievements. We worry that if we don’t appear to be adequately performing in life we may be judged as unworthy.

Our children often have this same weight on their shoulders. They’re told to be “over-achievers” (whatever that means). Those who are recognized as “good” students must perform well at school, seek out extra-curricular activities, and promote how much they volunteer (which, let’s face it, sends conflicting messages on why we should be helping others).

In the pressure to achieve, it’s no wonder that in almost every basic interaction we have the following exchange:

“How have you been?”

“Oh, busy.”

It’s a reply that is almost as safe to say as that other go-to response, “fine”. Fine and busy make up our safety net. They are socially acceptable. They also do not reveal how we’re actually doing. It is an odd kind of game, where we all must be busy to be fine and fine if we’re feeling busy.

Saying No To the Busy Game

After a few years, circumstances made it possible for me to have a fuller schedule. I relished the activity and the ability to form community. But I found my heart still ached over those dark insecurities. And there was a growing awareness that others around me were going unnoticed in their struggle to feel worthwhile.

I also started wondering how to best help my children form healthy self-images. Was there something I could do to relay to them that they should be seeking an authentic life, not necessarily a busy one? Could they value what they did as an extension of who they were, but not let it define them?

I made a resolution to just say no to being “busy”. And it’s one I renew each year. Life certainly gets chaotic, messy and overwhelming, but the “b” word is not a part of my family’s culture. Here are some things we’ve learned along the way:

You Realize That Being Busy Doesn’t Add Value to Your Life

When you opt-out of the busy game, quantity doesn’t determine quality of life. You’re not trying to be the busiest or most important person in the room. Your kids do not have to be the busiest kids in the room. Your family’s activities are extensions of the people who make it up, but you value those around you for being who they are more than what they do. And you become proud of the time you’ve carved out to not be busy. It’s liberating and gratifying to reinforce a mentality that values people both big and small as human beings, not human doers.

You Become a Better Listener

I learned first-hand that when you don’t have a lot to say about your life, you use your time to better listen to others. That’s not something that has to stop with having a full schedule. When you take the pressure to appear busy or impressive off the table, you can be more present to others. The word “busy” can at times come across as too busy to be present. But there’s a way to merge the relaying of your life with others in compassionate listening.

We Are All Worthy

Let’s face it, most of our lives are made up with the things that just need to get done. We do our best to pay the bills and put food on the table. We all have hopes and dreams and are doing what we can to make our lives happy and meaningful.

We’re also all different. We have different things that make us stressed or proud, excited or overwhelmed. Our differences make comparisons or the need to out-busy or out-perform one another futile. I want my children to pursue their interests and work hard in life. But it would break my heart to hear they are doing things to escape feelings of insecurity.  I want them to know that no matter what they do, they always have value. It doesn’t matter how much they achieve – they will always be worthwhile people.

In all sincerity, I’m not trying to make anyone feel guilty for being “busy”. It’s often our reality. But for anyone struggling with “keeping up” with it all, and especially for those who are feeling less than adequate, this is a reminder that you are worth more than a busy schedule.

Finding Strength in Civility

How daunting it is to raise children in a society so fraught with conflict. When our differences are more pronounced than our similarities and the future seems all too uncertain, it’s difficult to know how to guide our children toward their roles as responsible citizens amidst a bitterly divided nation.

In the face of great cultural and political divide, standards of civility have taken on an antiquated, if not controversial, status.

Those who wield political power and social influence are rewarded for abandoning all pretense of civility in favor of condescension and derogatory name-calling. This behavior is often reflected in our own day-to-day desire to prove our point and condemn our opponent. And all the while we are left wondering, in a collectively exhausted state, if rhetoric and dialogue which retain respect for our perceived opponents has any skin left in the game.

It’s easy to see how civil behavior is losing a popularity contest. When communities feel trampled upon or threatened, when people are made to feel belittled or forgotten, our natural reaction is to fight it out and defeat our opponent. If there is something for which we feel strongly, it may feel weak and superficial to be civil in our interactions with people who we believe are gravely wrong. It may even seem subservient to “their agenda”. Thus we assume the role of warrior in order to “combat” their presence in our society.

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The thing is, when I look at my young children, I realize my job is not to raise combatants who rally against their neighbors. Rather, my responsibility is to raise civilians who tirelessly and peacefully strive to build a safe and just society for all.

However much I want my children to pursue justice, I cannot teach them that this pursuit entitles them to treat others uncivilly. In fact, despite the growing controversy surrounding this behavior, my children are taught that they must try to be civil. Always.

When engaging in any kind of social matter, I want my children to appeal to the best which is within themselves, as well as those with whom they disagree.

This commitment is not showing weakness, frailty or privilege, but rather an inner strength which holds that all people are created equal and thus deserving of a recognized inherent dignity. If I want my children to promote justice, I need to provide them with as much of this strength as humanly possible for the arduous task. The belief in the inherent dignity of all can provide a will to carry on when everything seems to be going against them.

Radical love, or radical justice, calls us to embrace a consistent code of civility. Consistency in its application to all humans, regardless of whether we believe they merit it or not, is to embrace true equality and a fervent belief in humanity’s ability to apply reason and intentionality to our words and actions. If what my children believe is good and true, then they need to employ all that is good and true to bring about this vision. Regardless of what they are facing, the strength of their positive message must be the victor, not their pride.

These days, my young children want retribution for every unfair thing that happens to them. An eye for an eye. But in teaching them that civility means laying aside the desire for self-gratifying retaliation, I hope to alleviate for them the exhausting and toxic cycle we now find ourselves in today. If we continue as we are, no one will have the last word or obtain reconciliation. 

And though humanly impossible not to struggle with the urge to be uncivil, I hope that the majority of my children’s energy could be directed toward greater things.

They could rely on wit instead of vulgarity in advancing their beliefs.

They could use their knowledge instead of their biases to discuss the issues.

They could have the courage to listen instead of always having to prove a point.

And perhaps most radical of all, they could recognize that kindness does not negate truth, but often facilitates the conversion experience toward real and meaningful change.

So, I teach my children that strength lies in civility. And I know I’m not alone in teaching this.

This essay was also featured on The Institute for Civility in Government blog

 

 

 

Conversations with My Adult Children

My three children are young. Quite young. Too young in fact to be aware of so much of what I will be discussing on this blog.

And yet, I often find in the thoughts which compel my actions and choices, an ongoing conversation with my adult children. In my mind their images are hazy, rough sketches of what nature has revealed thus far about their fledgling qualities and traits. But their voices are clear and deliberate, and often they ask a loaded question –

“What have you taught me?”

Parenthood is a daily exercise in staying in the present. It’s a discipline in appreciating the unique and incredible formation of young humans, whose destinies will be molded, but in no way determined, by the adults who surround them.

But one day in the future, my children will ask me to give account of what I have taught them. In order for me to do this to the best of my ability, my thoughts which fill their minds presently must come from a place of great intentionality and perhaps most important of all, humility.

That we are carving out our own destinies with uncertainty while raising the next generation seems a rather precarious reality for the species. But this awareness has the power to create a wellspring of empathy, patience and companionship as well.

In all the ordinary moments of being a family, in the seemingly inconsequential activities of daily living, lies a deep and meaningful story between parent and child. Amidst the nursery rhymes, water colors and introductory lessons is the set-up for an incredible drama that has been and will continue to be the story of our people.

We are our children’s teachers, and yet without placing ourselves into the context of our time, and place, it seems the marrow of this incredible dynamic can be diminished. To be deliberate in what we teach to our children and why we teach our children these things seems essential to raising courageous and thoughtful adults.

I’m rather intimated to blog. But I hope it will compel me to continue to flesh out those thoughts and values which I hope my children carry with them into the future. That this may also lead to meaningful conversation with friends who share in our human story would be an incredible gift.

Nothing here will be overly personal. I am not planning on sharing specific stories about my family. But from a different perspective, this blog will be incredibly personal in the sense that the things I teach my children are a reflection of the truth and love which I feel for them and the world around.

So here we are. Things I teach my Children, while still learning myself.

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