Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What I Want My Kids to Know

Mom and Son
Many years ago, I wrote about what I want to teach my children so that they can function as adults on their own. Just this week, I was reminded of a Huffington Post article in which the author (Lindsey Mead Russell) describes what she wants her daughter to know before her 10th birthday.

While I agree with every point that Russell makes, I found myself getting more and more upset at her implications that these points are salient just for girls. As the mother of a 10 year old son (plus a 7 year old son and a 3 year old daughter), I have pretty much the same goals for my children. They're really not dependent on gender.

I don't know who my children will marry, or even if they will marry. I don't know if they will ever have children. I don't know if they will live near or far or how they will support themselves. But in response to Russell's article, here are the foundations I want to give them, boys and girl alike, so that they will have the values and beliefs that, I think, will give them the best chance at satisfaction and happiness. Some are the same as the Russell article, and she deserves the credit for them, while some have my own spin on them.

1. It is not your job to keep the people you love happy. Not me, not Daddy, not your siblings, not your friends. Our happiness is not dependent on what you do or don't do. Just be yourself - no one can ask any more of you.

2. You should never be afraid to share your passions. There may come a time when you find yourself embarrassed that you still like to play video games or watch Curious George, for example, and you might worry that others may make fun of you. Anyone who teases you for activities you enjoy is not a true friend. This is hard to realize, but essential.

3. It is okay to disagree with your parents, and others. You are old enough to have a point of view, and I want to hear it. So do those who love you. Don't pick fights for the sake of it, of course, but when you really feel someone is wrong, say so politely. You have heard me say that you are right, and you've heard me apologize for my behavior or point of view when I realize they were wrong. Your perspective is both valid and valuable. Don't shy away from expressing it.

4. You are so very beautiful. Your face now has remnants of the baby you were and the young adult you are quickly becoming. You have pieces of me and of your Dad but you are also someone purely unique. As you grow older and become more aware of society's artificial ideals, please remember how special you are in your own right.

5. Reading is essential. Reading is one of the great joys of my life. I will read anything and everything I can and miss having hours upon hours to sit on the sofa with a book. I am immensely proud and pleased to see that you seem to share this joy. I see you disappear for hours in the morning into a book, and it warms my heart. I love reading books with you, or even just reading the same books you do, and the in depth conversations we have about characters, plots, predictions, surprises, and new knowledge. Welcome to this amazing world of the written word where you can learn anything and imagine even more.

6. Writing is essential, too. It doesn't matter who you are, or what you do with your life. If you can write - essays, emails, business proposals, technical documents, creative stories, anything and everything - you will go far. Writing is about respectful communication of your thoughts in a coherent and well-reasoned way, and making others understand your point of view and where you're coming from even if they don't agree. You may convince some to see things your way, but even if you don't you will be part of an intelligent discourse. Assuming others can write well, too.

7. You are not me or your Dad. In some ways, you can be very like us. Especially your Dad! But you are your own full and complete person. I know I sometimes forget this, but that doesn't make it any less true. Separation from your parents is the fundamental task of adolescence, I know, which I can see glinting over the horizon. I dread what's coming but I know how vital it is. The thing is, we're going to be here, me and your Dad, no matter what. Our relationship with you will stretch and mold and change, and it won't all be smooth sailing. And once the transition is accomplished there will be a new, more adult relationship. I know that too.

8. It is almost never about you. When people act in a way that hurts or makes you feel insecure, it is almost certainly about something happening inside of them, and not about you. Believe me, I know how feelings can slice your heart, even if your head knows otherwise. But maybe, just maybe, it will help to remember that almost always other people have their own struggles, even if they're unconsciously taking it out on you. You can't know the entire story to fully understand why someone is acting the way they do, so your best course of action is to treat them with respect and sympathy, remove yourself if necessary, and remember that there may be a back story and it's not about you.

9. You are worthy of respect, always, and so is everyone else. It doesn't matter if you agree or disagree with someone else, you and they are still always deserving of respect. Others should always be respectful of your ideas, thoughts, opinions, boundaries, and (specifically) your body. No one should pressure you to change your beliefs or values if you don't want to, or do anything you're not comfortable with. If they do, they're not worth having in your circle. You can still show them respect, but that doesn't mean you need to spend your time and energy with them.

10. There is no one person who can be your everything. Be very careful about bestowing this power on any one person. Trying to fill an unnamed hole or emptiness with other people (or with anything else, like food, alcohol, numbing behaviors of a zillion sorts you don't even know of yet) is a lost cause, and nobody can possibly live up to the task. There are no damsels in distress or knights in shining armor. Relationships (familial, platonic, and romantic) should enhance and support who you are and never make you feel dependent, unworthy, inadequate, or disrespected.

I may raise my voice at times when I probably shouldn't, and snap at you when you don't deserve it, but I love you and your brother and sister more than I could possibly put into words. I'll admit I don't always love your behavior, and I'll tell you when that happens. But I will never stop loving you.  No matter what.