As 2014 begins, I think about my two sons who are nearly grown up and will be leaving “the nest” all too soon, and reflect on the “life lessons” I’ve shared with them. There is always a lot of pressure when you’re a parent. After all, WE (parents) are responsible for shaping our children into the best people they can be.
Below are 10 of the things I am proud I taught my sons:
1. Appreciate the world around you. Whether exploring Jamaica, climbing pyramids in Mexico, taking trams to the peaks of mountains in the California desert, visiting Disney World and Universal Studios, swimming with dolphins and stingrays, sailing under Niagara Falls, snorkeling in the Caribbean, taking in the bright lights of the Las Vegas Strip, strolling the decks of cruise ships, or simply enjoying the beaches in Florida or South Carolina my sons have grown up to appreciate all the wonder that is around them. I’ve always felt that each of us becomes a better person when we experience new things. I’ve always wanted my children to be open-minded about the food they try (Connecticut cuisine can be limited), the places they see, and the different people they meet. I also wanted them to have respect for all the world’s creatures – and having up-close and hands-on experiences with some of them has helped. They have inherited a bit of my wanderlust and hope they will continue to fill their lives with the wonder of it all.
2. You win some, you lose some. When my children were very little it seemed that our society was trying to teach them that everyone was a “winner.” Every player on every soccer team got a trophy, every kid got picked to be on a team, or got a part in a play, etc. Basically there were never any losers. Sadly the real world doesn’t work that way and as they got older they experienced that first hand. As a parent I tried to explain to them that it was okay not to come out on top every time they tried. It’s hard to bring your “A Game” all the time. People make mistakes, do poorly on tests, and sometimes try out for teams and don’t make the cut. I wanted them to know that it was okay to mess up too. No one likes to lose but everyone can’t win. The main thing I’ve tried to teach my sons is that regardless of whether they win or lose, they should always TRY. Effort was the most important thing. If you don’t try then you can never win. I am proud that both of my children are always trying. While I’m always here for them when disappointments strike, I love savoring those winning moments with them too, and above all else, we always celebrate their effort.
3. Share a good book. Some of my favorite memories are the ones with my kids sitting up in their beds and begging for me to read a book “just one more time.” Where The Wild Things Are seemed to be a family favorite! We read together every day for many years: all the way from Dr. Seuss to Harry Potter. It wasn’t just because they loved the story – it was sharing the story - that magic - with someone else that made it an experience. Even when they told me they were feeling “too old” to have me read to them, I would sometimes overhear my oldest son reading aloud to his younger brother. This was not because he couldn’t read the book by himself but because they wanted to SHARE the story. I hope they will continue to share stories with the ones they love.
4. Be kind to young children, the elderly, and the disabled. Some people can be dismissive to little kids or might act disinterested to anyone over the age of 65. I’ve tried to be a model for my children so they can see the value that interacting with all kinds of people can add to their lives. Spending time with younger children can allow them to “experience” things all over again. With older adults they can hear wonderful stories and learn some great life lessons. I am proud that my kids worked as babysitter and camp counselors and volunteered in Nursing Homes. Ever since my kids were young they’ve been exposed to people with both mental and physical disabilities. Since Day One they were raised to look past these limitations and just “see” the person. I am so glad that this is exactly what they do.
5. Nurture your friendships. Friendships are something I truly treasure in my life. I am proud to say that I still have wonderful relationships with many of my childhood friends. The friends I have made in both college and adulthood have also helped to shape me into the woman I am today. It’s easy to be someone’s friend when things are going well but when things get rough … well that’s when you’ll truly know who your friends are. On some of my darkest days it has been my friends – the family I CHOOSE – who have been there to lift my spirits and assure me that things will get better. I have been there for many a friend and have been blessed to have many friends be there for me. I am grateful that my sons have seen this “two-way street” so that they will always remember what true friendships look like.
6. It isn’t always about you. Sometimes we take things personally. We get self-absorbed and sometimes might get a little selfish. When kids are growing up, teaching them to be empathetic is a valuable life lesson. It’s important for them to know that sometimes the needs/wants of someone else needs to come first. Sometimes they won’t get to do things they’d like to do and they need to understand that there can be reasons they not included/chosen that have nothing to do with them.
7. It’s okay to question authority. This does NOT mean it’s okay to be disrespectful. What it means is that it’s okay to question adults: teachers, doctors, leaders, etc. and hold them accountable. It’s okay to ask why. Remind them that not everything they read on the internet is true. Just because an adult wrote it and posted it doesn't make it factual. Sometimes, it’s even okay to question parents. “Because I said so” might seem like a good enough answer in the moment but, as an adult we wouldn’t accept that as an explanation. Our children should be able to ask us why we make the decisions we do even if they don’t like them. We are not dictators but rather people who are there to help shape them into great people.
8. Think before you speak and always before you “hit” send. Lots of people can get into trouble with family, friends, and peers for saying things that simply pop into their heads. Often it’s when someone has upset us and we think we should say things in retaliation. Words can wound people far more than children realize. I have tried to teach my kids since they were young to “think first.” Since they were little I’ve explained how words can’t be taken back and how they can really hurt relationships. After they’ve cooled down from a fight, for example, they will be grateful that the “mean thoughts” that they had wanted to say earlier, they kept to themselves since they didn’t really mean it. They know that we rarely HATE people, and our friends and family are not typically described with words that you wouldn’t use in school. Now with social media, it’s even more important to think first. The days of writing an angry letter and then thinking about whether or not to mail it the next day have been replaced by emails, facebook, and twitter. It is more important than ever to think before hitting that send button. These digital letters can follow you long after the “discussion” has ended.
9. Save up for a rainy day but don’t forget to live your life. When it comes to saving money, I’ve tried to teach my children the value of putting “something” away because they might need or want it later on. Whether it’s a bigger toy, fancy clothes, or some high tech gadget, I wanted them to know that it’s important to save money so that they can afford the bigger things too. That being said, I also think it’s important to enjoy life in the moment. Perhaps it’s because my mother became ill in her 40s and died in her mid 60s and my dad became ill in his 60s and died in his mid 70s. They didn’t believe in saving their money for their retirement – they went to a lot of dinners, shows, and vacations whenever they could. They bought clothes and gadgets when they were “new” and “in style” and never seemed to regret it. Looking back on their lives, I do think, at least for my dad, his life might have been a little more comfortable for a little longer had he saved up some money for his later years. Still in his final months he told me that he had no regrets for “spending it all” because he got to enjoy his life and do a lot of things he always wanted to do. My mother never reached her “golden years” and my father was not healthy when he eventually retired. I’m sure these facts impact the way I view things now. I’ve tried to teach my children the value of living a balanced life – save money for your future but make sure you don’t reach a point in your life that is filled with too many regrets of things you wished you had done and now can’t do.
10. Know how to take care of yourself. While my sons might not realize the importance of this last thing yet, I am proud of the fact that I’ve taught them how to fend for themselves. My children know how to clean their rooms, make their beds, as well as wash, dry, and fold their own laundry. They know how to use a vacuum. They can unload, load, and run the dishwasher. They can cook for themselves using the oven as well as a microwave. They are comfortable picking up the phone and ordering food for delivery and then paying the delivery person at the door when it arrives. They even know how to use a debit card and manage their own money. I’ve taught my “driver” how to pump gas if he’s ever in a situation that requires it. My sons have been learning these skills for years and, while many of their friends’ parents didn’t “make them” do ANY of these chores, I feel confident that when my kids go off to college they will be okay without me there.
So there you have it. Just ten of the dozens of Life Lessons I’ve taught my sons. Between these and the many other Life Lessons they’ve learned from their Dad - many certainly overlap mine - I hope they’re ready for all that awaits them (and just in case they're not, I'm sure there are plenty more advice we'd be happy to share with them!)