One of the things I think about a lot as the parent of two young children is how to raise them to practice gratitude, kindness, and compassion. Twice a year, we go through their closets to find clothes and toys they no longer play with or that no longer fit. We pack them up together and then drop them off. One year it was for a family whose home had been destroyed in a fire. Most years, we simply take them to the Good Will or now that we are in Australia, the ‘Salvo.’
And while they may not fully understand the impact this small act will have on another life, each time we do it, I know it provides them with a foundation for giving that will be ingrained in the very makeup of who they are.
I would be doing a huge disservice if I also didn’t admit that, yes, I am that mom who guilts my kids with, “there are starving children in this world” at meal time.
Last week, as we prepared for the return of school and winter uniforms, it served as the perfect opportunity to go through closets to see what did and didn’t fit. I came across one of my favorite shirts for my daughter that reads:
Dad taught me to be brave.
Mom taught me to be strong.
So one day I can rule the world.
I remember the first time she wore the shirt to preschool, it was the week after the election back in the U.S. I was still devastated and reeling from the reality of what had just happened and the enormity of what it actually meant, not so much for me, but for my children – asking myself nearly every day how I was supposed to teach them kindness, respect, and that we are all created equal on the backdrop of someone who embodied none of those qualities being named to the highest office in the country.
I found peace knowing that I had an opportunity to use the entire situation as a teaching moment for my children.
A few weeks later, I was putting my daughter to bed and in the middle of the bedtime routine she exclaimed, “one day, I’m going to rule the world.”
I thought, okay.
The same night, my son was asking about why there is war in the world, shootings in schools, and kids that don’t have enough food to eat. After a good chat, he then exclaimed that he was going to write letters to all the leaders of all the countries around the world and that one day he was going to “save the world.”
I realized I had one who wanted to rule the world and another who wanted to save it. Goal setters.
The next day, as I was talking with one of my best friends recalling the story, I simply said that while I love the vision they both have, I would be okay with whatever path they choose as long as they aren’t assholes.
We both had a good laugh.
Sometimes parenting is more treacherous than joyous and we are all simply doing the best we can not to raise delinquents.
If we can raise good kids who are well-adjusted, we have done something right.
But it certainly isn’t easy, particularly now.
I was just talking with another friend about this last week – how much things have changed from when we were growing up. We would play outside all day, drink water from the hose, and ride our bikes until the street lights came on, which usually signaled dinner time.
Kids would fight on the playground and a good match up of chicken on the monkey bars would usually solve most disagreements.
Kids weren’t inundated with messages about how they were supposed to look, dress, act, or constantly measuring themselves against some societal ideal depicted via social media. We weren’t expected to be Olympic athletes or Neuroscientists by the 5th grade. We weren’t fed tranquilizers that would turn us all into zombies simply because we couldn’t ‘sit still’. Screen time usually meant watching the ‘After School Special’ and later, after homework was done and all the vegetables had been cleared from our plates, maybe getting in a game or two of Jeopardy on the computer (dot matrix) or if we were lucky, a game of ‘Pitfall Harry.’
Parents were home. Electronic devices were limited to a Walkman and a few mix tapes. Phones were connected to the wall. And if you wanted to learn about something, you went scavenging through the encyclopedia collection your mom purchased from Reader’s Digest.
Kids were just that – kids.
Life was simple.
So, what happened?
As information became more accessible, it perpetuated this idea of an “easy button.”
We can get whatever we want at the touch of a button. Anything and Everything.
Instead of connecting with others, we are connected through things.
And can we really blame kids because adults stopped paying attention? It’s not their fault.
Human connection takes time – whether it is with other adults or with your own children.
Intentional practice in the art of being present.
Last year, I wrote an article for PopSugar about going IPad free for a few months. What started out as a punishment for fighting, turned out to be one of the best decisions I could have made for my children.
Taking the IPads away reminded me to connect with my kids, in a way that is simply impossible to do when your head is buried deep in a screen.
Things I remember from my own childhood that I look back on fondly, I am now seeing in my own children. More outdoor play. More puzzles. More Legos. Creativity and imagination. The entire living room has been turned into a speed boat made of blankets and pillows, my office turned into air traffic control and we even made forts out of left-over moving boxes.
I am intentional about creating that space with my children because I know soon enough they will be teenagers who want nothing to do with me and then adults leaving home. And if they don’t rule or save the world, I want to make sure I did my part to ensure that at the very least, they aren’t assholes.
If that means spending time with them each night doing a gratitude list or pulling a muscle because I was trying to crawl underneath the bed during a game of hide-n-seek – so be it. They will grow up with those memories and know I was present. I may not be perfect and I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I was there – with them. And that’s really all they need.
But how many of us fall into the trap of turning on the IPad or retreating to our phones, scrolling through social media feeds or binge watching Netflix? We are so tired by the time we have put in a full day at work, we close ourselves off from life. We forget to actually connect with the people around us because we are falsely connected to a device instead.
This week, I want to challenge each of you – whether you are a parent or not – to allow yourself the space you need for true connection. Turn off your phones and put away the devices. Even if it is just for a few hours each night – allow yourself the freedom to be present.
You may just experience the world through a completely different lens and be reminded of the beauty of life that adulthood (and technology) can sometimes force us to lose sight of.
By giving someone else your time, you may just save the world from another asshole.
Cheers to a new week!