It has been two years since my daughter was born and every night while putting her to sleep I think about the person she will one day become. I think about the daunting task parents have in raising confident, kind, and productive members of society. I sit in her dark bedroom and also think about the challenges she will one day face and my heart aches with pain. I am reminded of a quote by Debra Ginsberg.
“Through the blur, I wondered if I was alone or if other parents felt the same way I did – that everything involving our children was painful in some way. The emotions, whether they were joy, sorrow, love or pride, were so deep and sharp that in the end they left you raw, exposed and yes, in pain. The human heart was not designed to beat outside the human body and yet, each child represented just that – a parent’s heart bared, beating forever outside its chest.”
I pull her closer to me, her tiny hands resting effortlessly on my chest. Her body melts into mine and I burrow my nose in the folds of her neck. Our breathing becomes a synchronized melody; our heartbeats become one. I relish this moment like I did the very first time we brought her home from the hospital. When I first became a mother something unexpected happened. The way I interacted with other children changed. Every child I see, now reminds me of my daughter. Not in a physical way, but in a humanitarian way. I am automatically inclined to nurture them.
I recently received a text from a friend who is a school teacher asking me if I would speak with her fourth grade class and share a few words of inspiration. I said yes without reservation. I took a few minutes to reflect on what I wanted to share with them and thought about the lessons I want to teach my daughter as she grows; lessons I wished someone would have given me as a child. Lessons that I believe are important for children to remember as they grow and make their way in the world.
1. Stay in school. This piece of advice is one that my parents instilled in me from a very young age. My dad always said “Stay in school and get an education, it’s the one thing no one can ever take away from you.” That has stayed with me my entire life because through education you can write your future. Education gives you options and opens many doors and opportunities. We have become so spoiled in this country that we forget people in other countries risk their lives every day just for the opportunity to go to school. School is important and children should know that.
2. Discover the POWER within. Everyone has strengths. We are all born with unique valuable gifts and talents. The key is to help children realize the power they have within to create for themselves the lives they want to live. We at any moment can choose the life we want. We can either choose greatness or we can choose mediocrity. We can choose to forge ahead when we fail or we can let the failure paralyze us. The choice is always ours. We must teach children how to harness their inner power. Help them to discover their own talents and gifts and then nurture them. Help them to realize that only when we follow our hearts are we truly ever happy.
3. Dream BIG. As a child I was always told that I could be anything that I wanted to be, but it was always followed by “make sure you get a good job where you can earn a lot of money.” As I grew older that statement was always in the back of my mind. When I went to college I majored in Accounting (even though I hate math and numbers) because it was a decent career and I could make a good living. I now have an Accounting degree collecting dust on my wall. In hindsight, I wish someone would have told me to dream my wildest dreams. To dream so big that even though it may seem unrealistic at the moment, through hard work and commitment our wildest dreams can come true. We just have to believe more than anything that the dream is attainable. Once we believe, it’s only a matter of time until reality catches up to our vision.
4. Embrace Fear. Fear will paralyze even the most ambitious individual. Most times the bigger the dream the deeper fear digs in its claws. Being afraid is a perfectly human response and to simply say “don’t be afraid” is the same as saying not to honor your feelings. We must encourage children that it is perfectly normal to be afraid. We need to teach them to embrace their fear, to acknowledge it, and then determine what exactly it is that they are afraid of. Once they understand the fear and where it comes from they can begin to overcome it. Sometimes children (and even adults) are afraid to acknowledge their fear because they don’t want to be viewed as weak. However, there is strength in being vulnerable and transparent and we must teach children that it’s ok to be afraid.
5. Help each other. It’s simple and straight forward. No one becomes successful on their own. Everyone needs someone to help them achieve their dreams. Oprah, Beyoncé, LeBron James, all have a team of people helping them every day so that they can continue being great at what they do. We all get much further when we work together than when we tear each other down. There is enough success in this world for everybody. The biggest misconception we can teach children is that they are in competition with each other. The only person they should ever want to be better than is the person they were yesterday.
6. Be kind. I think that the importance of being nice and kind to others is something that is not echoed enough. It’s really hard being a kid today. Bullying and suicide have become prevalent in our society with one in five teenagers in the U.S. seriously considering suicide annually, and approximately 1,700 dying by suicide each year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These are alarming numbers and I believe that if we teach our kids from a young age to be kind to others (especially to those who may be different) we can change those statistics. Not enough children are praised for being different. Let’s teach our children that there is beauty in diversity. Being different is what makes us unique and special. When we teach kindness and encourage individuality we are simultaneously giving each other the freedom to be ourselves.
7. Be grateful. Showing gratitude and appreciation for our blessings is the surest way to be happy. I find that when I start my day with an attitude of gratitude I almost always have a good day. It is so easy to focus on what we don’t have that we forget to be grateful for what we do have. When we learn to shift our thinking from a state of scarcity to a state of abundance we will always have more. What we attract into our lives begins with what we feel we deserve. Be grateful always for your blessings and watch them multiply.
*This article was published in The Elephant Journal.