My oldest daughter turned six a couple of months ago. Each time her age changes, I sort of get thrown for a loop because every first for her as a person is a first for me as a mama. But when she turned six, I had a particularly difficult time. After all, six is one third of the way to 18. One third of the way to college and adulthood and moving on and moving up.
I guess it’s that realization, along with all of the other changes that come with her growing independence, that have caused me to think about what I hope my girls learn from me.
I hope my girls learn…
1. How to Say No. It’s such a short little word, and yet at times, it can be one of the hardest to say. As women, I think we have a tendency to believe we have to do all and be all for all people, and with that comes trouble with maintaining our boundaries and keeping out that which we wish to keep out. Whether it’s to a boyfriend or a boss or a friend or even me, I hope my children are able to maintain a clear sense of themselves and their boundaries and trust in their right and ability to say no to that which they do not wish to enter their lives.
2. How to Say Yes. We live in a troubled world. A world where all too often, people wish to close their eyes and their ears and their front doors and keep all the bad out. But I hope my girls learn to say yes when they see a hand reached out in need. I pray they learn that they can be the change that the world needs, that little hands can be powerful hands, and that what the world needs is people who are willing to live their passions and their convictions out loud and in service to those around them.
3. How to Say Help Please. I’ll admit that this will be one they will have a hard time learning from me because in my 36 years, I have never been very good at saying this. After all, to ask for help is to admit vulnerability and a little bit of weakness. But it also opens us up to the benevolence in others. It allows us to show others our humanity. And it gives us a break from pretending to be perfect which, after all, is a terribly difficult facade to maintain.
4. How to Say I’m Sorry. To live is to err, and to live with others is to err against others. We can’t be perfect. We can’t be infallible. But we can stand up and take ownership and apologize to those we hurt along the way. Our apologies may not always be accepted, but it’s not the acceptance that’s important. It’s the offering. An apology requires humility, and that is a tough lesson to learn, but it’s one I pray they are able to take with them out into the world.
5. How to Say I Forgive You. I used to always believe that forgiveness required a mending of a relationship, a reconciliation. I believed that to offer forgiveness erased the transgression and its impact on me. Forgiveness doesn’t do that though. Forgiveness lets the other off the hook, and it frees our souls to love and move forward. Reconciliation is sadly not always the desired path, and that is fine. But a lack of forgiveness tethers us to the past, tethers us to brokenness and pain. Forgiveness sets us free. It took me a long time to learn this. I pray it doesn’t take them nearly as long.
6. How to say Thank You. They can have it all — the world at their fingertips, all of their dreams, all of their wishes, everything that this big old world has to offer. But if they don’t know how to say thank you, if they don’t know how to live in thanksgiving and bathe in gratitude, then it will be lost on them. I do not believe there is any trait more crucial to happiness and fulfillment than gratitude, and the most straightforward path to gratitude is to say thank you, often, and to say it to everyone – to ourselves, to others, to the Heavens.
As I read over this list, I am reminded of a poster I had hanging up in my dorm room in college. It was called “Everything I Needed to Know in Life, I Learned in Kindergarten.” With my list, I think we can go back even further because my children have learned to say all six of these phrases during toddlerhood. The difficulty isn’t in learning to say them. After all, I believe they are imprinted on our souls. No, the difficulty is in remembering them, in reminding ourselves of our right to them and of their necessity in our lives.
There are many who believe the key to successful parenting is in constant and never-ending sacrifice. They believe the key lies in laying down ourselves in deference to our children. The problem with that, obviously, is that the hard lessons can’t be learned from words and preaching. Lessons like these can only be learned through witness. And so the most effective means of teaching our children to be all that they can be is to be all that we can be, to be all that I can be. After all, mothering isn’t about the endless “you;” it’s also about the necessity of showing a child the importance of “I.”
And so in the middle of all of the diaper changes and the meal preparations and the bath times, I hope I am able to remember to say thank you and please and I’m sorry. The more I say them, the more they will hear them, and hopefully the more they will learn to incorporate them into their daily lives.
As I write this, I am reminded of how difficult mothering can be, and that’s because it’s not about doing; it’s about being. And in this life, there’s very little that is more difficult than being all that we owe ourselves to be. But there’s also possibly no more worthy endeavor either. And so I take on the challenge. And I challenge them. And with that, I hope they will learn to challenge the world, and demand more from it and more from themselves. And then, perhaps they truly will be able to change this stubborn old world of ours.