Tell Our Children Something Different

When my four daughters were growing up, I used to tell them they could be anything they wanted to be. “Just pick something you enjoy because you’re going to do it for the rest of your life.” It wasn’t bad advice.

I never had any sons, but I often thought I would have told a son to treat women special. Open doors for them. Be kind to them. Be respectful. It would have been a good message.

Or, maybe not. On the one hand, I told my daughters to reach for the stars. I would have assumed a son would pursue his dreams for a career without having to be told he could do it. Would my daughters have noticed that I pushed them to advance but didn’t push a son? Would my daughters have thought less of themselves because they needed to be prodded? And I would have told a son to treat women differently because they are “special.” Would a son have interpreted that to mean women are weak? Or, if it was understood that by special I meant a positive thing, would a son have taken offense because I didn’t think men are special?

Words have so much power. It’s so easy as a parent to quickly answer a question without thinking about the words. I know I’m not the only parent who said, “Because I’m the mom and I say so.” At least I can honestly say that I never once told any of my daughters she was stupid or ugly or wouldn’t amount to anything. And every day as my daughters left for school I told them I loved them and again they heard it at bedtime, and often other times in between. To this day I still say “I love you” when I end a conversation with one of them.

If I had to do it over again, I’d stress equality, not in a political way but in a humane way. The janitor sweeping the floor of the office lobby is equally important to his or her family as the CEO riding to the top floor. I would guide my children to respect others always, and to be mindful that others are also respecting them. Without respect for each other, can there be trust in the relationship? I would encourage random acts of kindness as often as possible, in an effort to pay it forward and to teach humility. You never know when your circumstances will cause you to be on the receiving end of a random gift or a handout of support.

We all walk on the same planet. We all look at the same sun, moon, and stars. Some of us may have more power or wealth but we are all man and woman, equally unique and special and deserving of respect. We are life. Let’s celebrate that.

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