What did your parents teach you?
During our tenure in the parenting business (believe it not, while you never stop from being your kids parent, you do, hopefully, let go of the parenting role), we are always coaching our children. “Remember to brush your teeth, make your bed, say please, thank you, your welcome, wipe your feet, wash you hands, comb your hair, make your bed, clean up after yourself”—the list is endless. A large part of parenting involves socializing your children into our culture, teaching them the basics, and helping them develop good habits. When they are little, it’s amazing how frequently we have to prompt them to do the things that will later become automatic. It’s important.
But our parents also teach us other key lessons too, mostly by example. Most of us love to give mini-lectures to our children, especially as they get older. But it doesn’t take long to notice youngsters staring off in space as we go on and on about the importance of one thing or another. As you all know, spirited children will begin to roll their eyes, as if to say; “Here we go again!” It sucks. After all, we are trying to impart important lessons to our children. But, as we grow out of adolescence, through young adulthood, and into mid-life (wherever that is these days), we start to really consider the lessons learned from our parents. Sure, our moms and dads gave us lectures, but we learned their lessons from how they lived. Here are some of the lessons that I learned from my parents.
- Never take anything that isn’t yours. My parents would find a way of returning a $5 bill they found on the street to whomever it belonged to. If they couldn’t, they would give it to charity. In every dealing that I observed, they were honest to a T. It didn’t matter whether it was a neighbor, a huge corporation, or an insurance company they always applied the same level of integrity.
- Help others when you can. My mother was always thinking about other people. She would help a neighbor, a friend, a stranger—it didn’t matter. She felt that she had a responsibility to help others in need. Perhaps this came from her experience during the depression, when neighbors helped her and her family with gifts of food. She was so poor, that she couldn’t afford a nickel to take a subway.
- Make the world a better place than you found it. My parents were social activists when they were young adults. In the late 1930’s, my father was suspended from New York University (NYU) for a year because he distributed a petition demanding that a black football player on the team could play in the South. Sixty-five years later, NYU apologized to the 7 suspended students, who were then in their 80’s. My parents encouraged us to do the same. They were always taking a stand.
- Question authority. Our parents encouraged us to question the “party” line. They were critical thinkers and they were always interested in our opinions about a wide range of issues. During the Vietnam War, in the early 60’s, they questioned whether or not we were being told the whole truth. They encouraged us to be independent thinkers.
- Be loyal to your friends. My parents were intensely loyal and devoted to their close friends. They were also friends indeed, when their buddies were in need.
The important lessons we learn, in addition to developing good habits, is how to be a good citizen, spouse, parent, friend, and family member. These we learn from how our parents lived, not what they preached. What did your parents teach you? What do you want to teach your children?