When We Teach Our Children Well
Remember the song, "Teach Your Children" by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young? There is a verse that includes the words "Teach your children what you believe in. Make a world that we can live in." I am here to tell you that the teaching is the easy part. It’s when your children choose to put your teachings into practice in ways beyond what you could imagine that things become difficult.
When my daughters were in elementary school, I began work with a social services agency that was built on philosophies of social justice. We were big on second chances—one of our programs worked with men and women coming out of prison. Our family had conversations around the dinner table about the work of the agency. Sometimes, if the girls had a day off school, I brought them with me to stuff envelopes or just study while I worked.
One evening, when my older daughter Lindsay was 13, she received a collect call from the county juvenile detention center. A boy who was a friend of a friend had been incarcerated for allegedly becoming physical with his adoptive father. He had never even met Lindsay in person, but they had talked on the phone a few times and he believed that she would accept and not judge him. I knew nothing of this boy--and Lindsay was not aware of his current situation--until after this call. I told her that I did not approve of her being phone friends with a boy in juvenile detention and her response was, “But Mom- you taught us that everyone deserves a second chance.”
Was I a hypocrite? I sought council from the executive director of the re-entry program and he set me straight. “People deserve a second chance once they have earned it,” he explained. “And a 13 year-old-girl is not the person he needs to help him earn that second chance. If and when he earns it, you as the parent still need to decide whether or not having Lindsay in his life is acceptable.” I was connected to the minister at the facility where the boy was staying and he echoed what I had already heard. Lindsay never heard from the boy again, but I have never forgotten him.
Accepting people for who they are, honoring beliefs even when they are different from our own and being present to those in need are other beliefs I conveyed to my children. A visit to a shelter for runaway teens (another program of the agency) prompted my daughters to hold a clothing drive at their school, encouraging their friends to donate clothing, shoes, bags and school supplies. My jeep was overflowing the day I delivered the items to the shelter.
When Lindsay was in high school, she became friends with a boy who was coming out to his family. He was repeatedly thrown out of his home and stayed alternately with his grandmother and with our family. Another friend-in-residence was a teen who had left home due to a tumultuous relationship with her mother and since outstayed her welcome with another friend’s family. This was not the ‘Kool-Aid’ house of my childhood. And yet.
I know it is easy to mouth the words but often difficult to live them. Many parents will never have their beliefs truly tested. I have. And I am grateful, because I really do know what I believe and what I am willing--and not willing--to sacrifice for those beliefs.
Lindsay is now an adult. She has been to college, lived and worked in four states, starred in a reality TV show and, for the past year, saved money to launch The Small World Project, which will take her to 25 countries over the next 11 months. Her goal? To use social media to spread love and hope for a more peaceful world by creating a better understanding, appreciation and respect of the diverse cultures that make up our beautiful planet. To accept. To help. To love.
As her mother, I am proud of the ideals that inspired my daughter to create a ripple effect of positivity in the midst of a world where negativity, rejection and even hate seem to be on the rise. As her mother, I am also frightened for her safety as she travels to places that I would absolutely forbid her to travel were it my decision.
I shared all these feelings (and more) with Lindsay during the year she was planning and saving for this trip. My beliefs were overshadowed by my fear for her safety, my mother’s instinct to protect her. In the end, knowing I was not going to change her mind, I decided to support her.
Because what I believe in most of all is Lindsay.