This week we started a new custom in our house…something I’ve been thinking about for a long time but couldn’t quite figure out exactly what I wanted to do.
I spend a lot of time thinking about the type of human I want to raise. Actually, I heard recently that “raise” isn’t the right word. We raise cattle, not humans. Perhaps ‘help nurture’ is a better fit? Sounds a bit cheesy, but you get the idea. Anyway, I think a lot about my goals for our children’s life-molding experiences, such as the frame of reference and foundation we want to make sure they have. I’m extremely passionate about education, because it’s widely known that you become who you are in life by the books you read, the people you associate with, and the arenas in which you invest your time. So, by the time our children are released into the world at roughly 18 years old, they have had 13 years of extremely intensive programming, in great part by other people outside the home. Based on the average school year @180 days, that’s 2,340 days of mediocre input being crammed down my kid’s throat, if I just settle for the status quo and don’t take a proactive position in preparing him for life. Woah.
I know I can’t settle for the current educational model to prepare my son to thrive in today’s world. But even in my extreme case where I have designed and built a school, and thus probably have more input than most parents on the quality of education that my child is getting…I still can’t sit back and expect the school, staff, and teachers to totally educate my child for me.
The type of human that I release into the world when he’s 18 is MY RESPONSIBILITY. At the same time, I must honor the reality that he is his own special soul with his own special path. To parent him consciously, I have to: a) respect the fact that he’s never going to be “what I want him to be” (because that’s not any child’s life responsibility), and b) give him the space to become who HE was born to be, all while trying my best to make sure he has a strong enough foundation to support him in whatever shape his story takes and in whichever direction his life journey takes him.
I’ve also thought a lot about the lessons I wish I had known much younger in life. Of course, I have no idea if they would have done me any good back then, or if I would have dismissed them as empty theories when I was young, invincible, and full of myself. Much of life just has to be learned the hard way. But I’d like to think that a few good insights here and there could help shape a person’s options, beliefs, and opportunities.
I think about the 16-year journey of intense personal development I’ve been on. I think about the years and years I’ve spent teaching, coaching, and mentoring other adults who also didn’t receive these life skills at an early age. I think about the college kids I’ve worked with who were sent out of high school with ZERO life management skills, and nothing but a diploma that shows they were good at memorizing pointless data. I think about their beautiful faces, completely naive and ready to conquer the world, but totally clueless on how to start or where to go. (Yes, there were a few who had life skills and savvy sprinkled in, but they were an extreme exception to the rule, sadly.) All these reasons are actually why I decided to start a school to begin with: to try and insert these critically important but grossly overlooked components of life skills and character development into the curriculum from a very early age.
But still…even with all of this…is it enough to trust that my son is catching, absorbing, and learning the lessons that are so near and dear to my heart? If I were to be whisked away by aliens tomorrow, would he know and remember the principles that will serve him throughout life? Through all of the noise, chaos, and monotony of daily routines, would he be able to recall the big nuggets of wisdom that matter most?
I didn’t feel confident that the answer was YES. But I didn’t know exactly what to do about it. I thought about it a LOT. For a long time. And then, this week, it finally hit me. Duh! So simple. Hello, Mrs. Fancy Pants, why are you always trying to over-complicate things?? Just TELL HIM THE THINGS THAT MATTER!! You may not be able to get it all out in one sitting (I should hope not), but just start. A little at a time. So, this is exactly what I did.
I decided that every day we are going to carve out 10 minutes to sit together, and I’m going to share with him whatever I feel inspired to share that day. Again…in an effort to NOT overcomplicate things, I haven’t written a formal outline, curriculum, or agenda. I just chose to start ugly. I first named it Life Lessons (because everything in our house has to have a name lol), but today we called it Tea Talk.
I only told him about it a half hour before we started…just to give him good advance notice, because my son needs big transition times, especially for new things. And I knew I would have to get creative in order to get his buy-in for this new event. Firstly, he loves any type of personal attention, so I had that on my side when I told him it was going to be 1:1 time with me and him. Secondly, I had to pull at his heart strings just a bit for emotional impact in order for it to sink in that this is serious business. The conversation went something like this:
Me: Yehoshua, today we’re going to start something new. Right before bedtime, we’re going to take 10 minutes and do something special together, every evening, just you and me. It doesn’t take away from your play time or bedtime, it’s extra time we’re going to carve out together. And we’re going to have a cup of “Bedtime Tea” and I’m going to share something very special with you.
Y: Really? Oh boy! What are you going to share?
Me: I’m going to share some secrets that are very important to know now that you’re getting older and growing up to be a big boy in the world. It won’t be too much longer now, and it will be time for you to start making all of your own decisions and becoming totally independent. And it’s my job as your Mommy to make sure you’re ready for this! And sometimes I wonder what would happen if I’m not around forever, Gd-forbid, to tell you everything you need to know?! So, we’re going to start now, and I’m going to tell you a little bit each night.
Y: Are you going to tell me boring stuff? Will you tickle me while you tell me?
Me: Nope, it won’t be boring. And I won’t tickle you while I’m telling you. But I promise we’ll keep each session to exactly 10 minutes, and I’ll give you a quiz at the end of each session. I’ll tickle you while you answer the questions to make sure you got the message.
Y: Ok, sounds good. Can you make me laugh extra hard?
Me: Absolutely. Do you wanna make the tea, or me?
So, for our first session, and I figured I’d start with the single most important concept that shapes a person’s worldview: our view of God. (May as well rip the Band-Aid off right from the start!) Think about it: If your God is big, scary, and mean, you’ll have one approach to life. If your God is a distant judge, who’s just waiting to punish you when you mess up, you’ll have a certain approach to life. If your God loves you, but only ever shows tough love, your life will look one way. If your God doesn’t care about you or have time for you, your life will look a different way. When I started discussing this with him, I was floored at how open and transparent he became. So, we discussed his view of God, and then I shared how my view of God has changed over the years. Wow, such a powerful bonding Mommy/Son chat.
The next night, I took one minute to quiz him on our chat from Day 1, before I launched into our second topic: happiness. Why are some people happy and some aren’t? Do you want to be happy? Do all people want to be happy? What makes a person unhappy? How can we always be able to find our way back to happiness, no matter what the situation? Is it easy to be happy? Is it easier to be happy or sad?
Maybe I should record our chats for future reference. Or maybe that will make them less genuine? Maybe I should take notes after each one and give them to him in a book when he leaves home. All grand thoughts. But for now, I’m just happy that we started. I spend time thinking as I go through the day about what will be my topic for the evening, and I loosely put my thoughts together in my mind throughout the day. If I run out of time in our 10-minute session, I can always pull a “To Be Continued Tomorrow” card. It’s amazing how fast 10-minutes flies. And how attentive he is as he prepares for his tickle quiz!
I figure with 10 minutes per day for the next 6 years, that’s 21,900 minutes. That’s a good chunk of life lessons, even if we miss days from time to time. How much power from intentional conversations, adding up a little each day? I doubt I’ll be wise and brilliant in each chat, but I’ll pray that if nothing else, he’ll always remember the care and connection.
Oh, and one last thing: humor goes a long way! Today I asked him to name our person in the happy example. He named her “Mrs. Poopy Bottom”. (When my son was 4, I used to think he would grow out of things like this one day. I’m now thinking he may still be giggling when he’s 44!) So, the fact that I went along with it and called her “Mrs. Poopy Bottom” for the remainder of the 10-minutes had him laughing so hard that he for sure will never forget it. Remember, laughter opens the door for better learning. Hence, all the corny openers in every sermon from every pulpit you’ve ever witnessed in your life.
If you want to tweak this for your own family, go for it! I’d love to hear your ideas along the way.