I recently reconnected with a former high school teacher who had a profound impact on me. For whatever reason, I felt compelled to tell her of the impact she’d had on my life and the way her teachings had influenced the person I have become. I wasn’t sure at the time why I felt the need to tell her, but the more I thought about it, the clearer it became. When we’re young, everyone we interact with impacts our lives, and the people we ultimately become are defined by those interactions – good and bad. So often, when someone positively impacts your life, their presence in your life is fleeting and before you realize the impact they’ve had, they’re gone and you never get the chance to thank them. I suppose the same is true for people who negatively impact your life, before you realize the damage they’re causing, they’re gone and you never get an opportunity to confront them.
The cathartic nature of saying thank you prompted me to think a little deeper about the kind of impact I am having, and will continue to have, on Fletcher. There is so much literature at our fingertips these days, thanks to the internet, and our access to that information has made us that much more aware of how our actions are potentially impacting our children. Our parents didn’t think twice about lighting a cigarette with us in the backseat, or about the way they spoke to us and how it might affect our personalities down the line, mostly because they didn’t know to think about it. But the access we have to information compels us to think more deeply about how our actions and words could affect our children. We must think about our tone and our use of language, we must be purposeful about the words we choose to use when disciplining and praising our children.
I remember an incident, about 10 years ago, where a friend asked us to stop commenting on how beautiful her young toddler was because she didn’t want her daughter to only identify as a ‘beautiful girl’. “There is so much more to her,” she explained to us, “and I want her to think of herself as more than just a ‘beautiful girl’, I want her to think of herself as smart and kind, as gentle and loving.” At the time, I was young and didn’t give the conversation much more thought, but as I look back on it now, with the benefit of hindsight and having become a parent myself, those words ring so true. We have to be careful not to pigeon-hole our children as ‘beautiful’ or as ‘such a clever boy’. We have a duty to make sure they are conscious of all the facets of themselves and aware of all of their potential. We can look back at our parents’ generation and say, “yes, but they didn’t think about these things, and look at me, I turned out fine.” But if someone had taken the time to make you fully aware of your potential, do you not think you might have done some things a little differently. If your childhood had been built on “you’re beautiful” and “you’re kind, smart and brave”, would you still have made exactly the same decisions? Would you still do the same thing for a living, or might you have pursued your childhood dream to be a fireman, or a fighter pilot?
Yes, our parents didn’t do it, and we all turned out fine. But our parents didn’t know any better. We do.