I should begin this piece with a disclaimer: everything I write about raising children is purely theoretical. I don’t have any kids of my own, but I learn so much about child-rearing from many inspiring women in my life.
I’ve heard it said that from the moment parents bring a baby home from the hospital, their job, each and every day is to prepare that bundle of joy to leave home—that is, to give the new child the maturity and tools to make his or her way in the world. That’s a big job, requiring 6,500+ days until the kid’s eighteenth birthday!
How does one successfully accomplish such a task? Maybe Abraham Maslow had it right: we start at the bottom of the human hierarchy of needs (food, shelter, safety, etc.) and work our way up, to a pinnacle of “self-actualization,” or as Aristotle might call it, the virtuous life. So parents I know, with enormous patience, teach their kids lesson after lesson about feeding and dressing, avoiding strangers, playing nicely, working hard, being kind, being a good family member, getting a summer job, saving money, helping their community, picking a college and career….the list is never ending. And while verbal instructions are part of every parent’s arsenal, it is really by the power of example that kids learn lessons, deeply and well. By osmosis, children glean the best (and unfortunately, sometimes the worst) of their parents’ world views, philosophies, and habits. When I see children blooming, I always turn to glance at their parents. It’s true: the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
I had one of these occasions when I perused Facebook today. A fine, admirable work colleague posted a picture of her “Tween” daughter Divya preparing to make a significant contribution to the well-being of another, actually someone she will never know. Divya stood proudly at her local hair salon, ready to donate her luxurious hair to the “Pony Up” program developed by the Pantene Hair Care Company, akin to the well-known Locks of Love charity. As someone with short, fuzzy hair, I look longingly on her long, thick, stick-strait mane. Yet she happily shared 8+ inches of her hair with a charity that makes wigs for those who’ve lost their hair through cancer treatments or other medical conditions. Kids don’t think of these acts of kindness out of the blue, I suspect. Rather, I envision that Neela and her husband provide daily illumination about kindness, decency and sharing one’s gift, by word and by deed. Somewhere along the way, Divya was exposed to the best of popular culture, learning about the charity that has a simple, but powerful, goal. When I asked Neela about Divya’s choice, she explains that her daughter had a simple wish: “I hope it gives hair to a little girl who doesn’t have it.’ So, to both of them, I say “Congratulations on a Job Well Done!”
One reason I felt strongly that I wanted to share Divya’s story was due to the excellent parenting of another girlfriend. I met Paula years ago at work. She was a wisp of a thing, but smart and ambitious, having just landed in NYC with a newly minted undergraduate degree from Indiana University. (I came to understand that Paula was also raised by a strong, passionate, smart and creative Mom.) Fast forward many years later, Paula is now a working mother, living in Connecticut and raising an adorable 4 year old daughter Tess. Also while on Facebook (apparently this is one of my major news sources these days), I noted that Paula, motivated by a suggestion from a girlfriend, had created a fantastically innovative project to help her daughter, even at this tender age, learn about the strength, power, character, and general fabulousness of “girls.” She has developed a “Wall of Inspirational Girls and Women,” with photos and uplifting biographies of these gals—some well known and others, not. It is the best kind of fun activity I can think of to understand notable individuals, their stories, history, culture, and much, much more. (As an aside, I think Paula and her co-creators should fashion a curricula, formal or informal, to share this vision with other parents and teachers!). From time-to-time, I will see Paula mention something about this effort, asking for suggested honorees. When I read about Divya’s act of compassion, Paula’s project came to mind right away. Divya is a perfectly ordinary, extraordinary young lady—one with a big heart. I nominate Divya for a place on “the wall”!
To Divya, Tess, Paula, and Neela—you are all Mighty Girls!