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Out of the Mouths of Babes

July 31, 2015 Barbara Ballinger & Margaret Crane

What have we learned from our offspring? Plenty.

As children growing up in the 50s and 6os, our primary role was to be seen and not heard. Advice was doled out like morning vitamins with such directives as “Sit up straight,” “Chew with your mouth closed,” “Be respectful of your elders,” and so on. And we listened without challenging—at least most of the time–for our mothers and fathers knew best.

We’d like to think we’ve passed on what we learned from our parents to our children, primarily the many lessons about living a good life and being kind to others, as we’ve watched them grow from babies into young adults, now in their 30s and almost 40s. And this is true, but we also raised our children to think for themselves, to be independent, pursue their passions, and communicate by listening. In doing so, as we observe our children and interact with them, we realize they have taught us as many lessons as we’ve taught them, maybe more. And we’re not just referring to technology as we stumble into the 21st century of Facebook, Wi-Fi, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, YouTube, Kindle, selfies, apps and more.

Here are 10 lessons we’ve picked up from our children that have in so many ways made us better people, friends, and parents:

  1. Patience. Put on the brakes. We’re always in a hurry, used to deadlines and overscheduled work lives. We’ve seen our kids prioritize and take time for non-work moments—working out, walking more, socializing more both on and off line, getting their nails done because it’s healthy and looks good, drinking and eating better, and spending more time with our aging parents–their grandparents–and growing and learning from those relationships.
  2. Forgiveness, openness and honesty. We’ve made mistakes and our kids have been quick to discuss them with us, let us apologize and forgive us, which has helped us be much more forgiving of others. Our parents told us what we did wrong, we didn’t question their authority, often got punished, and that was that. No discussion. Some of our friends’ parents never said, “Sorry.” We’re not afraid to say it. “It’s okay to make mistakes, Mom,” our kids will say. And then we’ll come up with options.
  3. Out of our comfort zone. Our kids are more willing to try new things, whether it’s a food we’ve been squeamish about tasting, traveling to a new destination off the beaten track, testing a new technology or wearing something that’s not been part of our typical “uniform.” They’ve shown us how to live in the moment.
  4. A sense of humor. Laughing about our sometimes too stuffy ways and mistakes is another important lesson we gleaned from them. The soufflé flopped. The roast tastes like charcoal and is the same color. So what! Everything doesn’t have to be doom and gloom. Your daughter tells you she got up in front of the class to do a math problem and blanked. That’s okay. Our kids often use humor to diffuse the situation. Instead of self-flagellation, they might say, “I guess I left my mind out so long it just rusted shut in math class.”
  5. Less judgmental. Oh, there’ve been times when we so wanted to say something without being asked our opinion—“How can you wear that going out?” or “Why would you spend so much money on that!” or even “That haircut is absolutely terrible.” Yet, we’ve learned to hold our tongues—most times. Not every thought in our head has to come out of our mouths and be shared since we’re eager to keep the door open to two-way conversations. Accept people for who and what they are. Our children seem to be able to do this quite well. Anything goes.
  6. Optimism. We’re not talking great sadness—the death of a loved one but momentary heartaches—the end of a relationship with a guy or gal, not getting into a first-choice pick of a college or other program, or even a bad critique from a boss or reviewer. They pick themselves up by the bootstraps and get back into the game again with enthusiasm rather than dwell, obsess or ruminate, which is so easy to do. We know.
  7. Less long. We’re writers who love the written—and spoken word. And we could pontificate or write books literally about all we want to say, but we know our kids are part of a generation that moves quickly and has better things to do most times than sit down and listen to a lecture or read a tome or an email that’s the length of an essay. We’ve learned to shorten our messages to communicate in sound bytes and still get our points across.
  8. Courage and Assertiveness. Our kids stand up for themselves. No shrinking violets here. They are focused and know what they want. And they’re not afraid to say it and go for it, but usually by combining forcefulness with tactfulness and kindness.
  9. Live Healthier. Our kids have a better grasp than we do of key messages affecting their health. How safe is it to drink the water? How polluted is our air? What constitutes a healthy diet and lifestyle? How bad is soda, especially diet soda, really for us? Let’s meditate, do yoga, go to Pilates, hit the gym daily and not shy from those hard squats and heavier weights. And along the way, they showed us how to eat much healthier, which means more cooking at home, and then texting photos proudly of the results, just like they do.
  10. Trust your instincts. Our kids go with their gut when they think something is right. It’s inner knowledge, intuition, instinct. It doesn’t really matter what we call it, what really matters is that they’ve learned how to work with it and will often say, “Mom, trust your gut.” All the learning in the world cannot replace what your inner self says. Just open your ears and you’ll hear and feel it.



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