My son on his 18th birthday.
Once, before I had children, I ran into a friend who’d just had her first child.
“How’s motherhood?” I asked.
She didn’t answer with the usual “Great!” or “Exhausting!” responses I expected.
Instead, she said, “I can already tell I’m going to be worried for the rest of my life.”
I’m not sure truer words have ever been spoken. My son was born about two years after this conversation. And while there have been SO many joys over the years, there have also been worries. Lots of worries. Endless worries.
This month he turned eighteen. Eighteen! Eighteen years of worrying about things I can control. And with every year that passes, more and more time spent worrying about the things I can’t. What’s a mother to do?
While the goal of every good mother is to teach her child to be independent, as that bittersweet eighteenth birthday passes, I can’t help asking myself: Have I taught him everything he needs to know to make it in the world?
I think most mothers wrestle with this question. I’ve seen other posts listing things we might forget to teach our children because we do these things without thinking, like how to mend ripped fabric or cook a meal. And yet – with the power of Google at every teen’s fingertips — I know my son can find out how to do things like sew on a button with the touch of a screen. But what things does he absolutely need to know that he can’t find on Google?
Here’s my list of 8 things to teach them before 18.
1.Empathy: Teach them to consider how others feel.
This will make them better people. They will add to their own value when they show that they value the feelings of others. There’s truth in the saying, “People don’t care what you know, until they know you care.”
2. Self-Worth: Teach them to value themselves.
Show them that what they have to offer matters to you and to the world. The best way to teach your child self-worth is for you to value you. I’m serious. Show your child that you are worthy of respect and love. You will be modeling the most important characteristic for them to develop.
3. Life is Unfair: Teach them not to expect fairness.
It would be impossible for me to calculate how many times I heard my own father tell me life’s not fair. He is a judge, so somehow, I always expected him to be on the side of fairness. Instead, he was on the side of “Deal With It.” And dealing with it, is something we have to learn to do. See number four, below.
4. Bravery: Teach them to be brave in the face of failure, because they will fail.
This, they must accept.
5. Don’t judge: Teach your children not to judge others.
They will be happier if they are not constantly measuring the value of other people. They must learn that humans come from all situations and circumstances, and that sometimes it is almost impossible for a person to make good choices. (I included this because you should try to teach it, but you will fail. Judging is part of the human condition. Still, we must try. See number four, above.)
6. Self-Advocacy: Teach your children to advocate for themselves.
When they are growing up, you are their biggest advocate, but this will change when they leave the nest. So equip them with the skills needed for self-advocacy. Teach them not to be afraid to speak out logically and reasonably to defend their rights or to ask for what they need. Self-advocacy will not always bring desired results, but that’s okay, you’ve already taught them numbers two, three and four!
7. Humor: Teach them to embrace laughter.
If your child learns to laugh, not only in happy times, but also in the face of failure, you will have taught them to find joy in unhappiness. And you will give your child a quality valued by all others. Everyone loves to laugh.
8. Faith: If you want your child to have a sense of faith, model this for him or her.
It does not matter what your religion is, if faith is something you want for your child, you must ground them in it.The world will not do this for you. Google will not do this for you.
My son is now eighteen. Do I still worry? You bet! Have I taught him all of the above? I’ve tried, but I doubt it. I’m learning, though, not to beat myself up over this. I’m going to trust that with the foundation of love and guidance we’ve given him, he’ll be okay.
For everything else, there’s Google!