Teaching Values – One Awkward Parenting Moment At A Time

Last Christmas Nick got the most hideous Santa slippers known to man.  He opened the package, dropped the slippers, and recoiled in horror screaming “NO NO NO!!!!!”  Granted, he has a thing about Santa –

About the whole Santa thing – I was going to raise the kids without the whole strange-man-down-the-chimney ruse because it feels like lying – oh wait, it is – but Lori said she’d leave me if I even hinted that Santa wasn’t real.  So it is through gritted teeth that I have had conversations like this:

Nick: “Does Santa live at the North Pole?”
Me: “That’s what people say.”
Nick: “Did Santa leave this gift?”
Me: “That’s what it looks like.”

But I digress.

After I calmed Nick down, I told him he had to say “thank you” for the gift.

“But I don’t like them.”  Yes, that much was clear.

“It’s not about liking the gift, kiddo.  It’s to say ‘thank you’ for thinking of me.  Your aunt wanted to get something special for you…”  donotletsarcasmcreepintoyourvoicedonotlet  “…and that’s what she came up with.”

He did, eventually, thank his aunt.  But we clearly had some work to do in the values department.

Enter Mary O’Donohue.

A friend recommended her book, When You Say “Thank You,” Mean It.  I devoured it in less than a week.  It’s a nice, brisk, conversational read about values – how to define them, how to model them, and how to instill them in your kids.  Unlike the authors of other parenting books, Mary actually has kids so her recommendations are practical for other busy parents: 12 months, 12 values, 1 value each month – pretty straight forward. Plus she sprinkles the text with laugh-out-loud stories which makes you feel as though she’s sitting across the table from you.

I had a chance to meet Mary for the first time last week.  I was more than a little nervous, not because I was meeting the author of a book that changed how I approached teaching values to our children, but because I didn’t want to be disappointed.  I remember seeing Julian Barnes whose History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters – a meditation on the power of love – is one of my fav books and just feeling deep regret that I had ever seen him speak.  He was kinda mean…and cranky.  But Mary was incredibly warm, chatty and present.  I think we could have talked for hours.  There were no awkward pauses as we traded stories about the ups and downs of raising kids. More of a “me too” conversation, not a “me me me…and more about me” encounter.

Afterwards, Lori and I spend some time defining our values – we kept a piece of paper taped to the wall and just jotted down values as they came to us.  Turns out, we had a lot of the same values, which I think – touch wood – is why we have made it 20 years.

Our Values:

1. Honesty
2. Respect
3. Self-Reliance
4. Family First
5. Food
6. Education
7. Curiosity
8. Courage
9. Compassion
10. Helpfulness
11. Acceptance
12. Gratitude

What values are important to you?

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