Previously posted in the Huffington Post.
For the first time both of my daughters are in school, each in different grades and different schools. It’s been interesting to see our family of four pulled in four different directions during the daylight hours. While I am grateful for the new ideas and people my children are being exposed to, I am concerned about losing touch with them as they journey away from me. I guess this just sounds so motherly of me, but I’ll write it anyways — I needed to find a way to strengthen our family bond even as our horizons broaden beyond the landscape seen from our front stoop.
I’ve never been good at complicated or Pinterest worthy plans. So right now, the four of us stay connected simply by asking and answering the same three questions at family dinner every night.
How were you brave today?
I want my girls to know that courage is generally made of many small acts rather than one grand gesture. I need them to know they own their legacy of bravery — it is theirs to wield on the playground and in the world. Establishing their lionhearted bonafides early — when they still feel they are protected by their mom and dad — matters. Right now, we’re the floor they stand on but some day soon, in school, work and their personal life, they are going to need to stand on a foundation of their own making. When life is scary or a risk needs taking, I want them to be able look back on years of audacious actions that prove they can handle right that very moment. How were you brave today? I hope this question teaches them to recognize their valor so that by the time they really need it, courage is an old and familiar friend.
How were you kind today?
Kids can be cruel. So can adults. It’s kind of one of the things that makes us human. Of course, it isn’t enough to just be human, we must also be humane. Whatever your thoughts on public school, it is certainly an effective way to introduce children to the differences that both divide and sustain us. I don’t need my children to be the Mother Theresa’s of their playground. I *do* need them to be aware of what is happening in their surroundings and then I need them to problem solve to find ways to make their environment better. Too often society teaches our daughters that kindness is giving in or becoming weaker for others. That’s not what I am talking about here. We are teaching our girls that kindness is leading with understanding and becoming stronger for others. One day, that might mean speaking up in defense of a friend when everyone else is being quiet. Another day, it may mean sitting eating lunch with the girl who always sits alone. How were you kind today? Kindness is a strength and I am expecting my girls to flex it like a muscle every single day.
How did you fail today?
If we want our children to seek success with any consistency, we need to make sure they are not afraid of failure. Too often mistakes, missteps and misjudgment lead to an outcome of secrets and shame. I don’t want my children to hide bad test grades or broken friendships or anything else that bruises them. (Or anything else they bruise, for that matter.) Life is full of defeat — self-inflicted and otherwise — but that doesn’t mean we are defeated! It just means that we are trying and there is something beautiful in that, isn’t there? So we cheer for our failures every night.
“I fell off the monkey bars today because I thought I could skip three bars at once. I couldn’t.”
“You tried something new! I am so proud of you. And look how cool that band-aid looks on your scrape!”
“I couldn’t write my name right when the teacher asked me to and that made me sad.”
“You discovered writing your name correctly matters to you! What a great discovery. Do you want to work on that tonight?”
This is my girl’s favorite question and I don’t really blame them. It’s mine too. It is freeing to talk about the day’s biggest debacles while eating grilled cheese and tomato soup. You mean I can mess up and still sit at this family table and be loved too? Absolutely. How did you fail today? Sharing our failures as a family is setting us for success as individuals.
My husband and I answer the three questions every night too. The girls love our answers, giggling over our courageous moments, finding inspiration in our small kindnesses and helping us find solutions or acceptance in the face of our failures. Their reaction to our participation has been the most unexpected blessing of the whole experience. It is remarkable to watch them witness us as partners as well as parents.
They make me braver, they make me kinder and they make me try — and sometimes fail — harder. My good, strong girls.
We plan to ask these three questions in the years ahead. The answers will change but the love that receives them will remain the same.
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