The Single Most Important Thing I Taught My Kids

We all want what is best for our children; to be happy, confident, successful individuals with a deep capacity to love. As parents, we feel a sense of duty to impart guidance and wisdom. Most of what we teach our children is transmitted passively either by example or as a byproduct of actually loving them. Self-esteem, confidence, values, manners, are good examples. I truly believe there is no such thing as loving our kids too much. My general parenting philosophy is that as long as kids feel loved, everything will work out fine.

And then something happened when my daughter was in kindergarten. She came home and announced, “'Jill' told me my feet are ugly and my hair smells.” She was crushed. It became clear to me that I needed to take a stand, not only as a loving mother, but as an intentional teacher. After recovering from a vicarious sucker punch, I asked myself, What is the learning here? How is this a teaching moment?

What I came up with is best articulated by Don Miguel Ruiz’s Second Agreement in his book The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom.

Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

In kindergarten vernacular, it translates as something like this:“'Jill' said something mean to you because, in some way, she herself was unhappy. Maybe her older sister was mean to her. Maybe she didn’t want to say goodbye to her mom. We have no idea. And we don’t need to know. She is trying out different ways of handling her own feelings. If she told you the sky was red, it would be the same thing and easy to see how her words are not truth, have nothing to do with you and everything to do with her.”

I went on to say that when someone is mean, be nice back. Know that they're suffering in some way, and they may need someone to just be a friend no matter how they act. If they continue to be mean, walk away. There’s a fine line between being a loving presence and taking abuse!

By the way, "Jill" continued to say hurtful things to my daughter. At one point, I phoned her mother, who told me that I needed to stop indulging my daughter’s feelings and tell her to toughen up. Let’s just say, it was an opportunity to practice what I preach. Big time. Over the years, I’ve watched both my kids apply the “Don’t Take Anything Personally Principle” over and over in their lives with great benefits. They have navigated emotionally treacherous terrain (even the socially brutal middle school years) with remarkable grace and equanimity. They are consistently able to allow others to be who they are and do what they do (even an overextended, emotionally expressive mom!) without being diminished by it. In fact, they embody this principle so adeptly, that they've become my teachers in return — the ultimate gift of parenthood.

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