I always knew I wanted children, however that’s about as far as the thought ever got. I never really thought too deeply about how I would raise my children or what specific values I wanted to instill into them. I just figured that when the time came, or when we were planning on it, my husband and I would sit down and talk it through. Well now the time is here and this is a constant thought of mine and a major topic between my husband and I when we’re not fretting over the thousands of other things that come with expecting your first child. Given the way that the world has changed so drastically from when I was a child, this feels like such a daunting task to consider. How do you raise a child in an era where nothing is really “sacred” anymore and thoughts and actions are shared with thousands and millions as soon as they occur?
To answer this question I looked inward. T.B. and I had great upbringings and we often talk about all of the lessons we’ve learned from our parents. We talk about these memories with a lot of reverence and gratefulness because we truly believe that we are where we are today because our families kept a firm grasp on us and prepared us for the world ahead. So I wanted to share from my perspective some of the most important lessons that I learned from my family.
Lesson #1: You can be whatever you want.
At first it bothered me that my Mother never harped on how pretty I was. She would tell me, “Jennifer you’re so smart! You can be whatever you want, a doctor, attorney, whatever!” So I focused on my grades and it was just never an option to do poorly in school. If there was a way to be advanced, I took it. It’s not that my Mother never told me I was pretty, she would take me to get my hair done, or we would get mani/pedis together, it was just never something she focused on. Looking back on it, she always affirmed that if there was one thing I’d always have it’s my intelligence. I thank her so much for that.
My Father was the same way even though his approach was different. My Father started instilling in me a hard work ethic when I was probably around 9 years old. My Father works with computers and when I would spend my summers with him we would go into his office and then he would show me to his warehouse that was attached. There he showed me how to take apart old computers and salvage their aluminum. He gave me a screwdriver and a magnet, and at the end of the week we would take my boxes of aluminum to recycling and he would pay me for my work. My Dad says I would be so proud and happy and it made him so proud and happy to have a daughter that didn’t mind working hard and rolling up her sleeves. I learned early about being rewarded for your work.
He doubled-down on that lesson when he would take me into the huge office towers when he was meeting with clients. At the age of 9 I told him that I wanted to be a “business woman” not knowing how to even get there. I would spend hours reading his old college and law school textbooks, on topics ranging from Design to who knows what. I just knew that one day I, too, would wear fancy business suits and powerful smelling perfume. Although he did warn me not to wear too much.
Lesson #2: Love your neighbor.
This one is a bit literal but I was taught this lesson in the Biblical sense as well. Growing up my best friend was a cute white boy who lived somewhat next door (Hi B***! :)) Standing out in front of our houses we could see each other and rarely were we ever apart. Both of us were military kids and we just clicked for some reason and he became a part of my family and I became a part of his. Some time in high school B*** attempted to get me drunk to tell me that he was gay. Well at 14 it wasn’t necessary, but it didn’t matter anyways because I could have easily guessed. While his family initially struggled with the news, my family was unbothered. Our house became a place he could come and stay any time if he needed to. I would be up late nights in our Jaccuzi/computer room chatting on AIM and WBS chatrooms and I’d get a knock on our back door. He would be upset or needing to get away and it wasn’t a problem. Growing up as southern religious black folk didn’t stop my family from knowing when someone needed love and support. What a great lesson for my family to teach me, even if my Gran still refers to being gay as “having a lil’ bit of sugar in the tank.” She means well. I think since I was a child my point of view on the world has been a very open one. My blackness is something I strongly identify with, but my family encouraged me to love unconditionally and to do so with a warm and open spirit. I hope I embody this well. As someone who loves to travel and engage with other cultures, this is something I want our children to embrace enthusiastically.
Lesson #3: Communication not manipulation.
My family is extremely close and so growing up in my small town we were all within 6 streets of each other. There was no knocking and no calling ahead. I truly grew up with a village. Being so close meant that no one held back when it came to saying what was on their minds or hearts. Sure this caused a few “family free-for-alls” as we call it, but it was all done out of love. Being able to openly communicate taught me that no one can know or understand what you’re feeling or thinking unless you tell them. Be intentional when you communicate. My Gran to this day says to me “communication not manipulation” every time we get off the phone. Her point is that my husband and I, and our future children should be open with one another, and we should avoid attempting to manipulate each other’s feelings. Just say what needs to be said, but do it with purpose. I love this because it forces me to really think before I blurt out things. As a Leo, Type-A, extrovert I need this kind of structure.
Along the same lines, openness allowed me to have real honest conversations about sex. Once I was reading YM Magazine (showing my age!) and there was a column about oral sex. I asked my Mother what it meant and she told me to ask my Gran. Gran said, “68 and I owe you one!” I’m pretty sure that’s not what my Mother expected, but she did explain it to me along with some of her other thoughts around various kinds of intimacy beyond what she long ago explained about the birds and the bees. I never had to shy away from these kinds of conversations and to this day I have zero modesty because of it. The first time I came home drunk as a teen my Bonus Dad didn’t yell or scream at me but he taught me a lesson in responsibility and doing what’s right. I didn’t drink again until I was 21.
When I think about how we want to raise our children a lot of it feels old-school. We just want to raise our kids to know that they can be whatever they want to be and that we’re an example of that. We want them to love themselves and those around them. We want them to know that no matter what’s going on or how they feel they can always talk to us. T.B. and I made lots of mistakes growing up and yes we lied and did bad things sometimes, but we always knew not to stray too far from our parent’s loving warnings. I feel like this is pretty basic stuff and judging by how we turned out, it just might work. I think these are the lessons that can withstand the tests of time and the exponential change that technology brings. While I’m glad there was no Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram back when I was growing up, I think I had the right tools to make the right choices if there was. All I want to do is equip my children with those same tools without applying limits to them. It’s going to be a challenge but one I think we’re up for!
P.S. I recently read an article about things that were allowed in the 80’s/90’s that aren’t anymore. It hurt my heart to read that due to the prevalence of Peanut allergies kids can’t have PB&J’s in school anymore. THE HORROR!!!
P.S.S. We don’t know what we’re having so we’re #TeamGreen until the big day!