As a mother, MLK Day for me is all about encouraging my children to dream. Having them write down their dreams, cut out pictures of those dreams, and even put the dreams up on the wall. But then what?
Kimberly Seals Allers: Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream. Everybody knows that. But what he really had was so much more than that. He had the character, personal values, and determination to work at that dream every day. More than that, he was a true visionary who saw beyond the present and into future generations to plant seeds, even though he didn't know if and how those seeds would ever take root and grow.
Last year, they most certainly did. The election of Barack Obama is viewed by many of us as a realization of Dr. King's dream -- an example of America seeing beyond race for a greater good. My children will never forget that election night, nor would I ever let them. But what about the rest of Dr. King's message?
What about the content of our character? Our society has become obsessed with acquiring things, physical manifestations of success and keeping up with the Joneses that the concept of our character only seems to come into play when a high-profile athlete cheats on his wife. Then character is neatly tucked away until the next scandal.
And for me, how do I build children of character, children with determination and foresightedness in an era of instantaneous gratification, video stimulation, and what-have-you-bought-for-me-lately-ness?
"We have come to measure success by jobs, grades, test scores, awards, and the cars we drive. We have created an atmosphere that places image and results over inspiration and the process of learning. Nonetheless, inspiration and the learning process remain at the core of growth," says Malcolm Gauld, co-author of the parenting book, The Biggest Job We'll Ever Have. Gauld and his wife also run The Biggest Job parenting seminars. I'm intrigued.
Gauld is also the president of The Hyde Schools, a group of public and private college preparatory schools and programs that have been involved with character education for years. Here's what else he has to say:
"In a character culture, achievement is valued, but principles are valued more. That is, what you stand for is more important than how you are stacking up against others."
Will we ever see that day?
"Character is inspired, not imparted," he says. "We cannot pour it into our kids or our families. It takes work, and sometimes we put our relationships at risk when we hold to our convictions as parents. But the strongest relationships are those resting on a foundation of principles."
I found some great insight on building character in some of their principles -- what they call the "10 Priorities." I'll share them here.
PRIORITY #1 -- TRUTH OVER HARMONY
We all want honest families. We also want everyone to get along. Which do we want more? This priority calls upon parents to put the weight of their feet on the side of truth.
PRIORITY #2 -- PRINCIPLES OVER RULES
We tend to apply rules when things start to spin out of control. But rules alone are not a guiding force. Rules must be rooted in deep principles.
PRIORITY #3 -- ATTITUDE OVER APTITUDE
Parents can help their children by sending the message that honest efforts are more important than successful outcomes.
PRIORITY #4 -- SET HIGH EXPECTATIONS and LET GO OF THE OUTCOMES
We need to aim high with our expectations for our kids and resist "lowering the bar" when we sense that our children are encountering difficulty. Letting go of the outcome allows our children to take responsibility for their actions.
PRIORITY #5 -- VALUE SUCCESS AND FAILURE
Today's parents have a hard time letting their children fail. Success is important, but failure can teach powerful lifelong lessons leading to profound personal growth.
PRIORITY #6 -- ALLOW OBSTACLES TO BECOME OPPORTUNITIES
We can get caught up in trying to "fix" our children's problems (e.g., disagreements with their teachers, coaches, etc.) instead of seeing the potential for positive learning opportunities.
PRIORITY #7 -- TAKING HOLD AND LETTING GO
It is hard to watch our children struggle with life's challenges. When should we step in? When should we step away? This is one of the toughest parenting dilemmas. We practice letting go, when appropriate.
PRIORITY #8 -- CREATE A CHARACTER CULTURE
This priority can help parents create an atmosphere of character in the home through the application of a three-point plan: a daily job, a weekly family meeting, and a concept called "mandatory fun."
PRIORITY #9 -- HUMILITY TO ASK FOR AND RECEIVE HELP
While parents focus on helping their children, many avoid asking others for help. Consequently, they raise children who do not ask for help.
PRIORITY #10 -- INSPIRATION: JOB #1
Regardless of what they might say or do, children and teens share a deep yearning to be inspired by their parents. Ironically, we will not inspire our children with our achievements. We best inspire them when we share our struggles, reach for our best, and model daily character.
You can learn more at The Parenting Experts. I have got a lot of work to do.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
|Kimberly Seals Allers is an award-winning business journalist and founder and editor-in-chief of MochaManual.com, a weekly online magazine for moms of color. She is the author of "The Mocha Manual to a Fabulous Pregnancy" and "The Mocha Manual to Turning Your Passion into Profit." Kimberly is a divorcing mother of two and lives on Long Island, NY.|