Everlasting love and life lessons, one megabyte at a time.
It started with a small idea. A client sat down in my office, sharing her concerns for how she could impart her valuable life experiences to her child; and better, how could she do it in a way that would preserve her voice, in the chance that she didn’t live long enough to share it day by day and year after year. While she happened to be an older mother, she did, for all intents and purposes, have plenty of time to educate her daughter and share her wealth of knowledge. It did however, bring up an interesting point. If children grow up and favor the personal fable (better known as “magical thinking” or the “It won’t happen to me” syndrome), how could a parent really help guide their children through the trials and tribulations of childhood, adolescence and adulthood if their words in the moment fell on deaf ears? Would those precious pearls of wisdom evaporate into the ether? My client was plagued by this concern and soon, I became preoccupied with the same thought.
Daily, I see clients suffer at the hands of parental abandonment and disinterest. Growing up, we become products of these experiences. As a result, we can’t help but stumble through life without the necessary guidance and tools that loving, patient and worldly parents can provide, in those crucial years of early development. Conversely, what if we did have parents that cared, attended every soccer game, Girl Scout meeting and sat down for dinner with their family every night? Would that be enough? Any therapist will tell you that yes, in our youth, having positive, consistent interactions with our parents will set the groundwork for healthy choices in adulthood. But again, how do we hold onto the lessons in a real way?
Social Learning Theory tells us that we learn by watching others. Its wonderful news and excellent support in the argument that our parents are our models, and from there, we internalize their actions, thoughts and behaviors. Because we observe and take these things in without conscious awareness, we may not be holding onto these examples as much as we could be. It IS possible to get even more of a pay off if we have some way of concretizing these messages. And further, what about the things our parents know that they simply don’t have the opportunity to demonstrate for us? How do those teachings get passed on?
Through our sessions, my client realized that she needed to formalize her lore and present a document to her daughter. It would highlight everything she felt her child could benefit from, starting with her personal belief system all the way down to advantageous ideas and tricks she picked up along the way. She created what she proudly exclaimed was her very own “Ethical Will.” The concept wasn’t new. Ethical Wills have been used for thousands of years and are richly steeped in the Judeo-Christian tradition. But even before putting pen to paper (or more likely hands to keyboard), she felt peace and relief; a feeling of calm that could only be explained by the sense that her life finally had purpose and that she could turn those years of living into something significant for her daughter. While I believe she had purpose, simply by virtue of the fact that she was alive, for her, this record was bigger than all of that. As it turned out, I gained something meaningful that day as well. I became inspired to do the same. Sort of.
I’m more of a linear thinker. I like lists. I like palatable, bite-sized pieces of content that can create an impact with just a few bullet points or words of text (minus these articles, of course. These can go on and on!) I decided that I would create a brand new email account. I would send emails from myself to that new account, in the hopes of condensing all of MY thoughts and MY nuggets of acumen to share with my children one day. I’ve always envisioned giving them a little box, containing a piece of paper with the email address and password on it. Perhaps they could log on, read my words and hopefully glean something useful from what I had to say. I created a unique version of the ethical will, my way. Maybe it’s a love letter of sorts, or maybe it’s just a bunch of emails to my kids. Either way, I now share that sense of relief, release and the impression that what I’ve dealt with and ascertained over the years, won’t be for not.
Want to do the same for your kids? Here are some questions to get you started:
- What do you wish your parents had told you, if they had the chance?
- What did you learn as an adult that would have saved you heartache and struggle when you were younger?
- What tools have you gained to better manage your life? Where did they come from and how have you applied them?
- What do you want your kids to know about relationships and how to pick the right mate?
- What circumstances do you hope your kids never have to deal with and what help can you offer in the chance that they have to anyway?
- What advice can you offer when it comes to making life decisions? How did you make yours and how did you know they were the right ones?
Bottom Line: Model what you’ve learned over the years by being a great example and your kids WILL learn well. Write down even more of those bits of mastery and watch them soar.