Since I’ve started homeschooling my son, I’ve become more aware of everything I’m teaching him, not just academics. I try to work teaching into casual conversations and moments of play – we count the apples as we put them in the bag at the supermarket, we talk about why the leaves on the trees are changing colors as we play in our yard, we pick out nouns and verbs and adjectives when we read bedtime stories – but I often find myself teaching lessons in life as well as simply lessons in language and arithmetic and science and history. I am constantly teaching both my children how to be the best people they can be. And here are a few of the most important non-academic things that I want my children to learn.
At a very early age, I taught my kids how to say “please” and “thank you,” and I make sure that they use those phrases whenever it’s appropriate. Not that long ago, we were at Costco and my son told the sample lady, “Thank you,” when she gave him a piece of bread. She looked surprised and told me, “Wow, most of the adults don’t even say ‘thank you’!” My son turns five next month, and I intend on having him write thank-you cards for his birthday presents. It’s a habit that will serve him well after his first job interview, when he sends his interviewer a well-written note of thanks. Not to mention the points he’ll earn on his first date when he opens doors and pulls out chairs for his date. Manners matter.
My kids are both naturally gregarious, but they’re also both naturally selfish (they’re 3 and 5, so this is not surprising). I am working very hard to teach them to put themselves in other people’s shoes and to treat others the way they would like to be treated. I encourage them to share their toys, to find games that they and their friends would both like to play, to be kind even to people that they don’t particularly like. Be a friend to others, and you will find that others flock to you, wanting to be your friend. Kindness is one of the most attractive qualities a person can have.
You don’t need to have a huge wardrobe (or a huge wardrobe budget) to dress well. But take care of what you have, and wear it with pride. Keep your clothes clean and well-pressed and take a little bit of care in how you dress, and you will always look “put together.” Think about what is appropriate; be respectful of where you are going and who you are with, and you will never look underdressed or out of place.
My parents didn’t have a huge amount of discretionary income when I was growing up, but they were careful to tithe to our church and to make donations to a number of causes that they supported and considered to be important and worthwhile. When I was in college and had almost no income, I was able to gather some friends to sponsor a young girl in Africa together. It felt good to be able to share some of what I had with someone who had much less. It made me appreciate how much I had, even when it didn’t feel like much. I never worried that I wouldn’t have food to eat, or warm clothes to wear, or a roof over my head, but helping others reminded me that there are many people in the world who aren’t so lucky. So when my children outgrow their clothes or toys, I talk to them about how we give the things we don’t need to others who do need them. We talk about buying extra food to share with people who don't have enough to eat. We talk about why we give them a few dollars to put in the offering at church, and we are starting to give my son a few cents for chores so he has his own money to share with others. I hope to pass on to my own children the understanding that we have more than enough and it is our responsibility to share with others who aren’t so fortunate.
Go to Weddings and Showers and Funerals
I know a lot of people who come up with any excuse not to attend a wedding, a shower of any kind, or a funeral. I hope my children never become one of those people. Whether it’s for a family member, a friend, or even a casual acquaintance, if you have the opportunity to attend this kind of event, go. These are important moments in someone’s life, and having the support of the people around them means a lot. You may not care about such things, but maybe they do. I am not a fan of funerals; I do not find them comforting, no matter whether I was close to the deceased or only close to someone else who was close to them. But I attend, because it matters to someone. I matter to someone, and my presence matters to someone. That is a responsibility of friendship, and of family, and of humanity. Share in others’ celebrations and in their grief. It’s one of the things that human beings do that makes us human. Even when we don’t want to. ESPECIALLY when we don’t want to.
While it’s perfectly fine to spend time imagining what your perfect wedding day will look like, from the dress to the venue to the cake to the vows, it’s much more important to think about how you will be a good spouse, and the qualities you look for in a spouse. Your wedding day is important, but it’s just a day. Your marriage – if you plan it right – will last for the rest of your life. Spend some time thinking about it.
You Don’t Have to Respect Everyone, But You Do Have to Treat Them with Respect
There will be plenty of people in your life – bosses, teachers, co-workers, neighbors – who are not worthy of your respect. Treat them with respect anyway. There will be plenty of people in your life that you don’t like. Treat them with respect, too. If you disagree with someone, do it respectfully. Yes, even if they’re stupid. If you treat them disrespectfully, there’s no chance they’ll ever listen to a single thing you have to say. If you treat them with respect, they might just listen to you – and they might even come to agree with you. And since part of being respectful is listening to them, you might even realize that they’re not so stupid after all, and come to agree with them.
If my children learn these lessons, they will become pleasant, thoughtful, respectful people. They will become the kind of people who have something worthwhile to say, and the kind of people that others are willing to listen to. They will become people worthy of being in charge of this beautiful planet of ours, long after I am gone. They will be people who make this world a better place to live in. I’d say that’s a pretty good lesson to learn.