“Be safe. Be respectful. Be kind.”
They are the words I whisper to my son as we stand, foreheads together, surrounded by the toys and kids of my mother’s home daycare, giving quick goodbyes before I head to work. He has heard this reminder time and again, since before he could even explain its meaning.
Recently, Oliver got to spend the day with one of his aunts. I gave him a squeeze, and reminded him in front of her that he needed to be safe, respectful, and kind. This particular aunt of Oliver’s isn’t known for taking the guarded, sheltered path; for always making the “safe” decision. And I respect her for that. I respect her for her independence, confidence, and honesty. I respect her for choosing a career that took her away from everyone she knew so she could travel the country after college. I respect her for being herself, even when the world sometimes tells her it would be easier if she were different. I respect her for telling it as it is, even when the truth isn’t easy.
I was lost in these thoughts when it occurred to me that eventually, my message to Oliver will change; “safety” won’t always be the first thing on the list. There are so many other qualities I want to emphasize as he grows. Right now, his daredevil, clumsy, preschool-self needs the reminder to make safe choices. He needs to be reminded not to jump in the pool without a grown up. To hold onto the railing when going down the stairs. To take small bites and chew carefully. To hold someone’s hand when crossing the street.
But, eventually that message will change. I am not the parent now that I will be one day, but at this point in time, here’s how I see that message changing over time. You’ll notice that kindness and respectfulness remain a constant, no matter what stage of life Oliver enters. Some of the ladies here at Kansas City Moms Blog have written some stellar articles on teaching kindness to our children: Check them out here and here.
So, how will my message to my son change over time?
In elementary school, reminders of safety will continue to be a constant topic in our conversations, but the morning message will evolve slightly. Safety will be replaced with bravery.
“Be brave. Be respectful. Be kind.”
Oliver, I want you to be brave as you head into your school days. To be brave when you meet new friends. Be brave enough to stand up for yourself and to ask your teacher for help when you don’t understand. Be brave when trying new things, when finding your way without mommy at your side. Be brave as you explore your newfound independence.
In middle school, the first part of my message will shift again, this time to boldness.
“Be bold. Be respectful. Be kind.”
Oliver, as a young adolescent, I want you to be bold. I want you to stand firm for what you believe in, even when you risk friendships to do it. To be bold means to be your own person, despite pressure from others to be someone else. I want you to do the right thing, even when it’s difficult. To stick up for your friends – and to stand up for those who need it, even if they aren’t your friends. I want you to be bold enough to be involved in the activities you want to be in, whether your choice is a popular one or not.
In high school… sheesh, I can hardly think that far ahead. In all likelihood, my message during these years will a mixture of all previous reminders.
“Be safe. And brave. And bold. But don’t forget to also be respectful and kind!”
Oliver, you better believe your teenage years will catapult me into daily hourly reminders of safety. Without a doubt. Driving, dating, parties. There are endless opportunities to remind a teenager of safety. But echoes of bravery will be necessary, too. You’ll need to be brave to ask that sweet girl to prom. To walk into your first day of your first summer job. Boldness will have a place, too. Again, you will need to be bold to stay true to who you are. Boldness will help you pursue the college and career of your desire, letting nothing stand in your way.
Have you ever pictured your small children as grown? It’s so weird. But if I try to peek beyond high school, I think I will land with wisdom as the beginning of my message through the college years.
“Be wise. Be respectful. Be kind.”
Oliver, be wise. Challenge the way the world works. Develop your own philosophies about life. Ask questions about your faith, and seek the answers genuinely, tirelessly, and wholeheartedly. Question what you’ve been taught. Seek truth in all things, whether that takes form as a new answer or gives validity and strength to what you already know. Ask why. Absorb as much knowledge as you can. And always make wise decisions. You are an adult now, and you are accountable for your actions.
Imagining my son as a husband and father just makes me giddy. And my evolving wish for him at that wonderful stage of life will be to be present.
“Be present. Be respectful. Be kind.”
Oliver, as you build a life with your young family, be present. Not just physically, but emotionally. Live fully in each moment. Find time to devote to your family. Prioritize it. Shrug off the distractions of this world and truly be together. Provide for your family, but when the workday ends, make memories. Be involved in the things your children do. Be engaged in conversation with your wife. Use your time to experience the world together as a family, and plan special times to engage with each of your family members one-on-one, too. Take time to show your love through actions, words, and affection. Remember to absorb each wonderful moment, for they will go fast.
And through it all, Daddy asked me to remind you to just,
He wants me to tell you to remove the external expectations; remove the pressure to be something you’re not. Remove the doubt and the fear. Accept yourself and your flaws; find the strength that can come from them and wear them as a badge, not as a chain holding you back.
Be honest. Find your center: Appreciate the core of who you are and who you want to be. Never back away from experience, never just settle. Bravely push boundaries, boldly embrace change, learn from pain, and always love and accept others.
Be brave. Be bold. Be wise. Be present. Be respectful and kind. Be YOU.