At 24, the idea of settling down and starting a family terrifies me. However, if and when I do choose to have children, I would mirror their upbringing to my own.
I recently had a conversation with a co-worker about parenting. At 25, with a two-year old son, he’s already asking the important questions and discovering the answers fist-hand. How do you balance strict discipline with limitless support? How do show love without spoiling? At what age should dating be allowed? What if he questions my religious beliefs and challenges my ideals? How can one encourage a child to ask questions? How can you–more than anything else–raise him to be a good person?
I’m often critical of young parents with their spoiled and entitled “mini-me’s.” I feel that many don’t realize that the role of a parent is to bring up a well-rounded human being, to recognize and encourage the development of a child’s strengths and gifts, and to make sacrifices in the child’s best interest. Mentally advanced, fashionable, and photogenic are secondary.
Becoming a parent is not meant to be a selfish act. It truly should be the most selfless act of all.
I think that the best thing a parent can offer their child is a positive example. My parents stuck together and were always on the same page. They always offered their time and enthusiasm when it came time for helping with homework or hobbies. They provided volunteer opportunities, and served right alongside their kids.
The most poignant and lasting lessons were in the everyday.
My mom would always greet those serving her by name. She would either look at their name tag or ask, and then respond with a smile, “Thank you, Jenna!”
“Mom,” I would scowl in a whisper, “you don’t know her,” deeply embarrassed.
She would always over-tip. She would buy small gifts for the woman who served her drive-thru coffee every morning on the way to school. I didn’t get it. Why is she spending money on people we don’t even know? Why is she acknowledging people whose job it is to wait on us?
I understand now. I’m embarrass that it took so long.
My childhood and adult life have been filled with enumerable selfless and compassionate souls, all of whom have been instrumental in my learning and development. My first shining example was my mother.
For the past month, I’ve been addressing those who serve me by their names. I’ve been grossly over-tipping all who offer me a service and buying meals for the people behind me in line. I’ve been acknowledging those I see on a regular basis–I see you, I appreciate you, I would love to get to know you.
Ben checked my air pressure this weekend, and he beamed when I said, “Thank you, Ben. You are awesome at what you do!”
When my headlight burned out, William helped me figure out which bulb I needed and then installed it for me. I tipped him more than the cost of the bulb. He looked me, confused yet pleasantly surprised, and smiled.
The barista who has served me dozens of times but whom I’ve never talked to much, received an enthusiastic “Thank you, Colin. I love that you always have my drink ready by the time I reach the counter.” A few seconds later, I bought a drink for the boy behind me who didn’t realize it was cash-only establishment.
It feels good. And that is such an understatement. I don’t necessarily have extra money to over-tip, but it’s been a fascinating experiment. Every day, I remind myself that I’m a part of something bigger than myself. A compliment, a smile, and a helping hand mean just as much–if not more–than tips and expensive gifts.
People matter. We need to begin living as if we truly believe that.
It’s easy to fall into the motions. To offer the exact same greeting to your co-workers every morning. To reply with robotic, “Thanks,” as you receive refills and receipts. To tip 20% and not a dime more of your hard-earned money. To think continually about what’s in it for you, rather than how you can serve others.
I recently had a man chase me halfway across a parking lot to hand me the loyalty punch-card I had dropped outside my favorite local bookstore. I wanted so badly to hug him in the wordless way generally reserved for airport terminals. Not for returning the card, but for–in those few seconds as I walked away–choosing to pick up the card and make the small, but meaningful effort to return it to me. Perhaps, for just acknowledging my existence. I still remember that experience with the utmost joy.
I want to be that person to others.
The person who pays a little extra attention. The person who reaches out and goes the distance. The person who treats everyone they encounter as another multi-dimensional human being with infinite potential. I want to fall asleep wondering whether my kindness may have set another’s life on fire or inspired an entire string of kind acts.
We cross paths with many individuals throughout our days, but often fail to recognize them as dynamic interpersonal interactions. I tend to live in my mind and build self-centered stories about Who I Am and What I Need. To a certain extend, I think we all do. We don’t always see those around us as being much like ourselves–as peers, as equals, as collaborative partners in our crafting of the mural of life. Until we take the time to notice one another, we can’t begin to understand what makes each of us unique; we cannot begin to appreciate each individual’s respective offering.
It feels good to acknowledged people, without even considering how the other feels or how they may benefit. The rewards I reap from smiling at a stranger, offering a sincere compliment, and engaging the world around me are more than enough in return.
I believe in karma. I believe that compassion is contagious. I believe that the core of humanity involves simply being a good person. And, when we become parents and teachers, politicians and pastors, artists and attendants, we have the responsibility to set an example to others and leverage our influence for good.
If I ever become a parent, I think that may be the most important lesson I could ever teach my child, the most important example I could set: Treat everyone as if they are the most important person in your world, the only person. Because for those sequential split seconds in time, they are. We have the power to make each moment unforgettable. But we must learn first to take the initiative to do so.