However successful my own resolutions, I’m often asked for advice about raising children in today’s fast-paced, information-rich and engagement-challenged world. In what corners should we be searching, and where should attention be paid? As parents and teachers, we are always trying to do better for our children in an almost perpetual resolution-making way. And, of course, a few things do come to mind: a wish list for today’s world.
Somehow, we have to let our daughters develop greater capacity to be astonished. With so many answers literally at our fingertips, we sometimes skip the questions and the wonderment that should come before. Help them to find the mysteries, and then go live in them together. Go see things for yourself. Go for walks without a destination. Go to the library and check out books you don’t know about. Go to a museum and find a room you’ve never explored. Fall into the art and consider what James Baldwin has to say about this: “The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions hidden beneath the answers.” Go wander; go wonder. Go be that Henry James person upon whom “nothing is lost.”
But don’t think that this focus doesn’t take practice. This kind of full-on attention doesn’t seem to happen on its own anymore. Perhaps it never did, but our world, and that of our daughters, is full of continuous, partial attention, and the efforts for sustained commitment are all the harder to develop. You almost have to agenda the agenda-less, and you certainly have to turn off your phone…or better yet, leave it at home. Building this capacity for astonishment can’t just be a one-time thing. That won’t stick, especially among the multitude of the quick and the easy. As with almost anything of worth, it takes time.
And then there is that forever call of giving our children the greatest gift of all: a strong sense of self-love. I think of this especially in the framework of resolutions, which can sometimes dangerously be about making ourselves perfect or something close to it. Not to be confused with arrogance or vanity, love of self is really about the strength of knowing who you are and about not wanting to be someone else. Humility comes from this place. So does compassion, and so does altruism. It’s pretty much the foundation for all the important work we do as educators and parents. Without self-respect, resolutions become more about the other than about you. In her work Start Where You Are, Pema Chödrön tells us: “As long as you’re wanting to be thinner, smarter, more enlightened, less uptight, or whatever it might be, somehow, you’re always going to be approaching your problem with the very same logic that created it to begin with: you’re not good enough.”
Finally, a critical compass point for attention is developing within each of our girls a continued sense of integrity. This year I’m planning on visiting several college presidents to learn more about leadership at the higher education level. I had the privilege of spending time with Dr. John J. DeGioia at Georgetown University, and when I asked him about what he hoped most for from his graduates, he immediately said, “a deepening sense of who they are.” I knew what he meant having had the repeated opportunity of watching our own girls grow to young women with an ever-strengthening sense of what it means to be fully who they are. When they leave us, they are not finished, but they are closer and closer to that understanding about self and the world. When they leave college, they are closer yet. Along the way, it’s up to us to remind them not to expect applause, not to fall into that prison of arrogance or absolutism, and never to forget that they are beautiful human beings.
In the meantime, I reached out to our Middle School to see how resolution-making lived in their world. Several responded to my email, all of them wonderfully full of hope, life and what I would call that Middle School capacity to live in the moment with openness and full-on candor. One wrote about keeping a journal so that she could “go over her day and get (her) thoughts down on paper.” Another wanted to try reaching out to other friend groups because “being open has always been a challenge.” One aimed not to procrastinate, another to “pick up after herself,” while others promised to take more pictures “of beautiful landscapes and nature,” and “reduce her carbon footprint.” And then, there’s the budding philosopher: “I think it can be challenging to keep resolutions, and when you don’t keep them, you feel worse than you did at the beginning. For me, the key is to set goals for yourself, but not have any expectations. Thank you for asking! Have a great weekend.”