"We give our children these two things:
one is roots,
the other is wings"
This quote has been my motherhood mantra since the beginning. The concept is simple. I wish to give my children a solid foundation on which to stand, and then to give them the freedom to soar, to follow their own path in life, to be themselves.
I've never been afraid to stand out, never cared much what others thought of me. When I told this to a group of my peers recently, I was met with some skepticism. "Everybody says that," one person told me. "But deep down inside don't we all want to be liked?" I shrugged, and shook my head. I've honestly really never cared much about what others thought of me. When I got pregnant while in high school, family members, friends, even school faculty members urged me to have an abortion. Sure, some of them were concerned that I was throwing away my hopes for a promising future. But many of them were most concerned about what people would think, what they would say about me. They cared about the public opinion of me more than I did. If they had been in my shoes, the prospect of not being liked would have scared them into doing the opposite of what their hearts were telling them to do. Somehow, even at such a young age, I sensed that. I ignored them. I had my baby. It is a decision I have never regretted. Sure, people whispered about me. Some didn't bother to whisper, instead telling me boldly to my face that I was crazy, that I was a walking stereotype, that I was doomed to fail. I met with similar adversity at other points in my life - even now - and it still doesn't stop me from being myself, speaking my mind, making my own decisions and sticking to my principles.
That "stick-to-it-iveness" is something I've tried hard to pass on to my children. I've done my best to teach them the basic qualities that a good person should possess. I've tried to lay a solid foundation of integrity in them. And once I felt that I had done that, I gave them the freedom - the permission - to be themselves.
Recently, I've observed my "babies" (now young adults), and I've noted that they have gotten exactly what I wished for them. Several examples that my goal has been achieved have come to the forefront recently.
My daughter, who is also my firstborn, has always been headstrong. You tell her to go left, she goes right purely out of curiosity. Raising her was an adventure, one that I wouldn't have survived without God's help. She has never backed down from a challenge, and with the exception of a few years when she was in high school, she hasn't had a problem standing apart from the crowd. She blasted music by The Fray and Maroon 5 when her peers were immersed in strictly hip-hop. She stood with the underdog, while everyone else played it safe with the tried and true champion. Her strong spirit is one of the things that has been the biggest challenge for me as a parent. But it is also one of the things I love most about her. She fell in love a couple of years ago. The guy she chose to give her heart to isn't the kind of guy that her girlfriends would have picked for her. He's not driving a Beemer, Benz or Bentley. He works hard at his legitimate career in construction as opposed to making a quick buck hustling. He doesn't have the washboard abs of Usher or the swoony swagger of Trey Songz. Instead, he's just a regular guy who genuinely cares for her, who will sing along with her while watching Glee or watch Grey's Anatomy reruns to make her happy. Even I cautioned her against the relationship at first. Her brothers and I thought she was settling down too soon, putting all of her eggs in one basket, throwing away her youth by giving up the single life in exchange for domesticity. But she has remained true to her own inner compass, and has lived her life on her own terms. Together, the two of them have started a family, built a happy home, and are planning a future. And she couldn't care less about the opinions of those who don't "get it". I must admit that I'm loving it. From time to time she and I will discuss her observations of adults who are twice her age. I smile with pride when she shakes her head at those who are well into their middle age and still nursing inferiority complexes, still seeking acceptance from their friends, still unsure of themselves. She's not concerned with what her friends think of how she dresses, how she wears her hair, where she shops, or what she believes. She is determined to go her own way. When I see her post on Facebook, "My mama taught me..." I smile. She has her roots. She has her wings.
My oldest son (the middle child) is a remarkable young man. He is a deep thinker, a true individual. He is fair, and will never take your side just because he likes you. When I'm wrong, he tells me I'm wrong. When I'm right, he champions my cause the loudest. He's the one I go to when I want an honest opinion on a new hairstyle, because - like it or not - he keeps it all the way real! He made some questionable decisions in his teen years, like most of us did. There were times while he was in high school that I wondered if he was doomed to walk the wrong path. He hung around with some outlandish characters. He got himself into some precarious situations. There were times when I wondered if he had been listening at all when I gave him life lessons. But recently, he's shown me that he was not only listening, he was absorbing everything, mulling it over and deciding whether or not it fit into his outlook on life as he matures. And true to his character, he has developed a fair assessment of the people and situations he encounters. He is astounded by those who are afraid to have their own opinion, the kind who wait to go whichever way the wind blows and live their lives following the crowd. He and I recently discussed his frustration with friends of his who are acting other than themselves in their quest to fit in. They don't smoke weed, but they take a few puffs with the group they roll with to prove that they're "cool". They don't drink much or party too often, but they're suddenly getting twisted at every function to win the approval of their clique. He recently pointed out that the loud-mouthed, boisterous and flashy guy who takes center stage is seldom the one who has achieved the most success. Bosses, he noted, are the ones sitting quietly in the corner, humbly observing the buffoon across the room. He dresses his own way - kind of hip-hop style meets skateboard chic. He listens to both old and new music. He marches to the beat of his own drum. He doesn't need a bunch of dudes to hang with. He makes plans and sticks to them, even if it means going to an event alone. He is an army of one. On Sunday, his boss called to ask him to come in to work at the last minute. A co-worker had called out, leaving the boss short staffed. My son told the boss, "I can't come in. I haven't been to church in awhile and I really want to go today." I smiled as he hung up and went to finish getting ready for church. He has his roots. He has his wings.
When we're growing up, most of us don't want to be different. The status quo is what we want, to be "normal". We don't want to stand out by being the oddball. We avoid wearing glasses out of fear of being called "Four Eyes". We cry when it's time to get braces because we don't want to be known as "Metal Mouth". We dumb ourselves down to avoid being known as a geek, or a nerd. We must have the popular sneakers, the cool jeans, the latest hairstyle. Being different often means being ridiculed, teased, or even bullied. So we do all that we can to blend in. As we get older, and we gain wisdom, we learn to celebrate the things that make us unique. We learn to no only accept, but to embrace our differences. We realize that we were never meant to be carbon copies of one another. Instead, each of us is a one of kind treasure. My youngest child - my sixteen year old son - is wise beyond his years. He's figured these things out way ahead of most of us. I don't ever recall a time when he was desperate to fit in. He gets good grades, respects his elders (whether I'm around or not), and stays out of trouble. He looks out for the ladies in the family, opens doors, and gives up his seat like a gentleman. But, best of all, he doesn't change who he is to conform to the crowd. The other day, he told me that he wanted to cut his hair into a "Gumby" hairstyle. YES, the old school, 1990s era "Gumby" hairstyle made famous by the likes of Bobby Brown. I threatened to give him my side-eye of the week! His brother teased him. His sister begged him to rethink this. But, he wasn't concerned about what we thought. He didn't care that none of his friends were wearing their hair like that. He went to the barbershop and got the haircut he wanted. And you know what? I like it! Not only does it look good on him, but he stuck to what he wanted. He had a vision, he wasn't swayed by public opinion, and he followed through with it. If the only "rebelling" he has chosen to do is by wearing his hair a certain way, I'll take it! While many of his friends are posting foolishness on social media, he "liked" the page "I love God" on Facebook, publicly acknowledging his faith regardless of who might find it 'corny'. He still chases girls. He has an obsession with mafia movies. He slips up and utters a curse word from time to time. He's a normal teenage kid. But, his foundation is solid, and he's not afraid to be himself. He's got roots, and he's got wings.
Lately, I've come to realize how very blessed I am. Not only have I managed to live my life without worrying about what others think of me, but I've passed that on to my children. I look around and I see one example after another of those who are crowd pleasers. They're afraid to voice an opinion that isn't popular. They adopt behavior that isn't true to who they are. They are afraid to shine, instead they dull their inner light in order to gain acceptance from other people. It makes me proud that at such young ages my kids have already learned one of life's biggest lessons.
Recently, at a baby shower guests were asked to write advice for the new parents on note cards. Mine was simple. "Give them roots, and give them wings." Speaking from experience, it is the best thing you can do as a parent - better than expensive sneakers, electronic gadgets and lots of money. It's a solid foundation, and the freedom to live. I'm happy that I've managed to live out this mantra. My kids are rooted and grounded. And still they soar like eagles. I couldn't be any prouder.