My 7 year old son is rambunctious, extremely active, inquisitive, very enthusiastic, and the most testosterone-driven male I know. Before I had children, I thought that nurture was a much bigger factor on personality than nature, and now I know 100% that this isn’t true – I think nurture is maybe 5%. My son came out of the womb this way, with an obsession for trucks and balls, and a little bit older, an obsession for fantasy heroes – spiderman, superman, you name it. He loves physical/aggressive play – wrestling, guns/swords/weapons – You get the picture.
I love my son very much, and as a parent, I think and read a lot about parenting. My biggest dilemma that I struggle with is teaching my children values to be kind to others, to make the ethically-right decisions, and to make a difference in the world. To me, making a difference in the world, as perhaps idealistic as it may be, feels like the meaning to life, the reason why we are on the earth. For me, the scale of making the difference doesn’t necessarily matter, because I believe that small difference in the day-to-day leads to a better society and better world.
So I grapple with how to teach this to my son. I don’t want to be heavy-handed, because he’s already of the age where he rolls my eyes and stops listening as soon as he feels a lecture coming on. My son is very visual and loves metaphors and visual images that he can wrap his mind around. So, I’ve tried to use metaphors in my conversations, and there are two that he has grabbed onto and I feel his made an impact. I’d like to share the two expressions/metaphors that have seemed to make a positive impact on my son thinking about his actions in the world:
1. Six Degrees of Separation – I explained that no one is a stranger, because we are all connected by six degrees or left. I visually drew an image, gave him an example, and off he went with this one. He has now told me that he told his teacher that she is his friend because of ‘six degrees of separation’. When his Zadie came to visit and showed my son that his car had been keyed by someone, Mo said “Why would anyone do this? Don’t they know about six degrees of separation?” This concept has been sticky.
2. The Ripple Effect – another visual image, of dropping a stone in a placid lake and the ripples of water that expand moving outwards affecting the entire lake. I gave an example of a simple action, like smiling and saying hello to someone on the street, and how that makes them happy so they make someone else happy and that person makes someone else happy, etc etc. Mo loved this image and totally buys into the important of small actions. He refers to it now and I believe it has helped him to reflect on his small day-to-day actions.
I want to live my life authentically. What this means for me is that I want my values (what I see as central to community development) to be imbedded in my work, my parent, my friendships etc. This has been challenging indeed and a continuous internal dialogue. While these little conversations with my son are small moments in my day-to-day life, they feel large when I see the spark lit in his mind and I see his small actions of kindness.