The Most Important Lesson We May Teach Our Kids: Valuing Others

May 2, 2014 in Education


Image credit

Being considerate of others will take your child further than any college degree.

Marian Wright Edelman

I’ve been thinking, for quite some time, about how to write this article. How to dive into the fray of how the various factions parent in a way that won’t be offensive to people I love, or devaluing of the great effort that every parent I know pours into their decisions about how they raise their families.

There are so many “factions” within the parenting world. When you have your first baby, it seems like it’s all going to be so clear and easy, and then within five minutes you’re handed three books by your two best friends and your mother-in-law that are as diametrically opposed as fire and ice. There are procedures and “methods” for everything from how your kid eliminates, to what you put back into him, to where and when he sleeps and no matter what you do, someone is convinced that you’re doing it terribly wrong. The stakes are so high, therapy will be needed (for Mom, if not Baby) and we’re all trying so desperately hard to “do it right.”

I’m learning a few things, pushing 18 years into this parenting project. I’m learning that there’s no way to do it “right,” but that what I can do is my best. My kids are mostly teenagers now, and they’re a happy, cheerful lot, over all. True, we’re not “out of the woods” yet, and perhaps tomorrow someone will come home in clothes stolen off of a homeless man with a brand new, red and raw tattoo and a girlfriend with unmentionable piercings, picked up off of one of the bar tables with a pole in the red light district. It could happen. We’ve lived in Thailand after all.

I don’t claim to have it all figured out, but here’s what I do know:

  • Attachment parenting isn’t right for all families
  • Child-centered parenting will make some moms go downright abusive
  • Parent-centered families sometimes make for neglected kids
  • Sleep training works for some kids
  • Co-sleeping isn’t the only way to meet your kids’ emotional needs
  • Elimination Communication sounds cool, that’s a book I wish I’d have read
  • Potty training isn’t the measure of your motherhood
  • Home schooling is not the panacea for all educational woes
  • Public school is not a huge evil conspiracy
  • Many kids learn better and more without four classroom walls
  • Video games haven’t made anyone murder anyone else
  • Kids are as happy with boxes and duct tape as they are with a gameboy
  • We need not hover, our kids will generally survive (the third world continues to teach me this)
  • There is nothing in the world more important than our children
  • Kids need strong, emotionally and mentally healthy parents

I can’t tell you how to parent, you can’t tell me how to parent, it happens from the gut and the heart and we have to do our best. It would be better, if we could support each other in doing so.

There have been times in my motherhood where a certain book, or philosophy of someone else’s has resonated with me.

I’m thankful for the books I was given that set me on a path with my kids that has evolved into a houseful of a lot of fun, most days. I’m even more thankful to the hands-on Mamas who were a bit further down the path from me who were able to shine a light, lend me their lenses of perspective from five years on, and help me steer the course towards our hopes for the long haul when I was mired in the muck of the moment.

I learned something from those older, wiser Mamas that I wouldn’t trade for silver or gold.

It’s a simple, simple message, but it’s one that transformed my entire approach to parenthood, to my children, to my husband, to myself.

Would you like to know what it is?

Other People Matter

It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? It’s a no brainer, of course other people matter.


  • You bring home that new baby and you’re sure nothing has ever been more important than this person
  • Your child gets pushed on the slide and your protective inner mama-bear goes into over drive
  • You read that book that tells you that the best way to parent is to be sure that your child never has to wait for a single thing
  • You are offended when someone doesn’t want your kid eating off of his plate at a family dinner
  • You’re getting ready to take that kid out to dinner, or on his first plane ride and you’re structuring for success and his happiness

At those moments, it’s easy to forget, isn’t it?  That other people matter.

It’s such a simple message, and we can all agree on it, but I’ve met more than a few mamas who, in practice, don’t subscribe.

What does that look like:

  • A preoccupation with the concept of “fair”
  • Spending twenty minutes having a philosophical discussion with a three year old over why he should “share” the toy while the other four kids in the room are forced to give up on Jr’s behalf
  • Letting your kid climb on my restaurant table and take a fry off of my plate
  • Acting offended when a the guy in the seat ahead of you gets sick of his seat being kicked at hour six of a 14 hour flight
  • Making excuses for your school aged child’s blatantly rude behavior
  • Letting your toddler control the entire conversation over a holiday dinner
  • Thinking it’s okay for your kid to toss a rock at another child’s head and not address the social faux-pas with the legitimately offended kid or his mama.

I’m sure you have your own list.

Children are welcome members of society

I get really offended by age segregation and the devaluation of children. It annoys me to no end. To suggest that babies shouldn’t be allowed on flights, or that restaurants should be “child free” is insulting to me, as a parent and as a former child. Why? Because other people matter, including children.

But do you know why those trends towards age segregation are on the rise?

Because parents have stopped parenting as though other people matter.

Here’s a newsflash, and perhaps this will offend you, but hear me out:


  • Your child is a welcome member of your family and of society at large.
  • He matters immensely
  • The human race is lucky to have him
  • He’ll do great things

But she is not the most important person in the room. Life, the room, society at large is not, and should not be arranged around him. She should be learning, little by little, to arrange herself in appropriate measure to the family, community, country and world in which she finds herself.

Of course we all give up for our kids, we should, and we must. That’s the nature of parenthood, to be sure. Babies require full time care, but that doesn’t mean mom doesn’t matter, or that a fourth child, who quite naturally has to learn to wait a bit for some things, will be worse off than a first child who had my undivided attention.

As a society, we should also “give up” for kids. We should get over our sense of entitlement that leads us to think a quiet plane ride is our “right” when we’re stuck on a 14 hour flight. We should consider others enough to be part of the solution instead of the problem (carry some toys and crayons in your childless carry-on, for heaven’s sake!) We should be patient and tolerant of the toddler pitching a bender of a fit on the floor of the shopping mall and we should extend as much grace as possible to his poor mama. It’s just good karma and being a decent human being.


My friend posted this quote on her wall this week

Being considerate of others will take your child further than any college degree.

Marian Wright Edelman


There are lots of things we can and should teach our kids. I’m passionate about education. College is non-optional in our family. But the value of other people may just be the most important lesson we can teach.

Let me say that again: The value of other people may be the most important lesson we teach.

For better or for worse, our kids will live, from birth to death, in communities. The ability to give and take, to know their own worth and be able to apply that knowledge to the worth of others is of paramount importance.

The families I admire most in this world, that I’ve learned the most from as a parent are those families who are solidly “Others-Focused.”

What does it mean to raise kids in an “Others-Focused” family?

Let’s start with what it does NOT mean:

  • It does not mean that the child is undervalued
  • It does not mean that the child’s needs are neglected in any way
  • It does not mean that the child’s wants and desires aren’t taken into consideration
  • It doesn’t mean that the child is not respected as a thinking person
  • It doesn’t mean that we expect the child to be a doormat
  • It does not mean that the child never gets “his way”

What it does mean is that the child is equally valued in the family, not put on a pedestal or given too much authority in the family.

It means that the needs of others, mom, dad, neighbours, grandparents, strangers, are considered and pointed out.

It means that when considering what the child is “allowed” to do, those other people factor into the equation. Their enjoyment of the moment, their physical, emotional, mental needs, their experience of life matters as much as the child’s desire at that moment. (To that end, the kid should not be allowed to climb up and grab a fry off of my plate!)

It means that parents actively teach their kids to look around at the community and seek ways to improve the experience of others. One fabulous mom I know wrote this week about how she encouraged her school aged boys to choose, purchase and give away to strangers bouquets of flowers on a random Thursday afternoon, and the joy it brought.

It means that if your kid is monopolizing the slide, it’s okay to lift him off of it and have that conversation about the needs of the other kids off to the side, instead of spending half an hour trying to talk him off of the ladder and making four other, equally precious, persons wait. They matter too.

It means that sometimes, in a big family, when one person is having a hard day, we all walk on egg shells a little, give some extra kindness and look for ways to cheer her up instead of demanding our “right” to happy afternoon. We respect her sadness.

It means that you take the time, over a period of months, to teach your small child to sit and be content with a book for half an hour at a time at home, so that when you’re at the Dr.’s office, or in a restaurant, or in the shoe store, or on an airplane your kid isn’t destroying the physical and emotional calm of fifty other folks.

Being an Others-Focused Family takes work

  • It means being put out sometimes.
  • It means being overlooked sometimes.
  • It means putting down your teenage project and picking up a five year old’s lego project.
  • It means having a strong enough self worth that you’re willing to treat others with as much love and respect as you have for yourself, your partner and your kids.
  • It means giving of your time, your convenience, your emotional effort to make life beautiful for someone else.

And you know what happens?

Joy is multiplied.

My friend’s boys learned that this week with their flowers.

When everyone is as concerned with the experience of those around them as they are with their own, community flourishes, everyone’s needs are met. Children learn early to ask, “How can I help?” “What do you need?” “How can I bless you?” The children become a joy, not just to you, as their adoring parents, but to everyone around them too.

Of course it’s a process.

A baby is born a squalling ball of needs with no perspective on anyone else’s world.

It’s a slow growth that continues throughout all of life.

What’s your experience? Were you raised in an Others-Focused Family? In what ways are you moving your children toward being productive members of the larger community of humanity?