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It’s one of the toughest, yet most realistic questions any parent can mull over: What will my kids remember about me when I’m gone?
Our lives are so intertwined and chaotic, so happening right now, that even the idea of our children as adults someday is almost impossible to think about. But, we should think about it. We owe it to them.
When my own mom was barely in her thirties, my father was sinking deeper and deeper into alcoholism. I remember the night she led my 7-year-old brother Dave and I around the corner to sanctuary. I was 9. The three of us walked through my Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop’s front door and were welcomed with all the love in the world.
What stands out to me most about the years that followed that sad, scary night so long ago? It isn’t the heartbreak and struggles we faced. What stands out to me the most is the empathy and kindness that my mother worked so hard to instill in us.
She didn’t know it back then, but day in and day out, she was creating her own legacy. Despite her financial worries and the unique challenges of being a single mom, my mother never veered from reminding my brother and I that the most important thing in life is to care for your family, your neighbors, and the strangers down the street who are in need of a hand or kind word. She taught us to be kind and strive for human equality. She rammed into our impressional minds that you love people until they simply won’t let you love them anymore, and then you love them still. And it stuck.
I’m really grateful for my mom’s lessons. She’s still lives her life this way today, and she’s the greatest Grammy alive. But sometimes I wonder, am I on the right track with my parenting? Will my three young kids remember me the same way that I see my mom?
So far, I think (and I hope) they will. They care about other people. They walk right up to other kids on the playground and ask them to play. They cry when tales of injustice and cruelty cross their tiny radars. They ask a ton of questions about how the world works. I think their mom and I are doing what my mom did while raising us — teaching them to be decent human beings.
I talk to my kids about being kind to others. And not so that they can receive some sort of eternal reward, but so they can feel better about their world now. So they can make a difference today, no matter how big or small.
I’ve done many things wrong in this life. I’ve made my mistakes. I’ve stumbled as much as the next person down the line. The lessons though — my mom’s lessons — have helped guide me towards something that makes me proud. Something that makes me confident that my own kids will look at each other on the day I die (ahem … at 132 years old) and be able laugh at what a dork I was, but also acknowledge what a powerful life teacher I was to them.
“Dad was pretty broke, pretty clueless about so much,” they might say, as they raise a toast to their old man. “But he sure did teach us that being anything less than super compassionate and open-minded was unacceptable.”
Yep, kids. Just like my mom taught me.
No child ever has, or ever will, look back on a parent who spent their days feeling angry, sorry for themselves, or blaming others for life’s wavering tides, and be thankful for those lessons. We all know our kids will grow up. We will all grow old. And they will think about who we were when we were raising them, and what kind of life we taught them to lead.
I think, in the end, maybe it’s best to be the parent who’s not only looked upon fondly for the love you gave, but also for the way you taught love.
Serge is a 44-year-old father of 3 kids: Violet, Henry and Charlie. He writes about both Parenting and Relationships for Babble. Read more from Babble here: