No matter how much time we have as parents, we never feel like we have enough time to tell our kids the things we need them to know to stay safe and become productive members of society. We carry a large mental weight, an unwritten to-do list of things we need them to know about how to behave, where they came from and how to handle big life issues.
I drilled the “principle of significant omission” into my children as they were growing up. To my amazement, I’ve heard them speak about that principle over the years. So they were listening.
According to the principle I learned decades ago from my high school journalism teacher, if you tell someone a story or facts, but you leave out one crucial fact that would change the person’s opinion on the subject or subsequent behavior, you’ve told a lie.
If I had to choose between my children hearing me explain the significant omission principle and hearing me say, “Clean your room,” I would take the former every time. The former is a life lesson worth remembering.
What are the things you want your children to know? You’re never going to have an exact day that you sit down with your kids and say: "Here’s the owner’s manual on your life and family history, so try to keep it safe and remember it." Instead, we parents have to interject these things into conversations and daily living.
Before you can pass on your "Bucket List of Things to Know" to your children, you have to define that list for yourself. It’s not as difficult as it may seem as you stare at a big, blank page that you want to fill up with great thoughts.
Beyond that significant omission principle, these are the things I want my children to know about life:
It takes a village. The reason you act the way you do is because of the people who came before you. We develop traits and mannerisms from every person who has touched our lives in any significant way. The trick is to nurture the good traits and discard the bad ones.
I’m a divorced mom, and it has always been important for me that my daughter understands she has her dad’s gentle spirit and way of looking at life. Children of divorce assume that if you say s/he is like the other parent, that can’t be a good thing. If you are a divorced parent, and your child has wonderful traits that came from the other person, tell the child why the mannerisms remind you of your ex and why it’s such a wonderful trait. You’ll not only make the child feel good about himself, but you’ll bring him a sense of peace in the relationship you had with your ex.
If someone has impacted your life in a large or small way, let him know. If you wait until tomorrow to tell someone how important he is to your life, you may never get the chance. It’s good for the person hearing the compliment, and it’s good for the child who learns to tap into his feelings.
You can have a huge impact on someone’s life by doing something very ordinary. How we live is a choice. People we encounter may be having the worst day of their lives, and how we act or react to them will affect them and others they come in contact with that day. Your simple comment or act of kindness may be the thing that makes that person’s day “okay” as opposed to bad. It costs nothing to smile or give a sincere compliment to someone, but it can make the difference between someone having a good day or a bad day.
It is what it is. Sometimes, no matter how much we plan or want or try, some things are beyond our control. My dad’s recent death shouldn’t have happened right at that moment (according to all that is logical or statistical). All the right things were done, and still the outcome was bad. Sometimes it just is what it is.
Many of the things on your list may seem obvious, but if they mean enough to make the list, they’re things that are important enough to share with your children. They have a right, and a need, to know what’s important to you. When you're gone, what they will have of you are the life lessons and memories of how you behaved.