Lessons in Life: 12 Things Parents Should Teach Their Children
Lessons in Life
Someone very important to me taught me about "LILs", short for "lessons in life", which are some of the most valuable lessons I learned growing up. My step-dad came into my life when I was about nine years old, and was an integral part of it until he passed away when I was 21. It was during those 12 years of my life that my core values developed, and he was my strongest influence. His "LILs" are the basis for many of my values as a person, friend, citizen, employee, woman, wife, and mother.
It is evident to me that many children miss out on some of these important lessons because they either grow up to be miserable, in unhappy relationships, unable to hold jobs, with a sense of entitlement, or a combination of the above. So when I had my first child, it became important to me to teach my children these important lessons. I began writing down and expanding upon them as my own experiences gave me clarity and understanding of what my step-dad meant. He told me dozens, if not hundreds, of "LILs" over the years; some serious, some silly, and I have added many of my own. Most importantly, he taught me that I have full control over my future and that it is my choice to reach my goals. Looking back now, I realize I would not be where I am today without them.
LIL #1: Exceed Expectations
One of the most important lessons I learned from my step-dad is to exceed expectations in everything I do. This lesson has been valuable to me, literally, as it has kept me advancing in my career and increasing my salary. The point of this lesson is to always do what is expected of you, and then some.
Whether in a relationship or a job, one of the worst things a person can do is "enough". If you get a job as a floor sweeper, be the best floor sweeper they've ever had, and then take out the trash and wash the windows. If you want to be promoted to a supervisory position, learn your job well, and then look outside your responsibilities to learn the big picture. Never, ever sit idle. If you finish what you are expected to do, ask for more responsibility. Go above and beyond.
In my opinion, this simple lesson is at least as important as a college education. We must show that we can do what we want to do, not just what we are expected to do. We must work for the job we dream to have, not the one we have today. If we do this, those in charge will see our potential, our value to the company will rise, and we are guaranteed to go places. I am living proof of this.
LIL #2: Choose to Love
Love is the most important thing in life, yet so many children don't have a good example of what it means. First of all, love does not happen. Infatuation and lust happen, and are commonly confused with love. Love is a choice, not a fairy tale. Love doesn't work for you - you work for it.
Common complaints I hear from friends who have been married multiple times include "We fell out of love", "We just grew apart", or "He/she changed". Hollywood would like to have us believe that marriage should be happily ever after, but while it's heartwarming to watch those movies, that is not reality. The fairy tale feeling does not stay; the newness will wear off. When that time passes, it does not mean it's time to bail. It just means the honeymoon period is over and it's time to get real and make the decision to love each other.
One thing I have learned through my own experiences is that there is no one without flaws who is perfect for you. All parties in relationships are only human, and therefore full of flaws. The trick, I have found, is to find someone who shares your values and goals and has flaws you can deal with. Make sure that you can live with the flaws of your mate without being embarrassed by them, and resolve to do so. No matter who you are in a relationship with, if you expect perfection, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Accept your mate for who he or she really is, and do not hold him or her to unrealistic expectations. If you accept the good and the bad, you will have much more successful relationships. When you marry someone, you are not just choosing a lover. You are choosing a family member, and your love will naturally evolve from lust into something deeper with time.
LIL #3: Anything is Possible
This cliché is quite meaningful. Growing up, I learned that anything really is possible if you want it badly enough. Whether it's education, a career move, learning a new skill, or a new outfit you've been eyeing, there is a way to get it. It may require a lot of work and sacrifice, but again, if you want it badly enough, you have the power to do it. You have to be willing to do what it takes.
In addition to desire, goals often require problem-solving to reach. Problem-solving is a skill that will get you far in your personal life, and is one of the most sought after skills in the workplace. Don't throw up your hands because you can't figure out the solution to a math problem or can't fix something that broke. Wake up your lazy brain and come up with a plan. Step back and come up with some potential solutions, ask others for help, or Google it. Don't be intimidated by complex problems - try breaking them down into smaller, more manageable pieces. You have the brain power to find a solution to any problem you encounter, because God made us that way. You must have faith in yourself, take it step by step, and you will see results.
LIL #4: Happiness is a Choice
It is important to remember that only you are in charge of your happiness. If you rely on others to make you happy, you will be disappointed for the rest of your life. If others bring you down, it is up to you to choose not to be around them. No one can make you unhappy - only you can choose to let them. You have the power to choose your situation and make the choice to be happy.
LIL #5: You Can't Take It With You
When we put too much value in material things growing up, our step-dad would say, "You can't take it with you". What he meant by that is when you leave this earth, your material possessions are of no use. Life on Earth is only temporary, as is everything tangible. Don't put too much value in something that is temporary. Hold on to your knowledge, experience, education, and memories - no one can steal those things from you, and there is no need to attach them to material things.
Also be aware that it is human nature to always want more than you have. If you think making $40,000 per year will give you everything you need and want, when you reach that point, that number will be $60,000. And it won't stop there. Money or material things will never make us as happy as we think it will, as evidenced by lottery winners ending up bankrupt, or wealthy celebrities giving in to drug addiction. Try hard to be satisfied with what you have rather than chasing more, because if you aren't, it will never be enough. If you can be successful at this, I promise that you will be happier with your life.
LIL #6: Keep Your Priorities in Order
My step dad always reminded us to keep our priorities straight. He taught us always to put God first, family second, and everything else third. Family was one of the most valuable things to him, and that was not limited to blood. He would tell us that friends and boyfriends will come and go, but both God and our family will always be there in the end.
My step-dad came from a big family of six children, all of whom had children, and they were a very close-knit group. He also had close friends that he considered family, and he had my sister and I, whom he treated like his biological daughters. He valued the relationships he had with those close to him more than anything on this earth, and taught us to do the same. Remember that your family, biological or otherwise, is your most valuable possession. Treat it as such, and you will feel rich and secure.
LIL #7: Self Esteem is Overrated
The term "self-esteem" is one that bothers me. It's important to know that you have value, that you are loved, and to be treated with respect, which everyone deserves. However, thinking too highly of yourself will cause you nothing but trouble in life.
No one is perfect - not you or the next guy. Everyone makes mistakes that we feel stupid for making sometimes, because that is part of being human. You will be better at some things than others, and worse at some, but everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. No one is good at everything. Treat others with respect, and expected to be treated the same. Choose not to surround yourself with people who bring you down or hurt you.
Always remember that no one owes you a living. You are responsible for doing what it takes to get the things you want and need. If you sit back and let others take care of you while you do nothing, you simply will not get anywhere. If you are mentally and physically able, it is your responsibility to take care of yourself. In America, you have the option to succeed.
The bottom line is that you are not better than anyone else, as everyone has value. Work hard for what you want and avoid a sense of entitlement at all costs. Accept that you are imperfect, own your mistakes, learn from them, and move on. Take personal responsibility for yourself, your actions, your choices and your consequences.
LIL #8: Do Not Judge
All people were created equal, and all are equally imperfect. Some make better decisions than others, but judging others' choices will not only get you nowhere, but will usually drive them farther away. Remember that you are not superior to other human beings. Do not assume that you know what they are going through and how they came to where they are, just be there to catch them when they need you. Share your values and beliefs by your example, through the way that you live your life. People will then be curious about what you're doing right.
LIL #9: Be Flexible
Have you heard the phrase, "The only thing constant is change"? Well, it's true. In fact, if you are not changing, you might as well be going backwards. This is particularly true in the workplace, as the most successful businesses are the ones who stay ahead of the rest. Change is coming, whether you like it or not, and you must adapt to it in order to be happy and keep from being left in the dust. Flexibility to adapt is a a very valuable strength both in personal relationships and in the workplace, and it will come in handy throughout our lives.
LIL #10: Choose Your Battles
Before arguing about the towel being hung wrong, your spouse bringing home the wrong brand of milk, or someone smacking at the dinner table, step back and think about what matters. Before getting into an argument, ask yourself, "Who really cares?" If it doesn't infringe on your human rights, let it go. Worry about the stuff that really matters. If you are going to waste your time and energy arguing about something, decide if it's really important to your happiness. If not, skip the stress, be pleasant to be around, focus on the positive, and move on.
LIL #11: Be Aware
My step-dad was very protective of my sister and I, and taught us to be aware of what is going on around us at all times. He wanted us to be safe, whether we were on the road, hanging out with friends, or out in a public place. This world is dangerous, so it is very important to me to teach my kids about safety.
I teach my kids to always be aware of what is going on 360 degrees around them. This means being very observant and utilizing peripheral vision. When walking in a public place like the mall or a parking lot, I want them to stay alert, glancing often in all directions, so that they will have time to take action in a potentially dangerous situation. Maybe one day, God forbid, this will save their lives.
Another area in which safety is very important to me is driving. I have not had the pleasure of teaching one of my children to drive yet, but I am already afraid! I am not afraid that I won't be able to teach them to become good drivers, but I am afraid of all of the others that will be on the road with them. My mother taught me how to be a defensive driver, and this is something very important to me that I will teach my children. I once had a boyfriend who told me during a close call that he was OK with getting hit, because it would be the other guy's fault. To this day, this is one of the most illogical things I have ever heard. I intend to make sure my kids learn how to protect themselves from all of the crazy drivers out on the roads so that they can avoid the inconvenience and risk involved in traffic accidents, regardless of who causes them.
Since I have a daughter, I have an additional area of safety concern: boys. My step-dad didn't want me to be too trusting of boys, and would always remind me that boys think with the wrong brain, which he embarrassingly referred to as the "One-Eyed Monster" [*blush*]. Before I could go on a date, he would make the boy come inside and would put him on trial. He would ask many questions, but his favorite was, "What are your intentions with my daughter?" Of course, there was no right answer to this question. I was young and thought he was being a little bit crazy at the time, but his example taught me how much I was valued. It also taught me to be cautious with my trust, and to let it be earned. I intend to teach my daughter the same.
LIL #12: Say No To Credit Card Debt
This may seem out of place among all of these important lessons, but this is actually very important. To put it simply, credit cards can make or break a happy life. If not used properly, credit cards are the Devil. As responsible parents, we must teach our children how easy credit card debt is to accumulate, and how difficult it is to pay off.
Below is a credit card payment calculator that can help illustrate how credit card interest works. For example, if a young adult racks up $5,000 in credit card debt at an 18% interest rate, it will take 5 years to pay off this debt if the card is never used again at a monthly payment of $125. The worst part is that even without missing any monthly minimum payments, the amount of interest paid to borrow that $5,000 was $2,666.
Before they learn the hard way, our children need to understand how interest works so that they will at least be armed with the information they need to make good credit choices. They need to know about the potential consequences of the inability to pay it back. They need to understand that one's credit rating is their financial reputation, and it will affect their ability to buy a car, a house, or other large purchases. All you can do is your best to teach them how it works, and then trust that they will use credit responsibly so that they will have all the options their hearts desire.
Credit Card Interest Calculator
It is my hope that all parents will share these lessons with their children, among others, so that they will have the best chance for happy, productive, and satisfying lives. After all, my children will be sharing the world with them in the next generation. Let's do our parts to make it a happy one.