How does “mom wisdom” show up in what you teach your kids? Because I grew up in a house with two cultures, I got a variety of wisdom from several different viewpoints from my mom and my grandparents. In my family, there was a disconnect between the experiences of my mom's family and my dad's family. On the one hand, we had the White middle class family where the kids were college educated, they lived on the “right” side of the tracks, and they took fancy trips and had nice things. On the other side, was the poor Latino family, struggling to make ends meet, living on the “wrong” side of the tracks (literally, there were railroad tracks dividing the town!), and it was an unattainable dream for anyone to become college educated. Growing up, this reality was very apparent to me. I saw how much my dad's family struggled and I saw what education afforded my mom's side of the family, as well as what it gave my parents when they got educated. Not everyone who was educated on my mom's side was successful. And not everyone who was not educated on my dad's side was a failure. But it was easy to see to that having an education made success more attainable.
In raising my own kids, I think of this dichotomy and am very aware of the new dichotomy between my parents and my husband's parents. We are both college educated and I see how that has changed our lives and I want my kids to know that as well. There are lots of moments when things we do every day offer opportunities to teach my kids life lessons, even when doing mundane day to day things like packing lunches. Sometimes, in our failures, we can teach the kids something they need for success in their own lives. And sometimes, it is the words of our mothers and grandmothers that ring into our heads and come out of our mouths to teach our kids life lessons they need to know.
I very much encourage my kids to do well in school and to think about their future. My parents didn't plan their lives well. I feel I did a little bit better than they did but there are still sacrifices and hardships we could have avoided had we done things a little differently. And one of those things is putting education first. When you're in your late teens and early 20s, it seems you have all the time in the world to go to school so it is easy to quit going, join the army, get a job, or start a family before getting an education. Years later you realize you still have to go to school but now the deck is stacked against you: you're older, you're out of practice, you have a family to suport, you have bills to pay, and so on. We're teaching our kids that education opens doors for them, gives them a new perspective on the world and life, and helps them to succeed in life. And getting an education young is the key to success.
Now that Katie is in high school, we talk to her about college and her plans for the future regularly. She is really challenging herself this year. It is really cool as a parent when you see the gears turn and all the things you've said for years start to click. Last year, she took two college classes at the local community college that were offered on the campus of her high school. This year, she took the assessment test for the community college to enroll as a bonafide student and will start with classes in October. These will fulfill her high school graudation requirements as well as get her through any remedial courses needed (like math) in order to transfer to the university level when she graduates high school. She can see a future that includes college – shoot, she's doing it now!
As far as Matthew, he is still pretty young but we include him in these conversations. He has grand plans for the future. I love that he dreams big and we are there to share that with him. He's active in soccer and we hope he starts Boy Scouts soon. He got 100% on a recent Math test and he was so very proud of himself – that is what we want to see!
As a kid, I was promised that if I got good grades, my parents would send me to college. Well, that did not happen. Because of their promise, I did not educate myself about scholarships or financial aid and when it all crumbled, I was too embarrased to ask anyone outside of my family for help. Can you imagine? I thought I was going to college and here, I was NOT, all of a sudden. Plus, I had no one to really call upon for help. No one really knew how to navigate the system – in the one family, the parents paid cash for their kids' education, and in the other family, nobody went to college until they were adults and moved out of the house.
After a year of struggle, I ended up going into the Army because I saw no other option. You see, on a college transcript, it doesn't say whether or not your parents help you or you got scholarships or not – it just says your grades. I didn't know how to do the work to find the scholarships. But I didn't try because I didn't think I had to. I mean, my college education was going to be paid for, right? Going into the Army was a way for me to get out of the situation I was in and to get a college education, some day.
I have these very frank conversations with my kids.
“Mom, why do you want me to stay in Girl Scouts?” Well, because you made a committment to the troop. You can get a scholarship if you get your Gold Award. You're learning valuable life skills like leadership, how to get along with people, and how to organize events. You'll be really glad you did this once it is all over and you look back on it.
“How did you get through college, mom?” It was really hard. I had the VA benefits from the Army that got me through school but I had to work and struggle and it was awful putting Katie into day care while I was a single parent. I learned the financial aid system because my schooling depended on it. I got a job at the university doing outreach and tutoring at local high schools and learned even more about the financial aid system and colleges. But the way I did things is not the way I recommend to anyone.
Because of my status as a disabled Veteran, there are benefits that will help my children with college. But I don't want them to make the same mistakes I made. I don't want them to take this for granted because anything can change, at any time. They could pass a law changing the benefits or we could move to a different state, with different benefits (or none!). I don't want my kids to be in the situation I was when I graduated high school at 17 – no job, no school to go to, no plan, and no support. I will be here to educate them, support them, and guide them in a way that sets them up as best as I can for a successful future. We're not rich so that means we need to be educated about financial aid and scholarships and the path to education. I plan to take the lessons I learned in my own experience and help my kids. That is how we get ahead – each generation helps the next.
So how can we help our kids to have the best start in their adult life possible?
One way is to help them envision a future that includes college. They CAN do it! They need to believe they can and know what life college can offer them. That's a big picture effort. Just like making sure they know about financial aid, scholarships, and how to take the actions to pursue them is a big picture effort. We encourage our kids to get invovled in leadership and other after-school activites that enrich their lives, help them develop people-skills, and give them experiences outside of our family and school life. We see people in different situations in public and we'll discuss how they got in that situation and how our kids can define their own life path. Every day, there is something, somewhere that we can pull from to spark a conversation about life, education, and the future.
But what about day-to-day actual activities for success? All that big picture talk is great but there are lessons the kids can learn every day – how to be prepared, how to stay healthy, how to manage their time, and how to be disciplined – that will help prepare them for a college education and for adulthood.
Here are some things that we do to ensure our kids have a successful day at school, each day and in life going forward:
- Eat a healthy breakfast. Since going on a grain-free diet, it is even more important to me that the kids get to school after having a balanced breakfast at home since there is little to choose from at school that is “healthy” (why is the ASB always selling donuts?!). Since we don't eat cereal, we serve the kids a cup of organic California Milk to make sure they get the calcium and protein that milk offers.
- At night, Matthew always has a glass of organic California Milk at dinner. Milk helps his muscles to recover from the day and it also helps him get a better night's sleep.
- We get the backpacks ready the night before. One lesson I did learn from my mom was to get the work done so you can then relax without a worry. Getting everything prepared the night before helps us all rest easier because we know in the morning, all we have to do is get dressed and eat breakfast.
- If you don't like to get up early, take a shower at night. Matthew takes showers at night also because he comes in all sweaty from playing with friends every afternoon.
- Before going to bed, make a list of things you need to get done the next day that you can't do the night before. This will stop you from having anxiety all night, worrying about something you have to do in the morning.
- Lay your clothes out the night before. If you don't have socks or underwear, now you'll have time to wash them overnight! Or if your clothes need ironing, you can do it at night instead of rushing in the morning.
- When getting home from school, always unpack the lunch from that day, set containers in the dishwasher, and pack your lunch for the next day.
Today's breakfast is #1 in action! Matthew cleaned his plate of eggs scrambled with organic California Milk, blueberries and cantaloupe, and sliced heirloom tomatoes from my garden, all paired with a glass of organic California Milk. This breakfast has all the protein and nutrients to carry him through to lunch and beyond. He's learning the importance of taking time to take care of his body and give his brain the fuel it needs to conquer the day. How do you set your kids up for success every day?
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Its simple things like these that help the kids learn so many valuable lessons in life. I hope that when they get older, they hear my voice in their heads telling them these lessons and that it guides them to success for years to come.
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I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.