What I hope to teach my son

In my third trimester of pregnancy, I’ve struggled to sleep through the night. I know this is par for the course, but the experience has been absolutely maddening and exhausting. The silver lining in all of this? 3 a.m. is a really great time to write and tackle random projects and catch up on reading. Still, third trimester insomnia is just the WORST. Interestingly enough, this past Tuesday night was the deepest I’d slept since the night of Nov. 8, when the results of the presidential election became clear. And ever since Nov. 8, I’ve been feeling a deep, gut-wrenching sense of despair about our country’s future, especially as an expectant parent.

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credit: Will Nunnally

Maybe you’ve felt it too, or maybe you reacted in the opposite way. Maybe for the first time in a long time, you finally felt hopeful for the U.S. You are ready to chart a new course with a new president at the helm. Regardless of where we all fall on the political spectrum I’d like to think that what unites us, as our outgoing president put it, is our shared sense of decency.

I’d forgotten about this, too distracted by sharp political divides, distrust of the media and bizarre tweets from the president-elect (can we all agree that this is not good?). I’d lost sight of the audacious idea that makes our democracy work: that “for all our outward differences, we’re all in this together, that we rise or fall as one.” We may not agree on policy or process, but perhaps we can agree on shared values, like education, healthcare, family and work? My heart longs for this to be true.

Tuesday night came and President Barack Obama’s remarks inspired me and restored my belief that ordinary U.S. citizens like you and me can be a force for good in this country, in this world, after weeks of feeling otherwise. He convinced me of that, and for the first time in a long time, my anxious, pregnant mind–and body–felt release. So I slept.

For a while I’ve been asking myself: How can I be a force for good, when on the precipice of this new, all-consuming stage of life?

Then the (obvious?) answer then came to me. I can be a parent. Parenting is a political act. What my husband and I teach our son will matter.

We’d discussed this over Thai food last weekend, compiling a list of values we hoped we’d teach him. As the conversation progressed, our list grew to a size that was daunting, much like the responsibility of raising a child.

“Had we forgotten anything? Were we up to the challenge? Would these ideas even stick?” I worried. Surely there would always be something more to add or amend, but this conversation was a good starting point for us. What follows are a couple highlights from our talk.

When I think about the future, what I hope to teach my son is this: that now, more than ever, truth-telling matters. Honesty is the first value my husband mentioned during our dinnertime discussion, and it’s an important one to focus on as we navigate an era when the truth seems illusive, reason and science are questioned and politicians deny the unflattering things we’ve seen them say and do in order to save face.

Telling the truth isn’t always easy; often it requires great courage. But lying doesn’t just wrong others, it also eats away at our souls. Embracing honesty sets us free from the invisible walls we build up around ourselves and allows us to authentically connect with others. 

Another value we spoke about was equality. It’s a value outlined in the constitution and the creation story, something that seems so simple in theory yet in practice is radical and countercultural. It is the thrust behind feminism, #blacklivesmatter, LGBTQ rights–human rights–and so on.

I hope to teach my son that every person deserves to be treated equally and with dignity, no matter her/his skin color, religion, gender, class, physical or mental abilities, sexual orientation or any other category s/he might fall into. 

In his farewell speech, Obama spoke pointedly and poignantly about race, and all the other differences that divide us. He quoted Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch, saying, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

I know my son will be born with certain privileges, and I will work fiercely to teach him to empathize with others different than he and to be concerned with human rights.

There’s so much more I want to teach my son. I hope to teach him the value of listening, sharing, hard work and play.

I’ll teach him that this world is full of wonder, beauty, hope and joy–also sadness, ugliness, corruption and hate.

I hope to instill in my son a zest for curiosity and creativity and movement and stillness.

I hope to teach him the importance of relationships and friendships and family and community. 

I hope to teach him how to identify his emotions–happiness, sadness, envy, anger–and feel them without judgment.

I hope to teach him about kindness and selflessness and unconditional love, the breathtaking, powerful kind of love we don’t earn or deserve, we just receive.

I hope to teach him about my deep faith, the cornerstone of my values. 

And more.

When I started writing this post, I was feeling hopeful. And as the week progressed, I felt sad again, and then all the emotions: afraid/nervous/excited/unhinged. I am, once again, restless with anticipation for the birth of my son.

I’m currently praying hard to tap back into that hope I felt Tuesday night. If I can teach my future son a fraction of all I desire to share with him, perhaps I–he–we can be a force for good in this world.

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