I know that being a mum is the most important thing I do, and for me it’s the hardest job in the world. As a single, full-time working mum I'm sometimes overwhelmed with the responsibility of navigating my three children into adulthood – without totally ruining them! For 12 years now, I've been juggling both the mum and dad roles, which means I need to be able to provide financially, emotionally, spiritually and physically for my children. Yes, I'm tired all the time and on occasion may have self-medicated with very good wine. I have cried in the bottom of the shower with exhaustion and considered selling them (my children) on eBay. My eldest is now 19, so I keep waiting to feel like I’ve got this parenting gig sorted, but mostly I'm just making the best decisions I can day by day, and trusting that they'll miraculously turn out to be super cool and emotionally healthy grown-ups.
I know that my children see and feel every move I make. That means they know it’s absolutely appropriate to eat cereal for dinner, and that the five food groups are negotiable across any given week. Stopping at Baker’s Delight on the way to school to buy both breakfast and lunch is reasonable, and the never-ending pile of washing and work sometimes makes me want to stab myself in the eye. They know if they hear me crying at midnight, it'll all work out.
Over the past 12 years, I've actually got very clear about what life skills I most want my children to learn before they head off into the world. Divorce, sole-parenting and establishing a global consulting business has helped me get to know what matters most: resilience, a strong sense of belonging and self, and knowing that what I value most highly has absolutely shaped how I parent.
In our kitchen at home, I have one of those boards where you buy the letters and create your own words or sentences. I wanted to have something visible that would hold all of us accountable. I let the children think that we created our nine commitments together. (A little ‘influencing’ is an occasional parental prerogative.)
These are the nine lessons I want my three teenagers to have in their back pocket as they prepare for adulthood:
- Family – Being part of a tribe is critical to learning how we ‘do’ healthy relationships. My children don't get pocket money. Being part of our family is a privilege and you need to earn your place. Friday night dinner together is non-negotiable. We have rules and traditions about how we work as a family that are precious and sacred. We even have our own hashtag (#stephensontribe) which my children think is embarrassing, but I do it anyway.
- Adventure – See new things, meet new people and get uncomfortable as much as your heart and mind will allow. Life is not meant to be consistently easy, safe, routine or predictable. Design your own life and consciously seek out opportunities and experiences that'll test, grow and nurture you. Travel and be open to new possibilities. Every venture is an adventure.
- Fun – Always listen to your inner child and deliberately find ways to have fun. It’s so easy for life to just feel busy and serious. Fun and creativity can get lost on the way to adulthood. Fun is not a nice-to-have, it’s critical for wellbeing – a must-have. I encourage my children to have a playful mindset. (They've been known to ask me when I'm going to grow up. Answer … #never!)
- Love – Say ‘I love you’ when you come home and before you leave. Love is at the core of who we are. We talk about love a lot. Love starts wars and breaks hearts. Love should be our most powerful human emotion. As a mum of boys, I know this is not always easy for them, but I'll continue to I say ‘I love you’ to them, in front of their friends, and expect them to say it back.
- Kindness – I waffle on about this on a daily basis. Kindness, doing the right thing and having integrity when it comes to others influences everything from the people we attract, to what we're known for. How you make other people feel stays with them forever. A favourite saying of mine is, ‘sometimes it’s more important to be kind than right’.
- Time – Our home and life has a full schedule. School, work, footy, netball, study, food – on repeat! And did I say, early morning and late-night client calls, and hurt feelings and heart-to-hearts. Shall I go on? Time is our most precious resource and we'll never have today again. I'm really interested in how my children spend their time and energy. We schedule time together every week to stay connected and to have the important conversations.
- Education – I want my children to be lifelong learners. This is not just about school, university and listening to their mum. I want them to educate themselves about the world they live in through travel, podcasts, the media, reading, asking and listening. I want them to be interested and interesting. We talk about the importance of immersing yourself in the things that really matter and learning all you can.
- Curiosity – Life is different when you are curious. I ask, ''What would happen if you were curious instead of angry?' I encourage them to ask the questions they don’t know the answers to, read more than is required and remember that every single person they meet has their own story. Explore, wonder and observe with an open mind. Curiosity is an actual strategy for living – a trait they can learn, a behaviour they can implement.
- Good teeth – This is a joke in our family but represents something important, that is, looking after the one body you have. I hated my ‘vampire’ teeth as a child and had braces as an adult. I’ve promised my children that I’ll pay the ridiculous orthodontic fees if they choose braces, but the broader conversation we have is that it’s important to like who you are and to do the work on yourself to allow you to be the best version of you. Investing in yourself is the most important investment you'll ever make - strong and healthy body and mind.
My children (who remind me they are nearly adults) don’t need me to be perfect and I don’t expect them to be. When I learn, I know it rubs off and they learn. We learn together. Each of us are important and valued. I trust that the nine lessons will serve them well, and the rest we'll work out together along the way. Lots of love from me to all of you parents out there. Let’s keep going.
Lisa Stephenson, Founding Director, The Coach Place Global
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