I’m amazingly blessed. My daughter attends an incredible public school district with dynamic leaders, and is in a first grade classroom with an amazingly talented teacher who truly loves and cares about the kids she serves. As two educators, my wife and I couldn’t ask for more for our own child. Unlike so many underserved children in our nation, our daughter has access and opportunity to whatever she needs. But, with great privilege comes great responsibility. So as parents, we’re changing our question.
Since her first days of preschool, we’ve asked, “So, how was your day?” the moment the school day ends and we see her. Meeting her at the bus stop each day, she runs off the bus with excitement, anxious to tell us what she learned, the great things her teacher did with her class, new friends she made, etc. For the most part, we’ve completely focused on her. How her day was, how she did at specials, what she did at recess, what she learned in math, etc. I’m guessing virtually every parent can relate. It’s only natural.
But, we’re changing our question.
Working in education at the national level, my eyes have been opened in many ways over the past two years. I’ve seen firsthand the lack of opportunities for children born into poverty. I’ve seen the walls our children of color must climb, just to gain equal footing to the life my daughter was privileged to be born into. Being born white and growing up in a suburban, middle class family, these are things that were never on my mind as a child. I never worried about my next meal, clothes for school, or what someone might think of me because of my skin color. Decades later, seeing the racial prejudices and social injustices that still remain in our world, and after many heartfelt conversations with friends of color and others who grew up in poverty, has forced me to reflect on my own realities including how I parent, how I speak to my own children about such issues, and now, even how I ask my daughter about her school day.
So, we’ve changed our question. We will no longer start the after school conversation with “How was your day?”
Until recently, I had never thought about how always starting with such a question immediately lets the world revolve around her. The question encourages answers that are all about her. Although her feelings and reflection of the day are certainly important, so too are her friends and those around her. My wife and I have told her countless times, that what we care about most – more than any score or report card grade she ever earns, is how she treats other people. To sum it up in two words, it’s about empathy and kindness. We’ve come to realize it should also be then, what we ask her about first.
We now start by asking, “What’s one nice thing you were able to do for someone else today?” We want that to be our focus. We want it to be the expectation that it’s just what we do; it’s how we treat people. We then find time to hear about what she did, after first talking about how she was able to help someone else. After a few days of school and helping her reflect on positive things she was able to do for others, it happened yesterday without prompting.
Upon seeing her after school, she ran to me and said, “Daddy, I got to help a friend at my table this morning with her morning work. She didn’t know how to do it so I got to help her figure it out!” Bingo. Her first instinct was to talk about helping someone else, not just talk about herself as we had previously conditioned her to do.
My little girl has always had a huge heart, but making the time to focus on supporting and caring for others, can only help her, and us as parents, develop the empathy our world needs. I’ve encouraged her to challenge her mom and me with the same question each day. She hasn’t taken us up on it yet, but knowing her, she’ll hold us accountable. As parents, we shoulder the need to model such a mindset to our children if it’s something we’re expecting from them.
Teaching my own children a skill that I know I’ve screwed up myself many times in life isn’t easy. There have been countless times when I’ve squandered the opportunity and looked the other way, not supported someone in need, or not taken time to encourage someone who needed it, when the opportunity was in reach and a few moments of my time could have easily made their day. Such selfishness comes easy. Loving others, having empathy for those in need, and most importantly, doing something about it, shouldn’t be done out of guilt or some needed self-assurance. Yet, I believe it’s our moral obligation, and for me personally, one which stems from my Christian faith.
I’ll admit, even as an educator trained in teaching kids, this whole parenting thing can be a challenge. There are so many times I question my own decisions as the dad of two little ones but I’m very fortunate to be married to someone who is a rockstar mom and makes great decisions for our kids and family, daily. One thing I can be sure about however, is that our world needs more love, more kindness, and more empathy. My hope as an educator and as the dad of two precious children who will someday leave their own legacy, is that we lead with love, show empathy to those in need, and help the next generation create a brighter future.
It’s my responsibility. It’s your responsibility. It’s our collective responsibility for the next generation.
… and I believe it can start with one nice thing.
All for the kids we serve,