5 Fundamental Values I Want to Teach My Son

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When you’re pregnant, you decide all of these things you’re going to teach your child and will or will not let him do -You’re adamant about them.

It’s only when your baby is first placed in your arms, then starts to sit up on his own, crawls, says his first words, that you realize there is no guidebook for parenting. It’s the kind of thing you wing a day at a time.

You realize your best decisions are made when you follow your gut… When you really pay attention to what your baby or child needs no matter what others say, and just do it.

I always wanted to be a young mom. I’ve always loved my relationship with my mother (we’re 20 years apart) and how close we’ve always been because of the age difference. I’ve never felt uncomfortable approaching any topic, afraid of what she’d say about things most of my friends’ parents couldn’t understand. It always felt as if she was from the same “world” as me, even as a teenager, when it’s not cool for your mom to get you.

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It can get overwhelming when you think about all the things you need to teach your baby. About world hunger, your family’s heritage, who Charlie Chaplin was, what the classics are… Some things are simply not a part of a school curriculum, and if you don’t introduce your kids to them, they’ll just slip right by. What a responsibility! In French, we call that “culture générale” (general culture).

I’m grateful for my grandmother forcing me to watch Gone With The Wind and Little Big Man with her when I was a little girl, the French writing lessons my mother enforced on weekends, the countless hours practicing piano and reading sheet music, my father assigning me reports on Napoleon Bonaparte and Mao Zedong, among others, when I had the bad idea to say I was bored and had nothing to do in the summers.

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I want to do the same with Liam. Teach him about Italy and France, the countries where our ancestors are from, about the beautiful and damaged places I’ve traveled to, about the great poets and writers that are slowly disappearing from English classrooms…

But also a lot more than that: how to cook an egg, drive stick, do his own laundry, sew a button. I want him to know the value of money and work for it the way my husband did when he fourteen, not because he has to support himself, but because it’s important and gives you a head start in life. To be dependable. How to stand up for himself and for others when something isn’t fair, but also know when it is smart to stay out of it. How to get along with others, even if he doesn’t like them, because that’s what life is all about. To be open-minded, accept feedback, and not be too hard on himself when he makes mistakes, because that’s how you grow. To be humble, regardless of how successful he is, and grounded. To always remember where he came from.

There are values that I want my son to carry with him wherever he goes, whichever path he chooses. I want to teach him about…

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Not just romantic love, but all kinds of love. I want him to know that he is so loved. For who he is. Also how easy it is to show his friends and family how much he loves them. I want him to be open that way, in touch with his emotions, and not be afraid to tell people he loves, appreciates, and is grateful for them. I want him to grow up surrounded with love, an insane amount of it.

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I want Liam to have the utmost respect for others, big and small, from tiny ants to human beings. For him to realize that we are all equal, regardless of where we come from and what we look like. I want him to feel sad when he sees someone (or something) be disrespected. To respect his elders, always, because it’s so rare among the youth nowadays. I want him to always be polite and refer to people as “Ma’am” and “Sir”, and say “Please” and “Thank you”. They’re such simple things, but can move mountains.

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Children always surprise me with how compassionate they can be. It’s a natural instinct they have that adults unfortunately lose somewhere along the way (unless they make a conscientious effort not to). I want Liam to always be helpful and loving, as compassionate with the homeless man on the corner as he is with his girlfriend’s feelings. Sometimes, it’s as simple as asking someone “are you okay?” and “what can I do to help?”. I want those who know Liam to refer to him as kind, caring, and understanding, because those are some of the most valuable qualities in a friend.

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I want Liam to know that he never needs to hide anything from us. Honesty is the best policy applies to everything, from the little white lies to the big ones. Although the lies may be small when he is a kid, they’ll be more important when he’s an adult. I want him to know it’s better to be honest and hurt someone than lie; it hurts even more to find out you’ve been lied to. I want Liam to know that he can tell us anything, and that we will always understand and stand by him: whether it’s that he got in trouble with his 3rd grade teacher or because he needs to make that phone call home in the middle of the night because the designated driver isn’t sober. You are so much more comfortable with yourself when you live an honest life on all fronts and have nothing to hide. I want him to truly understand that from a young age. As parents, it’s our job to show him that we will always be on his side if he is upfront and transparent with us.

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I pride myself on my perseverance. I am the type of person who finishes everything I set my heart to. I want to engrain that in Liam too. That it’s important to finish what you decide to take on and, when you want something, you need to see it all the way through. Also that even if you don’t see results right away, it’s not a good enough reason to give up, and how amazing you feel when you realize you’ve accomplished something great on your own, even if it meant getting out of your comfort zone. That kind of fear is a good thing.

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Johanna Riehm teaches in the department of Communication and Media at Manhattanville College and in the department of English at Mercy College. She teaches courses in the history of communication, public speaking, and social media, as well as creative and technical writing workshops. Johanna’s work has been featured in Graffiti Literary Magazine, The Write Place at the Write Time, The Bangalore Review, Cactus Heart Press, and the LaMothe Review. She is working on her first longer work, a creative nonfiction novel called We Carved Our Names in Tamarind Trees.

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