It's easy to forget that we are all perfect in our own design. Sometimes we muck it up with habits and choices that do not serve us.
The other day, my son Christopher said to me, “Mommy, you should ask Dwyane Wade to write for your Sunday Paper and share the story about how his family is handling his child’s transition. It’s super cool and inspiring.”
My son is a basketball fanatic, but he’s also one of the wisest, most empathic individuals I’ve ever met. When he was little, people would always marvel at his empathy, his kindness, and his loving nature. They would congratulate me for raising a young man like him, to which I always replied: “Thank you, but I had nothing to do with it! He was just born that way!” And that’s the truth.
One of the many lessons I’ve learned as a parent is that we only have so much influence over who our children become. They are each born with unique traits, interests, and personalities, and it is our job to pay attention to those qualities, and to work to love and guide them toward becoming the best versions of themselves. The key word being themselves. Not who we as parents may want them to be, but who they are as human beings.
I’ve also learned that our children are often our greatest teachers (at least that’s been the case for me). At different points in my life, each of my children has stopped me cold. They have challenged my beliefs on all sorts of subjects. They have made me think more openly, and they have brought me face-to-face with my judgments and opinions, ultimately changing me for the better.
Ironically, as soon as Christopher suggested the idea that we feature Dwyane Wade, I saw him the very next day on “Ellen,” talking exactly about what Christopher had mentioned to me. Wade talked about his family, his wife, and their love and acceptance of all their children, but in particular, their acceptance of their child, Zaya.
Tears came to my eyes as I listened to Wade talk about how his son Zion had come to him and his wife and asked them to now accept him as a girl and call her Zaya. Wade explained that he and his wife sought professional help and guidance so that they could best support their child. I found myself saying “wow” out loud as I sat in a hotel room watching the clip on my phone.
I mean, right? Wow. Wow. Wow.
I wondered how I would have handled the same situation had it been presented to me. I thought about the power of a parent’s acceptance. I thought about how we each decide to handle life’s big moments, and how our words and tone can carry such weight in another person’s life. I reflected on the many conversations I’ve had throughout my life with friends who haven’t felt seen, loved, or accepted in their own families—and how that rejection still hurts and haunts them years later.
I also thought of others who have told me stories about the power of acceptance, and how it has changed their lives as well. It is, indeed, so powerful to feel truly loved for being yourself. That’s clearly what Zaya Wade seems to feel. I found myself floored by her wisdom and her perspective. I found myself floored by the question she posed to us all: “What's the point of being on this Earth if you're going to try to be someone you're not?” she asked. “It's like you're not even living as yourself.”
Full stop. Good question.
That brings me back to some of the life-shifting questions my own kids have asked me. One time, years ago, I was berating myself out loud for something, when I distinctly remember Christopher saying to me, “Mommy, why do you speak to yourself like that? With such mean words and with such a mean voice? You do it a lot. Why? It’s not kind.”
I remember my daughter Christina stopping me in my tracks when she asked me why I was working myself to the point of exhaustion. “What are you really trying to prove?” she wondered, out loud.
My daughter Katherine, meanwhile, is always challenging me to show up in life—not just with my words, but with my actions. She points out to me any time she feels like there is a discrepancy within me, in that regard.
My son Patrick also challenges me to do what I preach, particularly when it comes to food, health, and wellness. He has pointed out to me that what I tell people to do, particularly about their brain health, and what I actually do, are often not the same thing. (I’ll admit it: I have a sweet tooth.)
Oftentimes, we look to public figures to teach us, inspire us, and tell us who we can be. But it’s often our children who are our greatest teachers. They offer us the chance to be good students, if we choose to listen to them with open hearts and open minds.
That’s where I find myself at this age, at this stage in life: learning, growing, and evolving. I find myself dropping beliefs that no longer serve me. I am dropping judgments that hurt me and others. I am stepping away from my fears and into my truths.
All the time, I tell my children something that my mother told me long ago: “Life is a marathon, not a sprint, so stay the course.” Mummy always told me to keep working, keep learning, keep trying, keep getting better, and to keep making a difference with my life. I tell the same thing to my children.
I tell them that along the way, they will also find themselves dealing with questions they never imagined. They will be confronted with challenges they never anticipated. They will find themselves having to grow, evolve, and accept things that will bring them to their knees (as Fred Guttenberg, who lost his daughter Jaime in the Parkland shooting writes about so eloquently and heartbreakingly in today’s edition below).
I tell my children that there are teachers everywhere. That is why it’s so important to keep your eyes and your ears open.
Over my lifetime, I’ve learned a lot from my parents, from my mentors, from my friends, from total strangers, and yes, from my children. This week, I learned from the Wade family and their daughter, Zaya. They inspired my heart and my mind. They took a step forward for humanity and moved us all forward in the process.
Once again, I learned that if we lead from a place of love, acceptance follows. Allowing someone you love to be wholly themselves, regardless of what you think or want or were raised to believe, is the ultimate gift of acceptance. Allowing someone you love to be wholly themselves, and loving them for who they are, is the very definition of love.
Last Sunday, I wrote about getting our loving on. This Sunday, let’s get our acceptance on. After all, acceptance is what changes hearts and mind. It is what moves humanity forward.
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