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Black Family Marriage Motherhood Parenting

Train Up a Child

Image by Jennifer Walton

From an early age, I wanted to be a mother. I never thought too deeply about how I would raise my children or the values I’d instill into them, but I figured when the time came I’d sit down and discuss it with my husband. As I’m closing in on the final months of my pregnancy, there’s something that consistently pops into my mind. We now live in a world where nothing is really sacred, where thoughts and actions are shared with thousands and millions as soon as they occur. How can my husband and I raise our kid in this type of environment?

I looked inward to answer this question. The Beau (hereinafter referred to as “T.B.”) and I had great upbringings and we often talk of the lessons we’ve learned from our parents. These conversations are filled with reverence and a special kind of gratitude because we truly believe our families have had a tremendous impact on where we are today.  They kept a firm grasp on us and prepared us for the world ahead. With that in mind, I wanted to share some of the most important lessons I learned from my family.

Lesson #1: You can be whatever you want

My mother never harped on how pretty I was. She would tell me, “Jennifer you’re so smart! You can be whatever you want, a doctor, attorney, whatever!” If there was a way to excel academically, I took it, because doing poorly in school simply wasn’t an option. Looking back, it used to bother me until I realized it was her way of affirming my intelligence so I knew it was one thing I would always have. I thank her so much for that.

We now live in a world where nothing is really sacred, where thoughts and actions are shared with thousands and millions as soon as they occur. How can my husband and I raise our kid in this type of environment?

My father was the same way, although he approached it differently.  When I was around nine or so, he taught me the benefits of a good work ethic. He worked with computers, so I’d spend my summers with him his office or the warehouse the office was attached to. In the warehouse, my father showed me how to take apart old computers and salvage their aluminum. At the end of the week we would take my boxes of aluminum to recycling and he would pay me for my work. My dad says I would be so proud and happy, that it made him proud and happy to have a daughter that didn’t mind rolling up her sleeves and working hard. He taught me early about being rewarded for your work.

The lessons he taught me extended past that warehouse, as he used to take me into the huge office towers when he was meeting with clients. After these experiences I told him that I wanted to be a “businesswoman.” I would spend hours reading his old college and law school textbooks, on topics ranging from Design to who knows what. I just knew that one day I, too, would wear fancy business suits and powerful smelling perfume.

Lesson #2: Love your neighbor

I was taught this lesson in both the literal and Biblical sense. My best friend while growing up was a cute white boy who lived somewhat next door. If we stood out in front of our houses we could see each other. We were both military kids and we clicked immediately, so we were rarely, if ever, apart. He became a part of my family and I became a part of his.

In high school he came “out of the closet” to tell me he was gay. Though his family initially struggled with the news, my family and I were unbothered. Plus, at fourteen, I had already figured that out. After he came out, my family’s house became his place of escape that was available any time he needed it. I would be up late in our jaccuzi/computer room chatting on the internet and hear a knock on the back door. It’d be my neighbor, who was either upset or just needed to get away. It wasn’t ever a problem.

Even though I grew up with southern religious black folk, it didn’t stop my family from knowing when someone needed love and support. It was a great lesson for them to teach. They encouraged me to love unconditionally and to do so with a warm and open spirit. It’s something I’ve tried to embody well and it’d greatly please my husband and I if we could pass this trait down to our child too.

Lesson #3: Communication not manipulation

My family is extremely close and much of it has to do with the fact we all lived within six streets of each other. A side effect of being so close knit, meant no one held back when it came to speak on what was in their minds or on their hearts. Of course, this caused a few “family free-for-alls,” as we call it, but it was all done out of love. We were able to openly communicate with one another without restrictions, which taught me no one can know or understand what you’re feeling unless you tell them. It’s important to be intentional when you communicate. To this day says, my gran says “communication not manipulation” every time we get off the phone. Her point is that my husband, myself, and our future children, should be open with one another and avoid attempting to manipulate each other’s feelings. Say what needs to be said, but do it with purpose. I love this because it forces me to really think before I blurt things out.

Say what needs to be said, but do it with purpose.

When I think about how we want to raise our children a lot of it feels old-school. We just want to raise our kids to know that they can be whatever they want to be and for them to know their parents are an example of that. We want them to love themselves and those around them. We want them to know that no matter what’s going on or how they feel they can always talk to us.

T.B. and I made plenty mistakes growing up. Yes, we lied and disobeyed our parents but we always knew not to stray too far from their tutelage. I feel like this is pretty basic stuff and judging by how we turned out, seems to be pretty good advice. I think these are the lessons that can withstand the tests of time and the exponential change brought forth by social networks and technology. The tools we had growing up helped my husband and I make the right choices in life. All I want to do is equip my children with those same tools without applying limits to them. It’s going to be a challenge but one I think we’re up for!

This article originally appeared on Corner Office Diva.

By Jennifer Walton

Jennifer Walton is a corporate chick with a wild side. When she's not channeling Beyoncé and running the world, she's probably at her CrossFit box, or cuddled up with her Husband and her absolutely ridiculous Boston Terrier, 2Paw Shakur.