1) To raise powerful kids, you're going to have to tap into your own inner super-hero
In our house, sometimes that does actually mean putting on the cape.
2. No one succeeds or gains power totally on their own
I think it's a great American myth that everyone makes their own destiny and we should expect everyone to pull themselves up by their bootstraps to make it on their own. Presidents are given power by common everyday voters. Famous athletes have a retinue of people who helped them...trainers, maybe sponsors, and - as Proctor & Gamble emotionally pointed out in their 2012 Olympic-aired commercial - parents. (Thank you very much P&G for glorifying the everyday and consequently making me feel good about my laundry detergent brand decisions)
In the forward to a book about Nelson Mandela, I found the following quote from Mr. Mandela talking about this very idea:
"In Africa, there is a concept known as ubuntu - the profound sense that we are human only through the humanity of others; that if we are to accomplish anything in this world, it will in equal measure be due to the work and achievements of others."I think about this when I see certain members of Congress trying to defund programs that give a helping hand to empower the powerless, like Head Start early childhood education for impoverished pre-schoolers. I believe we could all do with a little more ubuntu. Can we perpetuate a cycle of generations of people helping each other by empowering our children to support their families, friends, and people in need that they don't even know? I think we can.
3) Empowering others makes us more powerful ourselves
Power can be like candlelight. When I ignite the candle in your hand, it in no way diminishes my light and it allows us both to see more together in the darkness. Look to successful social movements to see this idea in play. I see it every day in my advocacy work. One person will have a hard task to draw the attention of a senator, but one person who teaches another and another and another how to organize can spread the mission and turn the tide of politics.
But let's bring it down to the little people of the house. Parenthood, it occurs to me, it the ultimate form of empowerment. When I taught my children how to tie their shoes, I was giving them the power to master a very common skill. It may seem rather insignificant, but it gives a child a beautiful sense of mastery that she can do something all by herself and not have to ask for help. Tying that bow is one of thousands of small skills that will allow a kid to become a functioning, independent adult. Maybe teaching a child to use the potty is an more powerful example knowing that we can now choose just to wear velcro shoes all the time and the dreadful consequences of improper management of poop. :) The point is that all those little skills add up - eating with utensils, hammering a nail, planting a flower, reading a book - and parenting is a constant stream of helping them do things on their own.
Don't get me wrong. This did not make me feel powerful when I was doing it. It was hard to be patient, kind, empathetic, persistent, and respectful with my toddlers. Honestly, I did not achieve those things all the time. Or even 80% of the time. But it actually did make me more patient, kind, empathetic, persistent and respectful in all my relationships- even with adults. These are incredibly useful characteristics for coaching new adult advocates and lobbying members of Congress.
So, in empowering my children as they grow, I am still becoming more powerful in at least two ways. First, by my growing influence through the ripple effect of the ways my own children are changing the world around them. Second, by my constant improvement of my own relationship skills.
4) True empowerment also means letting go
If you truly empower someone, you can't control how they use their own power. Their autonomy has to go along with it or it isn't real. New advocates I train and my own children are going to make their own choices to work for their own goals and do things their own way. It is a little scary, isn't it? I mean, Yoda and Obiwan trained Anakin Skywalker and ended up giving us Darth Vader. But, they also gave us Luke Skywalker as well, so....oh, you didn't come here for Star War analysis? OK...but it's too bad because I've got two more pages of thoughts on that.
Anyway, the idea of letting go of the one empowered is never so prominent nor poignant as in the relationship between parent and child. When it really comes down to it, we have little idea who our children will become, what they will want for themselves, or what the world will require of them. I do believe that when all is said and done, the best thing you can do for your children is to open their eyes to the larger world, teach them to be good and kind, give them a podium to practice at...
...and help them see themselves as leaders.
Who will you empower today?