Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Stuff Your Own Stocking: Advice for Parents & Organizers

a.k.a. "Take Care of Yourself"
a.k.a. "Put Your Own Oxygen Mask On First"

There is something wrong with me. Not terribly wrong, but I can tell by the twitch in my right eye. And the ache where my neck meets my left shoulder. And the way emotional commercials about children in need feel like a punch in the gut. I know my temporary disorder is nothing more than stress from the end of a long year of poverty fighting and the emotional holidays getting to me a bit. So, I'm writing this blog as a reminder to myself - and other parents with a selfless streak - that it's, it's take care of yourself. Even if it means stuffing your own Christmas stocking.

If you read no further, this is the takeaway: Resting, refueling, and treating yourself shouldn't be a's necessary to avoid burnout as a parent and a social justice advocate. Here are a few story metaphors from my own life to illustrate my point.

The Empty Stocking
A few years back, I awoke on Christmas morning to an empty stocking. It wasn't because I was bad that year. It's just that as I skillfully played "Santa" and took over the role of reigning Christmas matriarch for my family, everyone else assumed that somebody would take care of getting me a little something. I came to the startling realization that if I did not stuff my own stocking, I very well might end up with a flat, disappointing sock hanging from a nail.

There's a metaphor here, I think, about moms (and dads) taking care of themselves. As a skillful leader of a family or volunteer group who often just quietly and routinely "takes care of things" for others...if you don't let others know what you want or make a little "you-time" to get it for yourself, you shouldn't blame others for assuming you've taken care of everything when you always seem to every other time. I moped for a few minutes over my flat stocking, but in the end, I just laughed in recognizing what happened and made a note that I had my own permission to put a little something in my own stocking every year afterward. After all, I'll be sure to love whatever I put in there, right? (This year, it's a small box with six of my favorite truffles from Kakao Chocolates in St Louis...not even my husband nor sister could pick all six correctly) Side note: It wasn't like I didn't get a present at all! It's just that silly detail of the sneaky, overnight filling of stockings. 

The Oxygen Mask
Have you ever flown on an airplane with children? When you do, you get your very own, personal safety spiel: "Always secure your own oxygen mask first before assisting your child." They say that because the parental instinct is always to take care of the children first. Yet if you are unconscious, you can't get their mask on and you both perish. Eek! Applying this concept to everyday life for caretakers and organizers, if you don't take care of yourself, you're not going to be able to take care of anybody. You won't be a good parent, advocate, employee, spouse, etc. When I put myself dead last, I get snappish with my kids and the volunteers I organize. From a mommy perspective, doing a few things I want to do will make me a more compassionate and generous role model for my kids. From an advocacy perspective, if I slow down and spend good quality time with myself and family now at the end of the year, I will come back to my advocacy in January with a renewed sense of purpose and the ability to save more lives than if I just played the martyr all the way through the holidays.

I'm not saying that putting yourself first is always the way to go. Selfishness is not attractive nor a good example for your children. But neither is martyrdom. There is a lot of wiggle room between putting yourself first and putting yourself at the bottom of your priorities. What I am saying is: put yourself somewhere on the list!

So, what will you stuff your own metaphorical stocking with? A nap? A break from social media? A nice long run? A pedicure? Hey, I'm not judging. I'm indulging.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Seasons of Giving: #GivingTuesday and Beyond

Did you know yesterday was Giving Tuesday? Our 2nd-ever national day of giving in the U.S., part of a growing movement to followup the commercialism of "Black Friday," "Small Business Saturday," and "Cyber Monday." According to one of my friends who works with the social media campaign, preliminary results say that experts are estimating a 90% increase in online giving. Hooray! (Don't ask me how in the world someone calculates that since it involved national charities as well as teeny-tiny local ones) My own local food bank made $5000 yesterday, twice as much as last Giving Tuesday. Maybe I'm so excited about this because this day is an oasis of altruism celebration in the middle of a month that is increasingly about buying luxuries instead of love and caring for those in need.

I'm thrilled that Giving Tuesday is gaining traction yet I'm also concerned about the rest of the year, especially in the context of teaching my little ones to give. Of course, we've been depositing toys in the Toys for Tots been as always, how can we keep it up in all seasons? How does one go about creating a culture of giving in your home all throughout the year and not just at holiday time? Here are three thoughts from me:

1. The Growing Up Giving Guide: Here is a new resource for families wanting to cultivate philanthropy in their children. The new Growing Up Giving Guide is inspired and sponsored by Macy’s Heart of Haiti. One of the most charming aspects about it is the real life anecdotes by parents that day in and day out, are empowering their children to grow up giving. (Okay, full disclosure...I'm proud to be one of the mom's that contributed a story, but it's because I found the idea charming that I did that. No kickbacks, I promise!)
The tips, ideas, and stories and experiences should help to jump-start conversations with your kids and with your friends. Hopefully, the wonderful feeling of giving will become a reality for your family as well!
2. Service Organizations for Children: Today, my youngest is going to a Girl Scout meeting that will be reading the Giving Tree and making their own tree on which to place mittens and hats for kids in need. I have personally worked with Girl Scouts and Camp Fire for many, many years and can say that with the right leadership, a troop experience can have a wonderful positive impact on teaching children to give and to advocate for others. Youth groups for the various religious orgs we've belonged to have also been great places for my girls to find the spirit of giving in the "off-seasons"
3. YOU! (yes, you!): How else can I say this? YOU - a parent, an aunt, a grandparent, a troop leader, a teacher, a human in a child's life - are a role model in real time. You don't have to wait for a campaign started by anyone else. Simple acts like dropping change in the charity box at the grocery store or bringing food to donate to the food bank in the middle of the week are visible outward things you can do any day of the week. Your daily examples are likely more valuable than the big projects people talk about doing once a year.

Good luck to everyone in whatever sort of giving you do whenever you are doing it. Please tell me what is working for you!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Wouldn't it Be Nice to Put on a Few Pounds Over the Holidays?

Wouldn't it be nice to put on a few pounds for the holidays? It definitely would if you were one of thousands of Americans recently cut off from SNAP (formerly known as "Food Stamps") benefits or one of millions of children suffering from malnutrition globally. I'm no different than many Americans as I stare at the number between my toes on the scale in dismay. (No, Dear Reader, you don't get to know what that number came up as after it sat there thinking on "888.8") I'm hoping I don't make that number go up and I've even signed up for a post-Thanksgiving 5K to try to motivate myself away from the extra pounds. BUT, I'm also aware of the desperate imbalance between my upcoming over-indulgence and the shocking need for most people in the world. 

So, I'm going to a different kind of feast and I'm inviting you to come with me. Come join the RESULTS Virtual Thanksgiving Feast! At this meal, there will be no weight gain at all except for the people who need it desperately. No place settings and no cleanup. Actually, there will be no turkey either. At this time of plenty, please join me in donating the RESULTS online campaign to help children in the U.S. and around the world who don’t know when their next meal will be.

In 2012, 21.6 percent of American children lived in food insecure households. Children who are regularly hungry struggle in school and suffer from weakened immune systems, slowed and abnormal growth, and anemia. RESULTS volunteers advocate to protect the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or “Food Stamps”). SNAP lifted 4.7 million people out of poverty in 2011, and nearly 75 percent of SNAP participants are in families with children.
Globally, hunger is a death sentence for 3.1 million kids per year and irreversibly stunts the growth of 25 percent of all children. Nearly half of all deaths of children under five years of age are due to undernutrition. Hunger and undernutrition are preventable with simple, proven, nutrition programs. 

Read more here:

Please join the Virtual Thanksgiving Feast and make a gift this holiday season - maybe the cost of your pumpkin pie or even a pumpkin latte? - and help some people who can really stand to put on a few pounds.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Confrontational vs Combative: A Fine Line in Advocacy

I've noticed something curious happening when I coach new advocates about how to approach members of Congress and aides who are far apart from our anti-poverty positions. When I advise people to be "non-partisan and non-combative," I hear some folks interpreting and sometimes misquoting my words to say "non-confrontational." It's doesn't seem like a big deal - and to some it's splitting hairs - but I think that the distinction is an important one.

Every advocacy organization has it's own culture and every advocate has her/his own style. The things I'm going to say here are my own beliefs, which have been shaped by lobbying with RESULTS over several years...even thought they've never broken it down for me in quite this way.

As I see it, "confrontional" encounters bring an issue before someone in a way that cannot ignore be ignored. "Combative" dialogue introduces an aggressive attack element into the interaction that often brings out a negative reaction. As our national, political conversation gets more polarized, the combative nature tends to come to the surface and bring out the worst in all of us.

Partisan politics is messy and distracting. I believe the posturing and verbal combat we see on TV has a lot more to do with entertainment and pettiness than with governing a nation. Most of what I see on the internet comment boards is even worse and even less useful. I find very little of it to be helpful when sitting down as a constituent, face to face with actual elected officials. What you see on FOX or Hardball...that's combative. If you want to be a seriously effective and respected advocate, those people should not be your role models if you want someone on the other side of your issue to truly hear you.

When you lobby in person and look someone in the eye - or even when you talk on the phone - you're dealing with another human. Even though it is supposed to be their job to speak with you, they have their own sense of pride and emotional reactions that can steer them to listen to you carefully with respect or come back at you with a knee-jerk reaction of spouting talking points. Or, even worse, they might reassign your meeting to an underling next time...if they accept your meeting at all. I don't want to be seen as combative because I'll too easily be written off as belligerent and uninformed.

But what I DO want to do is be confrontational. How can we be great change agents if we don't confront those that hold the status quo or want us to go backward? If business as usual would bring an end to poverty, that would be neat...but it really won't. We need to confront and challenge the assumptions of people in power if we want to create a better world.

I take an example from my parenting to help illustrate the difference between the two. Think about my children who leave toys where I step on them. (Legos...the worst! Dammit!) I will confront them about it, but I will not be combative when I do. I point it out to them at a time, place, and manner that makes it hard or impossible to ignore me. I am persistent about it. I am clear and direct about it. But I am never combative with my kids. If I were, that would be abusive and they'd have a pretty good case against me when they got all done with their therapy.

Maybe a similar situation can be seen at work when you have conflict with a co-worker you have a long-time relationship with? If they are making professional decision you think is a mistake and not good for your organization, I bet you'll confront them about it. Yet a sane and professional person who actually wants to achieve an objective other than being fired will not use combative language in the workplace.

Richard Smiley and I chat with U.S. Senator RichardDurbin.
After years of lobbying him on microfinance issues, he invited us to attend
a private reception he hosted in his office for Professor Muhammad Yunus
My point is that the notion of confronting without combating applies to lobbying as well. The ideal relationship to have with your members of Congress and their aides is a long-term, personal relationship based on respect, so you should not be combative to the point of not being heard. But it is a waste of their time, my time, and the lives of the people in poverty I represent if I don't confront them about how to improve their positions and offer them actions to take. 

"Non-combative" vs "non-confrontational" is a nuance, I know, but I do believe we can rise to this level of discourse. I bet there are some who would read this who think I'm a pretty wussy advocate and others that shake their heads and think I'm wasting my time on semantics. But, I'm betting there are some out there that are wondering where the line is and are wanting to walk it with me.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

World Polio Day, Small Steps for a Polio Free World

In recognition of World Polio Day, it seems fitting that as a mommy-advocate, I give space to a very special guest blogger. Yara Levin has raised over $2000 by running a 5K race for Shot@Life to help children who need immunizations against polio, measles, rotovirus, and pneumococcal virus. She is also a volunteer lobbyist with RESULTS and has spoken to U.S. representatives and senators in support of global vaccination programs. Is it a coincidence that her bi-partisan senators - Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk - co-sponsored resolutions in 2012 and 2013 supporting the goals and ideals of World Polio Day and urging the international community to support health care workers risking their lives to provide polio vaccines? Perhaps not.

This year, she read "Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio" by Peg Kehret. She was so taken with the book that she wrote a summary of the book for me, which I share with you below. She also wrote an email to the author to share how much she liked it and what she has personally done to eradicate polio so no one would have to go through what the author did. I'm happy to say that Ms. Kehret replied within a few hours with kind words of encouragement for our young activist. 

If you are inspired by Yara's advocacy or the book "Small Steps," visit the Shot@Life webpage where you can make a donation or take an advocacy action to help end polio. Polio has been eradicated in 99% of the world and we are closer than ever to creating a polio free world. We must take action now before we lose this opportunity. Gaps in funding have forced our implementing partners to scale back their polio vaccination efforts creating vulnerable populations worldwide. If we do not stop this disease now, it is estimated an additional 200,000 children a year will become paralyzed. With your help, we can make polio history!

A Summary of "Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio" by Peg Kehret
                                                       Yara, 4th grade 
Peg is a normal 12-year-old girl until she gets polio. She doesn’t know how she got it, but she knows it isn’t good. She learns she is paralyzed fro the neck down and learns she has three kinds of polio: spinal, respiratory, and bulbar! When she comes out of isolation, she meets Tommy, an 8-year-old boy. Tommy and Peg become friends. Peg’s favorite doctor is Doctor Bevis. He paints her toenails.

One day, Peg feels an itch on her leg. She knows that she is paralyzed, but she tries anyway. Suddenly, she feels her finger move! After that, she can move her hand and finally her arm! Then, Dr. Bevis tells her she will move to another hospital. The hospital she will move to is called Sheltering Arms.

So, Peg says goodbye to Tommy and goes to Sheltering Arms. She meets Renee and Alice and Shirley, who also have polio. They are all very good friends. The other girls live too far away to see their parents all the time. So, Peg’s parents bring things for the other girls. The girls stay up singing, eating snacks, or talking. Peg can use a wheelchair now. In the midst of all this, Peg turns 13! One night, as they were talking, Alice said she did not know what a hula was. Peg decided she was going to try to show Alice. She didn’t do a good job. She fell down and Shirley screamed for a nurse. After that, Renee explained what a hula was.

Then, the time came when Peg could use walking sticks. Her parents came to see her and a nurse told Peg that she could go home for good. Peg said goodbye to her new friends and went home. I really liked this story because it taught me a lot about what it was like to have polio. I am very glad I won’t!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Child Hunger is Not Just A Bad Dream, It's a Living Nightmare

At 5:20AM this morning, I awakened to crying. My 7-year-old had a bad dream. About hunger. In the dream, she was starving and alone in her hunger when all around her people were eating. How blessed she is that this was just a dream. How cruel the world is, that this is a living nightmare for 3.1 million children in the world while so many of us live in plenty.

Globally, 6.9 million kids under the age of five still die every year of preventable and treatable causes. the underlying cause of death for 3.1 million of these children is malnutrition. Lack of quality nutrition accounts for 45% of all child deaths and causes irreversible physical and mental stunting in 165 million children each year. 

Those are the statistics, but they do not do justice to the pain and suffering of gnawing, chronic hunger. I think about my crying child and reflect on what I heard from Roger Thurow, author of Enough and The Last Hunger Season. He has seen the brutal face of hunger and famine. He said truly hungry children do not cry. They don't have the energy to cry or complain. They stare listlessly in their parents laps...parents who love them very much, but are powerless to help.

Pretty horrible. Now, let's talk about opportunity.

The 1000 Days Campaign is a call to action currently educating people on the enormous opportunity to turn the tide for children by focusing getting them proper nutrition in the first 1000 days of their lives. Of course, we want food all throughout our lives, but it turns out that the first 2-3 years of life are uniquely critical. From the 1,000 Days Campaign website:
"The 1,000 days between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s 2nd birthday offer a unique window of opportunity to shape healthier and more prosperous futures. The right nutrition during this 1,000 day window can have a profound impact on a child’s ability to grow, learn, and rise out of poverty. It can also shape a society’s long-term health, stability and prosperity."
Definitely go to their website for more information. Now, let's talk about action.

We must scale up child nutrition on a global level and to do that we need government support. Right now in the U.S., there is an active resolution about child nutrition. H.Res. 254 calls on the U.S. to develop a comprehensive whole-of-government strategy to ensure we are reaching children with the critical nutrients they need to survive and grow to their full potential. This is not a funding bill. This is strategy to make sure that we are coordinated and effective with our foreign aid. There is no reason on earth that this should be a hard sell or a partisan issue. Even those that seek to reduce spending should agree that what money is spent, should be spent well.

If you feel strongly about child hunger, here are three easy actions:
Let's make child hunger "just a bad dream" for children everywhere.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Magic High Five

Up high! Put 'er there! Don't leave me hangin' :)

There, I've just given you a high five today. Whatever you're trying to do, consider yourself encouraged. Lots of times, we give high fives when something awesome happens like Neil Patrick  Harris does on How I Met Your Mother, but today I'm talking about the kind of high fives you give a runner on a marathon race course. I call that a Magic Five.

A Magic Five is one given when someone is doing something hard and running out of steam. That ineffable transfer of energy from one human to another. Maybe it's Chi? I don't know. But I do know that there is a palpable burst of energy and resolve that results from someone making a gesture to say "Way to go. You got this. I believe in you." It could be a fist bump like the Obama's, sure, but I'm clumsy and might end up clocking the very person I'm trying to encourage. However it's given, everybody needs them whether they are trying to set a personal best in running or advocating to change the world.

The best place to see Magic Fives are a long distance race course. I love lines of spectators lining 1/2 marathons to give high fives to others while waiting to see their own runner. The most magical of fives come from little kids and Disney characters, of course. I've run down a line of folks feeling like an emotional energy vampire as I gained strength from every one on a full marathon course in Walt Disney World. But I've given and received them on my everyday runs when I see a friend exercising in a park or even with fellow lobbyists on Capitol Hill on RESULTS' Lobby Day.

Actual physical contact isn't always needed either. Sometimes the virtual high five can be just as powerful. I have a Nike+ running app on my iphone linked to facebook, so that when my friends "like" my status saying I'm out for a run, it sends a burst of applause, cheers, and cowbells into my earbuds so I know I'm not alone. And my virtual club on Twitter - #Run3rd - is a real-time tapestry of inspiration and cheers for teammates.

How does this relate to advocacy? Well, advocacy is tough and lonely work. Not everybody understands it, so you might not have a ton of local support especially if you are new. At a new advocate training session, I once had a young man raise his hand to confess, "One time I had a meeting and the only person who showed up was me." What I could say to him is, "Yeah...that's happened to me, too." Advocating Congress to end poverty or any kind of world change is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires patience, endurance, and pacing. We lose a lot of potentially powerful activists because they were not supported or encouraged at the right time. 

So, today I'm offering virtual Magic Fives. To my #Run3rd teammates out in Disneyland this week running the 1/2 marathon, to my co-workers enjoying a rare day off, to the novice advocates that have trouble finding colleagues to lobby with, and to the experienced activists who have been advocating for years and are feeling a tad burned out. Put your hand on the screen wherever you are in the U.S. or the world - you, too, Indiana! - in 3, 2, 1..!

Way to go. You got this. I believe in you.

Now go Magic Five someone else :)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

First Day of School Celebration: More than a Meme

I've seen a lot of weepiness on facebook in the last few weeks from moms (none from dads...that's weird...) misty over their oldest or youngest kids going to school. But this picture sums up my feelings about it. When your kids get on the bus, literally or figuratively, that means you've kept them alive and healthy - unlike the 19,000 children who will die of treatable and preventable causes this year. It means that you got them access to education - unlike 61 million primary school aged kids this year. It means you've done a great job, Mom and Dad. That deserves a toast! Now, with the kids in school, we have a little more time to fight for those other kids who aren't as lucky as ours. I'll drink to that.

Don't misunderstand. There's nothing wrong with being nostalgic about your babies growing up. What's more, I totally get where this meme in the picture is supposed to be going. When we can, my husband and I actually schedule a day off of work for the first full day of school to have a mid-day date of shopping, lunching, and other extra-curricular activities. But for the other days of the school year, having kids in school means time to dedicate myself uninterrupted to my job with RESULTS working toward the end of poverty, helping other volunteers reach for lofty goals like Education for All. By "all," I mean "ALL." No child on the planet without access to quality teachers and a safe, enriching learning experience. No girls left behind to tend goats or infants while brothers go to school.

Why do this in my free and my professional time? Because it's part of making a better world for my kids. Heck, it's a part of making a better world for myself! And it's definitely part of making a better world for those kids and moms in extreme poverty crying out for education. Let's break it down and list out three of those reasons that get at "what's in it for us?" as well as "what's in it for them?"

#1 Education leads to safety and national security: Education helps to fight poverty and spur economic growth. It is a prerequisite for short- and long- term economic growth and stability. After all, no country has achieved rapid economic growth without at least 40% of adults being able to read and write. Just one year of primary schooling adds about 10% to a person's future wage. So, getting kids educated leads to stable developing countries. Of the world's 20 poorest countries, 16 have suffered a major civil war in the last 20 years. Need to bring this back home on a local level? Consider that education offers an alternative to extremism. I heard Julia Bolz of Journey with an Afghan School tell a story about how boys that came to the first day of school with guns later returned with soccer balls in hand instead. That's an improvement that shows me how less extremism means fewer American soldiers stationed overseas and lives lost. That's local to me.

#2 Education of girls is like a "social vaccine": Girls are much less likely to be educated worldwide than boys, but the impact of educating a girl has huge impact on global health. Children of mothers with a primary education are 50% more likely to be immunized. The largest contributing factor to reducing child malnutrition has been the education of women - even more so than direct food aid! Plus, according to the World Bank, the risk of HIV/AIDS infection is more thank halved for young people, particularly girls, who stay in school and complete a basic education.
#3 Educated girls make educated moms who stand a chance of breaking the cycle of poverty: Women and girls make up nearly 70% of the poor worldwide. Women make up an increasing share of the workforce (40.5% globally in 2008), but in many regions, women are disproportionately employed in “vulnerable jobs” in agriculture and in the services sector as factory workers...not to mention those swept up into human trafficking. These jobs are often characterized by informal working arrangements that lack decent working conditions and adequate wages. But mostly, it comes down to this: when women control the family budget, they are more likely than men to invest in children’s health and well-being.

So, kick back and enjoy the quiet. Have your favorite beverage in a mug and pat yourself on the back on a job well done getting your children out of the house and into the school. And when you're done, take a quick action. Contact your U.S. representative and tell him or her to support the Education for All Act of 2013 (H.R. 2780). You can call or you can use this handy online tool from RESULTS. It will only take a minute, I promise. A minute you can now well afford! :)

P.S. Just for fun, here's last years' first day of school internet picture that went viral. I'm thinking it's the same mom. I'd love to credit her for her humor and creativity and share this blog with her, too, if anyone knows where I can find her. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

When Force of Will Becomes Force of Habit

I advocate every day.
Every. Day.

This wasn't always so. I didn't ever really understand what advocacy was until my thirties. So, how does one go from not doing anything about poverty at all to taking action to fight it every single day? How did I go from overcoming my nervousness and writing to my member of Congress through sheer force of will...all the way to phoning my elected officials by force of habit? For me, it started with a Lenten promise and a ONE bracelet.

By 2001, I'd done plenty of fundraising and service charity work, but "advocacy" was an odd, scary sounding word to me...until I realized that it's simply speaking out about something you care about. It took some Bread for the World members at my church to show me that it could be just a simple act of writing a letter, an email, or making a phone call. Yet that didn't mean it was easy. I was rather afraid someone from a senate office would call me back to challenge me, saying, "What did you mean by that!?" For me to write that first letter was not the most natural thing. My heart raced when I made my first phone call to my U.S. representative.

Once I realized I could have more impact with advocacy than direct service and saw that it fit into my life better, I recognized that advocating for better anti-poverty programs was hard for me, but something I wanted to do more because of the potential to have so much more impact than serving people at the soup kitchen one person at a time. So, I decided that for the 40 days I observed Lent (a Christian time of reflection, discipline, and sacrifice), I would put the white ONE bracelet on in the morning. When I had taken some sort of action - wrote a letter, made a phone call, sent an email, wrote a letter to the editor, etc - I got to take the bracelet off. I found that once I'd come so far, I wanted to keep going. After 40 days, I was just used to doing it. I also learned from congressional offices that persistence is a critical characteristic of people who get their attention.

Some UK researchers concluded that it takes an average of 66 days to form a habit. I believe it takes the doing of something regularly and repeatedly to get used to it. Plus - and I find this with exercise - it is inspiring to set a goal and keep up a good habit. I'm reluctant to let go of my goal when I don't want to lose progress I've made. Hm...this is Alcoholics Anonymous strategy, too, isn't it? Well, I also found that when I was happy with myself and impressed with what I had accomplished, I wanted to do more. That's likely why the RESULTS core values resonate with me:
"Instead of waiting to be inspired to take action, we realize that being in action inspires us." 

Now, it's years later and I have even more reasons to do something every day. Now that I've even travelled to Uganda to meet families who need such basics as vaccines, clean water, education for their kids, how can I stop when I've looked into their eyes and shared smiles together? 

Insider Images

I love it when I find campaigns that encourage other people to be in action every day as the Shot@Life Blogust campaign where leaving a comment on a blog each day in August unlocks a donation for a vaccine for a child in the developing world. I like promoting that campaign because it's fun and by sharing it, I inspire other people to get involved and take action every day.

Every. Day.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Power to Empower Your Children

If parenthood is a constant practice of empowering children, then what should we be empowering them to do? And who else could we be empowering along the way? Could it be ourselves? Here are four thoughts on my mind today about power, empowerment, and raising kids.

1) To raise powerful kids, you're going to have to tap into your own inner super-hero
Kids learn best by example, that's a fact. I don't have to fabricate a completely unrealistic facade of being Wonder Woman perfect (or even Mary Poppins practically-perfect), but I do think my kids have a better chance at tapping into their own potential if they see me striving to improve myself and setting high goals. Goals like helping others, standing up for justice, running really know, superhero stuff.

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, is 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 knowing 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?