The Lifelong Journey of Responsibility (Including Epic Throwback Photos)
Given my work on Responsibility.org’s #TalkEarly program (which is all about creating a lifetime of conversations with kids) I think even more than usual about personal responsibility -- not just through the lens of alcohol awareness and education, but in all aspects of life. April is Alcohol Awareness Month and this April also marks Responsibility.org’s 25th anniversary and the launch of their Responsibility Starts With Me campaign.
The goal is simple and important and not at all preachy! They simply want to continue to facilitate conversations between parents and kids, and help keep drunk driving and underage drinking at record lows. We can all get behind that mission, right? Here’s the video spot:
This campaign got me thinking about my personal journey with responsibility. Likely due to my parents’ limited bandwidth raising seven kids, I needed to be responsibility at a very early age. For example, it was around the time of this epic family bowl cut photo (in which I'm front row, all the way left) that I started riding public transit by myself, and by 3rd grade I was responsible for commuting by myself to my parent’s mom and pop shop in Jamaica Plain. This commute involved a walk to the bus stop, a bus ride to Harvard Square, a train ride -- including riding from Harvard to Downtown Crossing, then transferring to the orange line and riding all the way to Forest Hills -- plus another walk through a super sketchy neighborhood from Forest Hills to my parents' store. Even though I’m very much a proponent of letting kids experience risk, the thought of Laurel or Violet doing this now seems crazy.
And when I think back to where I was 25 years ago (in honor of Responsibility.org’s 25th anniversary), I was 17 and not only was I responsible for the below look (Sally Jessy Raphael glasses! Aqua Net bangs! Marching band letter jacket! Scarf from Oona's in Harvard Square!), I was also on the brink of heading to college. This was a remarkable time not only for the typical rites of passage -- figuring out out how to live independently and negotiate the partying and alcohol and social pressures that accompany the college experience -- but after my first year my parents pulled the financial plug so I not only needed to be responsible for my general behavior and academics, but also for paying for college. I honestly would not wish that level of stress on anyone, but I for sure learned that responsibility started with me.
And perhaps not surprisingly, despite a long road of personal responsibility that started in 3rd grade on public transportation, my journey as a parent is where I’ve realized the full scope of personal responsibility. Because it’s not just about me. As parents we incubate people and are responsible for them for a long time -- not just the basic care but helping them learn to be good people who make life decisions with care. (This is one of my favorite selfies I've ever taken, I shot it when I was very pregnant with Violet.)
I write (via this blog and Minimalist Parenting) and talk (via my video series and podcast) a lot about the family system -- how every action we take ultimate impacts those around us. And my point is never to make you feel guilty or more overwhelmed, but to simply encourage mindfulness about the every day. All of our words and actions matter and a huge part of parenting is figuring out how to get your kids to talk to you (and keep talking to you as they grow!), how to find confidence to speak up about hard things, and realizing that it’s OK and human to be imperfect -- that kids kids actually can benefit from your bad days.
It’s interesting, despite having been raised in an intense Korean household and raising kids in a world that’s laser focused on accomplishments and accolades, I feel that my biggest personal responsibility as a parent is to raise them to be responsible people. And while yes, some of that responsibility involves getting school work done and picking up after themselves, most of it involves learning how to be a good friend, a caring family member, and someone who doesn’t lose sight of the importance of looking out for others just as you’d look out for yourself.
I hope you’ll talk to your kids this week about personal responsibility -- whether you talk to older kids about alcohol responsibility or younger kids about picking up their toys (if you need help, definitely read this post on how to get your kids to talk to you). Because responsibility is a lifetime journey, and the more kids learn how their behavior impacts others, the better equipped they'll be to function in the world and make decisions with kindness and awareness.
Disclosure: This post was inspired by my work as part of Responsibility.org’s #TalkEarly. All thoughts and opinions are, of course, my own.