A Mother’s Love is a Force of Nature

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Mother and daughter in Nepal

There are more than 2 billion mothers in the world today by some estimates. In my travels, I have seen the special role that mothers play in making the world a better place for all children.

A mother’s love is a force of nature, whether making sacrifices to ensure that her daughter is able to get an education or fighting for justice for their children. The mothers of the disappeared (ANFASEP) in Ayacucho, Peru lost their sons during the long, violent conflict in Peru.   For nearly 30 years, these women have been trying to find out who killed their sons and where their remains are.  

Mothers of the Disappeared in Peru
Mothers of the Disappeared in Peru

With their love, mothers are changing the world – one kid at a time.

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Me with my daughter in Norway.

Happy Mother’s Day – and thank you – to each of you mothers!

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12 1/2 Clichés I Want My Kids to Live By

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You’ve heard ’em all before. Clichés are a popular form of expression used throughout the world.  There are many sayings that are so overused that we barely even notice them anymore.  I started to think about clichés recently because of The Loud Talking Salesman guy who works in the office next to mine.  He seems to speak entirely in clichés. The wall must be thin, because all day long I hear him on the phone with clients telling them that “at the end of the day” “it’s a win-win situation” etc etc.   (I’ve never met him, but if I ever do, I’ve already planned what I’m going to say:  “Working hard?”  To which he will most certainly reply, “Hardly working!”)

Once I started actually paying attention clichés, I noticed that we are not only constantly verbally but also visually blasted with them.  Clichés are plastered all over the place, on everything from bumper stickers to throw pillows to Pintrest. Some clichés are silly or sappy or just plan wrong.  But if you stop and think about it, some of them make a whole lot of sense.

Many clichés are, in fact, the moral equivalent of Tootsie Pops – they have a sweet, chewy truth at their center.  Some of them are actually pithy, shorthand statements of deep wisdom.   Some clichés embody true lessons about living an ethical, fulfilling, righteous and joyful life in community with other humans.  In some ways, these clichés are shorthand for the life lessons that I am trying to teach my children so that they will grow up to be citizens of the world, fully empowered to exercise both their rights and their responsibilities.

So on the theory that “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice,” I decided to write down some of the clichés that I want my kids to actually remember and use when I’m no longer around to nag them.

“From those to whom much is given, much is expected.” 

One of the most misquoted sayings of all time, I’ve seen this clichés attributed to everyone from Voltaire to Bill Gates’s mom.  While  John F. Kennedy did say,  “For of those to whom much is given, much is required,” the saying actually comes from the Parable of the Faithful Servant (Luke 12:48) in the Bible.  “To whomever much is given, of him will much be required; and to whom much was entrusted, of him more will be asked.”

The point for my children is this – you have been blessed with intelligence, a loving family, comfortable home, health and so much more.  You each have different talents and strengths.  It is your responsibility to use  your gifts not just for your own benefit, but also to help others.

“You are what you eat.”

If you eat garbage, you feel like garbage.  I’m serious – eat your fruits and veggies, kids!

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“Think before you speak.”

Or send an email or post something through social media.  Count to 10 in your mind before you open your mouth.   Write it out, but wait until the morning to send that email.  Hurtful words, once said, are hard to take back.  Of course, the corollaries to this cliché are:

“If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.”

and  

“If you are thinking something nice about someone, go ahead and say it.”

OK, that last one is technically not a cliché since it is not overused.  I count it as half cliché since I made it up myself when I was 18.  I was a camp counselor and I lived in a cabin with another counselor that I didn’t get along with particularly well.  But one day, when I was brushing my teeth, I heard her singing in the shower.  She had a beautiful voice that I had never noticed.  As I brushed my teeth, I remember thinking that I should just tell her.  Why keep those nice thoughts to myself just because I we didn’t like each other?  It was hard for me, but I did tell her.  I was surprised how appreciative she was at the compliment.  And while we never became friends, we did get along fine for the rest of the summer.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”  

Don’t just sit around wishing or waiting for things to change things.  YOU can create change yourself through your own actions.  (This quote is usually attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, although there is no reliable evidence that he actually  said it.  Gandhi did say “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”)

It’s worth pointing out that Dr. Seuss wrote the same thing more directly in The Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

“Don’t Postpone Joy”  

No, I don’t mean the “go ahead and buy those really expensive shoes to make yourself happy” kind of joy (although it is important to treat yourself somtimes.  I mean the “Daddy quit his job and moved to Minneapolis to be with me”  kind of joy.   Because your Daddy did do that.  He didn’t have a dramatic boombox scene like Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything, but it was the same kind of going after love and joy thing. (This reminds me to add Say Anything to my list of Movies I Want My Kids to See.)

And while we are on the subject:

‘Tis better to have loved and lost, Than never to have loved at all.  

I know that this one is often up for debate, but I think it is true.  Even if your heart ends up getting broken in the end, the experience of loving another is worth it.  It is worth taking a risk.

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“The best way out is always through.”

Robert Frost is credited with this one.  Rather than avoiding a problem,  it is always best to confront it directly.  You can spend more energy fretting about it than it would take to just deal with it.  In the long run, it is less painful to just do what you need to do to get through it.

“A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything.”

I don’t have much to say about this one other than I believe it in, deep down in my bones.  The same goes the the next one:

“Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.”

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“Better late than never.”

It’s never to late to fix past wrongs.  Remember Darth Vader and what happens at the end of Star Wars Episode VI?  Redemption.  But it is also never to late to go down a different path.  Every day has the potential to be a fresh start.  As George Eliot wrote,  “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”

“Always look on the bright side of life.”

It’s been my experience that a positive attitude really does help you in life.  Everyone gets down and has rough patches; that’s perfectly understandable.  You don’t have to be cheerful all the time.  But in the macro sense, try to be an optimist.  It’s a worldview that will get your farther in the long run.  As Sir Winston Churchill once said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity.  An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.

 TO BE CONTINUED …

I’ve got more clichés I want my kids to live by, but I’d love to hear from others about clichés that hold important life lessons for them.   I will end with, not a cliché, but a quote from A. A. Milne.  Christopher Robin is talking to Winnie-the-Pooh and he says (in your mother’s voice):

“Promise me you’ll always remember:

You’re braver than you believe,

and stronger than you seem,

and smarter than you think.

P.S. Also remember:

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Why American Moms are Cheering for Licia Ronzulli

photo source: Reuters

Photos of European Parliament Member Licia Ronzulli with her daughter keep popping up on my Facebook news feed and Pintrest.  My friends are mostly moms, so I speculate that they had an emotional reaction when they first saw the photo of MEP Ronszulli with her baby.  I know that I did.  I cheered and teared up a little, almost simultaneously.   Then I stopped and asked myself, “Why?”

The photo of Ms. Ronzulli at work with her baby is not a new – it was taken in September 2010.   While this photo caused a splash in Europe in 2010, it took  a while for it to catch on here.  That’s about right – as a country, the US is generally well behind Europe in terms of policies that support mothers.

Although she doesn’t bring her daughter to the European Parliament regularly, there are other photos of Ms. Ronzulli and the  now-toddler  Vittoria.  During a vote on the Eurozone debt crisis on February 15, 2012, reporters snapped several photos of Vittoria with her mom at the European Parliament.

Source:  Reuters

The media coverage I have seen has focused on the cutesy (“awwwwwww”) or “hilarious” aspects of the photos.  That’s too bad. I think the media missed the opportunity to talk about WHY American moms like me are cheering for Ms. Ronzulli.

Here are a few reasons:

1)  Ms. Ronzulli’s employer, the European Parliament, has rules that allow women to take their baby with them to work.  Most American women do not have that option.
2)  The photos perfectly symbolize the work-family balance that all of us working moms struggle with every day.   The fact that, according to media reports, the photo of Ms. Ronzulli with her infant was taken during a vote on proposals to improve women’s employment rights makes it all the more poignant.
3)  Ms. Ronzulli is showing the world that childbirth does not automatically flip the offswitch on our female brains.  Women continue to be productive  employees even after they become mothers.  The Daily Mail, which ran the February 2012 photo in an article titled “Does my vote count, mummy?”,  describes the 36-year old Ronzulli as seeming “in complete control in spite of having her baby on her lap throughout.”  Why is this such a surprise?  I know that I, for one, have become better at multitasking and more efficient at doing my work since I had my first child.
4) In the 2010 photo, it appears that Ms. Ronzulli is choosing to keep her 7 week old infant with her as much as possible.  In my experience, that’s important for babies who are still so little.  Yet 6 weeks is the typical maternity leave in the U.S.  That doesn’t mean that it is paid leave, however. The U.S. is also one of only a handful of countries with no national law mandating paid time off for new parents.
5) Ms. Ronzulli was entitled to a parenting leave, but chose to take only 1 month of it.  She makes the point that it is about personal choice.  In 2010, she told The Guardian “It’s a very personal choice. A woman should be free to choose to come back after 48 hours. But if she wants to stay at home for six months, or a year, we should create the conditions to make that possible,” she said.   Amen, sister!
6) She looks GOOD!  I know I never looked that good 7 weeks after labor and delivery, but many of my friends very quickly looked like their pre-baby selves again.   I certainly didn’t look my best when I was the sleep-deprived parent of a toddler, but the world didn’t end.  Moms like a little reminder now and then that a having a baby doesn’t slam the door on our ability to look and feel good.  Sometimes it sure feels like that, but really it’s just a temporary setback.
7) Ms. Ronzulli probably didn’t have to nurse baby Vittoria sitting on a toilet in the ladies room.  That’s something I had to do at some point or other with all three of my babies here in America.

So thank you, Licia Ronzulli, for giving us American moms something to cheer for today and a reminder of what we need to continue to work towards tomorrow!

European Parliament, October 2012
Voting at the European Parliament, October 2012
UPDATE 11/20/2013:  A Mighty Girl does a fabulous photo montage of three years of Vittoria at the European Parliament
3 years of Vittoria

In Small Places, Close to Home

This is my first original post on World Moms Blog

Eleanor Roosevelt once said,

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world.”

She knew what she was talking about.  Eleanor Roosevelt was the chair of the UN Human Rights Commission and even wrote part of the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948).  Eleanor Roosevelt was also the mother of six children.

Mothers have an important role to play in making the world a better place for all children.   This is not to minimize the roles of fathers or grandparents or guardians or anyone charged with the responsibility of raising children. But I do believe wholeheartedly that mothers have a special role.  It is our job to change the world, one kid at a time.

Often mothers are the most vocal advocates for the rights of their children.  This is true whether you are a mom trying to get your special needs child the services she deserves or trying to get your child out of arbitrary detention in Iran (like Shane Bauer’s mom).  There are many examples of mom/human rights advocates-  Mothers of the Disappeared in Argentina, Mothers of Soldiers in Russia .

I personally have had the chance to meet and interview mothers involved with the organization ANFASEP in Ayacucho, Peru.  These are mothers whose sons were disappeared during the long, violent conflict in Peru.   For nearly 30 years, these women have been trying to find out what happened to their family members and where their remains are.  One of the women we talked to had four family members who were disappeared.  She wants to know where they are and who killed them.  “We’re looking for justice,” she said, “and we want to know the truth.”  As Mama Angelica Mendoza, President of ANFASEP, told us, “We’ll never forget about all the killings.  We’ll fight to the end.”

Mothers of the disappeared (ANFASEP) in Peru. 

As Eleanor Roosevelt implied more than 50 years ago, the most important place for human rights to begin is at home.

Human rights are the standards that allow all people – each and every one of the 7 billion of us on this planet- to live with dignity, freedom, equality, justice and peace.

Aren’t these the principles that govern the way we want our children to be treated?  And, in a nutshell, aren’t these also the core values that every parent wants to instill in their children?

The secret to a better world is not only protecting our children from human rights abuses inflicted on them by others, but also by making them better citizens of the world.  Caring about others, judging right from wrong, standing up against bullying or racist comments or sexist jokes. These are the human rights that are essential to the full development of each child as an individual, as well as to the community in which they live. This is the human rights work that changes the world.

Here are my three reasons to work for human rights.  I’d love to see and hear about yours!