A member of my family passed away this week. A lady who raised 5 boys, took care of up to 4 more kids when my grandparents worked/slept (because of overnight shifts), and had a multitude of talents, including homemade gnocchi, making dozens and dozens of Christmas cookies each year to send all over the world to her sons, and painting photographs (pre-color photography) to the point of perfection. She once told me I was like a daughter to her, and that same day she gifted to me a beautiful ivory necklace from Italy.
As I talked about the situation with my dad the other day, we talked about the kind of legacy a person leaves when they are near death or have passed away. It’s his aunt that passed away, and he went through a string of memories from his childhood. We wondered if memories were enough to be a lasting legacy. For us, with this lady, it is. Especially because she fed us such incredible food on a regular basis, yet remained 90# soaking wet right up through her last days. And talked like a true Italian-American; who can resist/forget that? Aunt T’s legacy of memories and one of the best Italian kitchens this side of the Mississippi are more than enough for my family.
But we’re in an entirely different time now, aren’t we? Are memories alone enough for our children? Can we rely simply on making memories with our children and hope that’s enough for them to learn how to be a functioning, contributing member of society? Can memories be enough to sustain the kind of relationship between parents and their children that create lasting impact? Or do we need more? Do we need to be completely intentional about teaching them, guiding them, praising and encouraging them? Disciplining them, expecting things of them, and holding them accountable?
I say yes. To all of it. Memories are incredibly important; I will never forget trying to pronounce “animal” with my mom at 7 years old, or taking a ridiculous photo in a reflective Christmas ornament with my dad at 23 years old. Those memories have supported the kind of relationships I now have with my parents. But those relationships have also been cultivated, created intentionally by my parents’ careful teaching, guidance, praising, encouraging, expectations, and accountability. (Dad, remember our flute conversation? And Mom, making me clean up any and all kitchen messes I *may* have made?) As my husband and I prepare to raise our Baby Girl, we talk all the time about the kind of parenting we’ll do.
In an age where unsolicited opinions abound, comparisons between developmental milestones come from “friends” who need your child to be further behind than theirs, and social media controls as much of our time as we used to spend doing *much* more productive things (think: building forts, playing outside, reading), we have to be intentional. We have to think about the kind of legacies we want to leave for our children. I’m not being political here and talking about the environment or our government or the mass quantities of processed/hormoned food available to our children (though I’m sure you can tell my stance on that). I’m talking about the character traits of kindness, compassion, strong work ethics, responsibility, and respect for people and material goods. I’m talking about teaching our children to think for themselves, have active imaginations, and be flexible because things change all the time. I’m talking about leaving a legacy for our children that includes memories, but also includes helping them know who they want to be, what they want to be, and helping them know that both of those things are going to evolve throughout their lifetimes.
Leaving a legacy is not for the faint at heart. And it is not just for football superheros who leave a legacy of incredible field-time, or rock stars whose songs are sung for decades after their initial release. Leaving a legacy is for you, the parent of children who are looking up to you trying to figure out what this crazy world is all about, and how they fit into it. Leaving a legacy for our children is essential if we truly hope the best for them, which is an obvious sentiment of any parent worthy of being a parent. Whether they’re for the masses or for just your little circle, legacies matter.
Whether you’re a new parent, have a few little ones, or your babes are all grown and up and out of the house, leaving a legacy is completely possible. Leading by example, starting a conversation, starting a relationship, fostering an existing relationship, repairing a relationship – all work to form a legacy worth leaving, a legacy your children can hold on to and eventually work into their own legacy.The investment we make into leaving a lasting impact for our children, that we hope they can then pass on to either their children or to their social circle (and maybe beyond) is an investment worth making.
So go on. Your kids are counting on you. And Aunt T, thank you for the cookies, the gnocchi, the summers at the pool, and for being a world-class lady for all the time we knew you. Rest well knowing you were well-loved. ❤