Jewish World Review Sept. 23, 2002 / 18 Tishrei, 5763
His assignment was to start with big photos of himself, then to add on lots of pictures from magazines and newspapers that described him and his interests. He was instructed to write bold, positive words about himself all over the poster. The end product was meant to be a great big "advertising" job for him, and him alone, to show why he is such a great kid.
Sure, his dad and I think he and his three little sisters are great, and we let them know it. And there's a place for a "me" poster from time to time in a child's life. But this is no anomaly. What makes me cringe is realizing how thoroughly today our culture teaches even the littlest kids to live their "All About Me" posters every day.
Such instinct comes quite easily to little egos that, far from being the fragile hothouse flowers some experts would have us believe, easily flourish. Especially since today our society seems to exalt and nurture a child's autonomy and independence, his "me" and his "self-esteem," to the exclusion of all else. No wonder so many miserable kids - and later adults - think the world really is just about them.
Thankfully, I also see many parents working to buck this trend. One way we try to do so in our home is by emphasizing the "Hart Team," so that our children begin to see themselves as rooted in and responsible to something larger than themselves, their family.
Sure, many folks today talk about the importance of family. But still, it seems, "family" is too often viewed as a bunch of autonomous individuals who share little more than an address.
In stressing the "Hart Team," we emphasize working together to achieve goals, making it a priority to care about each member of the team, taking particular care of the littlest teammates, rejoicing when something good happens to one member of the team, and sharing the burden when another team member is having a rough day. We work to make decisions that take the needs of the other team members into account when it comes to play or sports activities or the family schedule. We talk about what the Hart Team believes in, and how when we stick together we are stronger than any one person could be on his own; that friends come and go, but the Hart Team is for life.
We find ourselves saying, "Come on, kids. The Hart Team doesn't quit," or "The Hart Team doesn't speak unkindly about its members," or "The Hart Team doesn't exclude a member from play time" and so on.
The kids love it. The "team" is something we root for together, it's a way of life and a strong identity for them. It stands for certain values and is a refuge and a resource for every one of us.
So, for instance, one of my kids might say, "That's not fair. She got invited to that party and I didn't." (Needless to say, "justice" is not actually on the complaining child's mind.) The most typical response from parents might be, "Oh, but you'll get to go to a party soon." Yet, that just plays into the child's view that someone else's blessing means she is "owed" something herself. Instead what we typically say in our family is, "Isn't that great when a teammate gets something special?" Let's be happy for her and what she has received. Period.
This is something the kids, and for that matter their dad and I, need to work on. But how much happier people would be if we could learn from our earliest days to genuinely rejoice in the good fortune of others. We've found that having a stake in the well-being of the whole "team" provides a basis to work with our kids on that and so many other important lessons.
Of course our children are individuals, with unique gifts and personalities that need different kinds of care and recognition. We just think that the "team" concept is one positive way to help appropriately nourish those little individuals - by first grounding them in the so-important notion of "other."
We want our kids to grow into whole adults, healthy individuals one
day ready to start their own little teams. Our hope is that
throughout their lives, even when they are called on to do an "All
About Me" poster, they will understand and be thankful that they
are never really out there alone.
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