Jun 272014

“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.”

- L.R. Knost

It’s summer now- and there are options galore available to our children. That’s a wonderful thing. Science camps, music lessons, soccer practice and ESPECIALLY FREE TIME are good. It’s important to cultivate and encourage open minds and healthy bodiesAnd it is at least as important to cultivate and encourage tender hearts in our little ones and in ourselves.

I wish that our culture valued tender hearts as much as we value sharp minds and strong bodies. There aren’t many trophies or rewards for the tender-hearted – except, of course, for deeply meaningful and impactful lives. Except for real connection with other beings. Except for that life-giving purpose compassionate folks always have in droves – and for the power that only people who understand their capacity to comfort and heal others hold. So actually- there are those rewards. Those are good. Maybe even as good as a perfect reading score or a  hat trick in hockey.

Let’s help grow our kids’ minds and bodies this summer- let’s go ahead and care about those things. But let’s also remind them and ourselves that hearts can grow too – if they’re stretched and exercised. Let’s  provide opportunities to strengthen our kids’ hearts as well as their minds and bodies. The way you strengthen a heart is to tenderize it. It’s odd, but true.

We can strengthen our kids’ heart in little ways – like this one. The girls and I spent the day with the humane society cats yesterday. As I watched the girls play, I swear I could actually SEE their hearts tenderizing. It was in the way they slowed down, the way their voices softened, the way their bodies curled into the animals. They were gentle. And powerful. Gentle Power is true power. They were making a difference for those animals, and they knew it. Often the best way to help a little one find her power is to introduce her to a few beings even littler than she is.

shelter cat

Afterwards, as we walked towards the car, Amma said, “It’s good that we went, mama. Those cats needed us today. I really think they needed us.”

“Yes,” I said. “And we needed them too, didn’t we?  They need us and we need to be needed. So we helped each other. ”

girls and dog

Tender hearts, connected souls. Our hearts grew three sizes that day, I tell you.

And then when they’re ready- we  can strengthen their hearts in bigger ways. Craig and Chase are in Miami this week, attending what is basically a Compassion Camp. This week Chase has served dinners to the homeless at a Sisters of Charity soup kitchen, painted a halfway house for hurting teens,  jumped rope  at the inner city Boys and Girls Club, and sang to Amanda, a ninety-five year old Alzheimer’s patient, while Craig spoon fed Amanda and wiped her chin after each bite. Craig has slept on the floor of a church with twelve tweens for six long nights. He used up half his annual vacation time and his back hurts and he missed a week of the World Cup. And that was all a part of the lesson for Chase. There are no WORDS we could have said to Chase about the importance of compassion that would have delivered the message as powerfully as Craig dropping everything to go DO compassion with him. I am not sure there are ANY WORDS that would could have  an effect equal to watching your father spoon feed a ninety-five year old stranger. Chase knows now. He knows WHAT REAL POWER IS. Real Power is feeding a stranger who can’t feed herself and knowing how unbelievably lucky you are to be the one holding the spoon.

craig phone

Compassion does not just happen. Pity does- but compassion is not pity. It’s not a feeling. Compassion is a viewpoint, a way of life, a perspective, a habit that becomes a discipline – and more than anything else, compassion is a choice we make that love is more important than comfort or convenience. Craig was Chase’s compassion teacher this week, along with the poor, hurting, addicted, old, and sick. My boys get home today and  LET ME JUST TELL YOU that Craig is getting SO MADE OUT WITH. LIKE MAYBE EVEN TWICE IN ONE WEEK. LIKE THE CEILING CAN’T HOLD US, FRIENDS. Compassion does not  pay off only for the children. Compassion = WIN/WIN/WIN for all.

Our kids need Healthy Bodies, Open Minds, Tender Hearts and Connected Souls.

None of these traits appears by magic. Each is the result of habits.

Habits are learned. And children learn their habits by watching what we DO, not  by listening to what we say. So we have to stop talking and teaching and preaching and just GO DO. Even when we’re scared, we have to walk toward the hurting and say, “I don’t know how to help, but I’m here to try.”

And our little ones will watch us and they will think: Oh. I guess that is what people do.

And so they will do it.

The most important thing on Earth is for all of to us make this sentence true: Compassion is what people do.

Make it true.


P.S. I wrote this on Wednesday morning. On Thursday a Monkee sent me this article. I think we’re on to something.

Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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Jun 262014

Originally published December 11, 2009

Chase’s first grade class is studying Needs and Wants. Yesterday, he brought this classwork home in his folder:

Needs and Wants

In case you’re having trouble reading…the assignment says “My mom or dad would like________” and in the blank Chase wrote: “JUST 2 MINUTES OF PEACE” and then as if this wasn’t enough information for his teacher about the climate of our home, he added an illustration of a woman screaming “AAAHHHHHH!”

I just thought you should see this in case you were considering taking to heart any of my suggestions about finding peace for yourself and peace for your home.

Why does the boy feel he needs to share publicly all of our little family “situations?” He ALWAYS does this. I have no idea where he gets that.

Here’s to wishing for JUST TWO MINUTES OF PEACE for you today. IS IT REALLY TOO MUCH TO ASK??????????

Love, G and Chase (Two Shameless Truthtellers)

Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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Jun 252014
Our Messy, Beautiful Summer Week 1: Parenting

A guest post by Wendy D’Alessandro

boy-walking-250During a parent/teacher conference my son’s teacher said to me, and I’m paraphrasing here, “His writing needs work.”

The man must have seen the panic in my eyes and the wheels turning in my head: writing needs improvement…more writing, then…you shouldn’t have slacked off with the summer journal writing…if anyone knows the importance of written communication, it’s you!…tutor…the thought of fighting about going to a tutor makes me cringe…when was the last time my child read a book that wasn’t required reading?

My head swirled with panic and planning and finger pointing (at myself) for having failed at something as important as making sure my kid could write well. Then the dear, sweet teacher said, “Don’t worry, Mrs. D’Alessandro, he’ll be fine. He’s a good kid, thoughtful and kind. You can’t teach that. The writing, you can.”

I almost cried on the spot, and I wanted to reach for this kind man’s hand and say,Thank youThank you for reminding me there is more to raising a child than making sure he excels in every subject at school.

Instead, I waited until I was in the privacy of my car and its tinted windows, and then I cried on the spot. I berated myself for being so serious, all the time, about everything. For being a mother whose focus becomes so clouded that she forgets what matters just as much – actually, no, more – than doing well in school, and that’s being a good, kind, caring person.

I know this. I’ve written about this very topic. A 4.0 GPA does not guarantee a child’s success in life. So why do I need reminding there is more to my child’s life than a stellar report card?

I have no idea.

It’s so easy to talk the talk when it comes to finding balance in our kids’ lives. I know I can talk the talk with my friends and family, and even while writing my parenting column and this blog post. I know the right things to say about discipline and homework and chores. I can offer sound parental advice to friends; and I know my gut instinct gives me better advice than a roundtable of parenting experts.

And yet…

It’s so hard for me to walk the walk. So hard to raise my children the way I know they should be raised, versus raising them in a society that has created this perfect parental myth we feel we need to live up to.

A myth that says if we’re a good parent, then our children won’t stumble and fall, and make lots of mistakes and messes.

Our children won’t struggle at math and not make a travel sports team.

They won’t bomb that really important exam or say something mean to a friend.

They won’t crash and burn when asked to diagram a sentence.

They won’t do stupid things, like vandalize a gumball machine until they get the blue colored gumball instead of every other colored gumball.

We won’t think inappropriate thoughts, like lately we prefer our dog’s company to that of our teenagers’. Okay, that one is mine and mine alone, and I feel small for even thinking it.

In other words, our children won’t mess up because we’ve done everything possible to make sure they won’t fail. We won’t mess up because, darn it, we should know better. And we should know better, right?  After all, there are a million blogs, books, magazine articles, videos and parenting experts telling us how to do it.

And yet again…

Sometimes I still don’t know what I’m doing.

Here’s the thing. Growing up is hard, and parenting is messy. It’s confusing and frustrating. Until you stop, breathe and look at your children. Put aside the fact that they didn’t make their beds today; or you had to hound them to take out the trash; or they said the steak you cooked for them had the consistency of a hockey puck; or they squeaked by with a “C” on their exam, and if they would have studied a little bit harder…well, you know the story.

Look at each child as a person, not someone you’ve been charged to raise. Each is perfect in his or her unique way. Each blessed with special gifts. Each put on this earth to live a life only (s)he – not you – can create. We can only guide for so long, and then we have to let go, little by little, and hope for the best. Pray for the best.

Eventually, we all figure this out. Some of us (that would be me) need reminding from time to time.


Wendy D’Alessandro is a mother of three teenagers, a wife and a public relations specialist. She works from home with her Tibetan terrier dog at her feet, and she shares her parenting journey – blunders and all – in her bi-weekly newspaper column, The Mommy Chronicles. Visit Wendy at www.wendydalessandro.com.

This post is part of Momastery’s Our Messy, Beautiful Summer series.

Our Messy, Beautiful Summer

Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery on-line community on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest