We meet them all the time. If we’re lucky, we’re friends with a few of them – the risk takers, the goal setters, successful and positive people who take a bite out of life and let the juices flow. They might not be the richest people on the block or hold the highest degrees, yet they seem to know how to navigate the ups and downs of life and take them head on. They just seem to have it figured out.
After having my own two boys and jumping into parenthood with both feet, I started to wonder about the parents of these thriving human beings. What wisdom did they impart to their children as they were rearing them? What can I, as a parent, learn from each of them?
We hear about bad parenting all too often in today’s world. It’s time to celebrate some incredible parents who have raised successful citizens of the world – and maybe, we’ll even learn a thing or two in the process.
Great Parents expose their children to great things.
“The most important thing my parents did right was to introduce me to the outdoors and all the wonders and excitement that exists there, whether hiking, canoeing, mountain biking, or fishing. I was really lucky that my parents shared a love for the outdoors and passed it down to my brothers and me. We used to go on a family canoe trip every year on the James River, and in the fall my parents would rent a camper and we would spend a long weekend camping and hiking in the mountains. We still talk about those trips and how much fun we had as a family. I try to pass this same appreciation and love for the outdoors on to my kids.”
Tee Clarkson, writer and founder of Virginia Fishing Adventures
“As a child, my mother allowed me to participate in every extra-curricular activity imaginable because she didn’t want me to be a wallflower. I played soccer, basketball, volleyball and was on the swim team. I was a cheerleader, took piano lessons, ran for student council, and worked at the local bagel shop. But I was never the best player or fastest swimmer. I never excelled at an instrument, and I lost the race for class president. But what I learned from my mother was that it is not important to be the best at any one thing, but to gain the experience of everything you possibly can and never be afraid to try.”
Sarah Spradlin, USMC veteran, doctoral candidate, and stay-at-home mother of four
“My father was a film writer and my mother a former teacher and summer-stock actress. Both were from New England. For the first decade of my life, we lived in New York City – one brother and two sisters – in subsidized housing, eating simple meals, with clothes that were worn till they couldn’t be easily repaired. And we ate a little bit of everything that was put on the table and everything that we had selected to put on our plates. There were few frills, but neither did we live in poverty. One of our great problems facing the family unit was that none of us liked to stay in the city. We lived, in a sense, to go camping … and for my father and me, to go fishing. This need to find beauty and satisfaction almost only in the natural world has molded my values and impacted the directions of my life – and ultimately my work and career.”
Ralph White, former director of the James River Park System
Great Parents lead by example.
“My parents were amazingly progressive by Asian American perceived standards. My mom was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. I am pretty sure she is part gypsy because of her love of life, color, and travel. My dad is a scientist who immigrated to America as a young adult. He is reflective, philosophical, and hardworking. Both are naturally curious and have a life-long love of learning. Their cumulative life experiences and natural dispositions have shaped who I am today – and gratefully, who my children are, too!”
Elizabeth Wong, associate director of
Richmond Academy of Medicine
“My mother always reminded my sister and me to stand up straight, look people in the eye, and be polite. She would say, ‘Don’t forget your manners and remember there are people less fortunate than you.’ She was a single parent who had high expectations for us. She was a faithful church member, and in the summer we always went to the early service and then had the whole day to do other things. She encouraged us to be involved in church and I guess it stuck. I’ve been ordained for forty-three years now and I still love what I do. Even though I’ve been retired for five years, I’m still involved. I wish she could see the influence that she has had!”
Reverend Dr. Doug Wigner, interim rector, Christ Church Episcopal
“I believe my parents have set an amazing example for me and my four siblings. They met at seventeen and have been together for thirty-six years. I’m a single mom who embraced motherhood during the final year of my dissertation and my journey was a bit different from theirs. However, my parents have always encouraged me to reach for my goals, not to give up, and to remember there are always people who love me, support me, and want to help.”
Dr. LaChelle Waller, professor, VCU School of Education
“Reflecting on my childhood, I don’t recall any significant words of wisdom or catchy phrases from my parents. However, they were my living example of what to do right. You always look out for your family, never treat anyone differently because they are not like you, always carry yourself as a lady – the list goes on. My parents have always had high expectations for me, but they also allowed me to create my own path (especially as the youngest and a daughter) and allowed me to make my own mistakes and learn from them. I am certain this has played a role in the type of adult and subsequently, the type of parent I have become. I understand the importance of accountability and how my actions affect other people.”
Ashley Hewlett, director, Leadership Center at James River High School
Great Parents teach their children self-worth and integrity.
“My parents always told me that I could be and that I could do anything. From a very young age, I remember feeling like I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. My dad was very serious about service and giving back, and ultimately I think it helped me merge my interests and talents in a way that contributes to society.”
Dr. Sara Miller, professor, Longwood University
“My mother and father were both Marines, and the values they learned in the Marine Corps were passed on to me. The most important value was integrity. I learned that even if I make a mistake or get in trouble, it was always better just to admit fault, although the truth would come with penalties. This simple rule would mold me into the adult I am now, and to help me do the right thing, even when no one is watching.”
Richard McTernan, police officer, City of Richmond
“My parents’ continuous support and love created the opportunities that led me to be the person I am today. They were wonderful about never putting any pressures on me to take a certain path. At the end of the day, I knew that if I tried my best and treated everyone with kindness and respect, that they would be proud of me.”
Dr. Laura Garden, dentist, South River Dentistry
Great Parents teach their kids independence.
“One of the main things my parents did for me to prepare me for adulthood was to give me a sense of independence. When we would discuss current events they would encourage my opinion and engage my ideas – even if they were naive, and they encouraged discussion when I would disagree with their positions. I think this was very important for developing critical thinking skills. They also encouraged my independence in other ways. Allowing me to travel around town by bus, for example, so I didn’t have to always depend on them for a ride. As a teenager, letting me travel to other cities alone if I had an appointment or event helped me to develop a sense of self-efficacy that has served me well over the years.”
Dr. Oliver Hill Jr., professor, Virginia State University
“My parents got a lot right! They let me play in the woods, build forts, and get dirty, despite the perceived anxiety and fear of their peers. They told me they loved me regardless of what I did to earn or offend that love. They supported me taking a year off after college before heading into the workforce to travel in the developing world which gave me insight and perspective on American capitalism and an appreciation for foreign nations and history and culture.”
Lawson Wijesooriya, director, Blue Sky Fund
Great Parents teach their great kids to dream big and to work hard.
“I always say the Gilchrist Way is we work hard, really hard, until we drop – and then get back up to keep going until we are finished. My family is like that, and the family before them. They [my parents] never told me that; I just picked it up along the way, as did my kids. It is one of my most valued traits in people. They modeled it because that is who they were. They never had to tell me.”
Scott Gilchrist, Chesterfield County social worker and children’s pastor, Enon Baptist Church
“My dad always encouraged me to front-load my effort. Whenever I confronted a new challenge, he would say, ‘Work as hard as you can to learn as much as you can as fast as you can.’ That advice and his example fostered a sense of urgency and conscientiousness that have served me well in every aspect of my life. When you do the hard work early, you give yourself a cushion and a chance to coast – without compromising quality – later. This early-effort philosophy works as a parent, too. Hustling to research and hone your parenting philosophy early and setting up systems to support it makes the day-to-day work of child-rearing easier over time.”
Maya Smart, editor and writer
“My parents always advised me to ‘Start where you are.’ Whatever goal or dream you have in life, the starting point for reaching that goal is here-and-now today. Don’t worry about what you don’t have or what others have that puts them ahead of you. Excuses are always the biggest obstacle between you and your goal.”
Brian Rock, children’s book author
Finally, great parents aren’t afraid to ask others for advice.
If we want to learn something new or create something grand we ask an expert, not a novice. The same goes with parenting. When you come across an adult who has really figured out this grownup thing, ask them how they became who they are today. What did their parents do right? After all, as parents, our greatest creations are our own children. Why not learn from some of the best?