by Jessica Vitalis,
author of Stop Pinching Your Sister! (Practical Parenting Tips Based on My Columbia MBA)
posted with author's permission
When Puppy received her first Barbie from a friend at her fifth birthday party, I felt conflicting emotions. On one hand, I was flooded with memories from my own childhood – the countless hours I spent dreaming of owning a Barbie, and the hundreds of hours I spent playing with my Barbie after I finally got one. But as a parent, and as a woman who struggled with an undiagnosed eating disorder as a teenager, I wasn’t quite as excited. It’s not that I’m inherently anti-Barbie, or that I blame her for my eating disorder. But I’m certainly aware of the messages children are flooded with regarding body image, and how these types of messages may have contributed to my own adolescent issues.
As we cleaned up after the party, I casually asked Puppy what she thought of the Barbie. Her response?
“I love it! But it does look like she needs to eat a cheeseburger!”
How, you might be wondering, did a five-year-old reach the conclusion that Barbie was malnourished?
It’s part of my Mission Statement. When I was pregnant with Puppy, I wrote her a letter. Among other things, the letter included a list of promises. These promises covered a variety of topics and represented a commitment to myself, as much as to Puppy, as to the type of parent I intended to become.
One of the promises? “To teach [Puppy] to love and respect [her] body.”
Having formally identified this issue as a core value, my husband and I made a commitment to include an awareness of healthy body images in our everyday parenting (in an age-appropriate manner, of course). The result? A five-year-old who was able to recognize that Barbie’s body isn’t normal.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but my letter was the corporate equivalent of a Mission Statement, or a long-term reason for being. Consider the following, from Coca-Cola: “Our Roadmap starts with our mission, which is enduring. It declares our purpose as a company and serves as the standard against which we weigh our actions and decisions.” Specifically, they list their mission as follows:
* To refresh the world…
* To inspire moments of optimism and happiness…
* To create value and make a difference.
Pretty heavy stuff for a company that sells beverages.
You, on the other hand, are responsible for shaping a human being. Dr. Srikumar S. Rao, author of the international bestseller Are You Ready to Succeed? and professor of Creativity and Personal Mastery at Columbia Business School, posts this comment on the bottom of his outgoing e-mails: “Most persons spend more time planning a vacation than crafting their life.”
Substitute “parenting” for “life,” and many of us would be guilty as charged.
For those of you who think developing a mission statement sounds like Mission Impossible, rest easy. I’m not suggesting that you write the next State of the Union or great American novel. Just that you take some time to formalize your values and priorities as a parent. If you have older children or teenagers, include them in the process – you might be surprised where this dialogue will take you!
In case you need some help getting your creative juices flowing, here are a few more of the promises I made in my “Mission Statement.” I promised:
* To offer Puppy unconditional love and support
* To let her find her own way and not make her follow the path I would choose for her
* To share with her the joys of life and teach her the value of laughter
* To protect her, always
* To share with her the value of education
* To teach her to love and respect her body
* To teach her to trust the energy of the universe
Now it’s your turn – good luck!
Jessica Vitalis resides in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and two precocious daughters. Prior to obtaining her MBA at Columbia Business School, Jessica worked in film and television. When’s she not at boot camp, running marathons or changing diapers, Jessica can usually be found at her computer. In addition to working on numerous children’s picture books, she is currently finishing a memoir titled Ghosts of Children Present. For more from Jessica, visit her parenting site.