Raising My Children to Live Freely in the Face of Rigid Social Standards

Dear children of mine, I have a warning for you. It’s about the danger and promise of “should” and “could”.

You will hear from the world, the influencers, and the television all about how you should live your life.

You’ll hear it quiet and loud; often and sometimes. You’ll hardly notice half the time, and you’ll probably spend many years repairing the damage from the faintest and most whispering of “shoulds”. Some of them may even come from us, who love you so. I warn you now to make a note when “shoulds” and “coulds” start creeping out.

“Should” denotes that there is a correctness. A perfect. That life is a two-lane road built on dualities.

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“Should” says that one direction down the road is right, and the other is wrong. There is no such road.

We are all driving on a freeway in the same direction – there is no going back and there are many lanes. There are a few things I will impose upon you, children of mine. Some shoulds that I will consciously endow you with:

You should be respectful. You should be kind. You should follow your heart. You should ask questions. You should never make the same mistake twice. I’ll stop there. Five shoulds for each of you.

Now, there are also the “coulds”. And that denotes that life is full of options and potential, which it is. “Could” is limitless, which you are. “Could” can be dangerous too though – a slippery slope of reality versus fantasy. You will dream up many ways to do things, and I can’t wait to witness all the answers to your coulds.

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You could be a doctor or lawyer. You could do what ignites your soul so fully that you’re up all night plotting. You could follow the rules. You could break any that are inefficient or unfair.

You could make practical choices that set you up for success. You could make an impulsive decision and still be successful.

You could work at least one year at a job for the security of your resume. You could quit a job if you hate it and be fine. You could build a fort. You could buy a house. The coulds are endless.

In reality, there are practicalities that will make your life easier. There are responsibilities that we hope you’ll rise to the occasion for. There are wisdoms that if utilized, will help you soar beyond the heights your youth can imagine. But again, these are all “coulds”.

You will not do what you should. You will be disrespectful, but I hope you learn from it. You will be unkind, but I hope you never do that twice. You will follow your head, not your heart, but I hope it makes you ask deeper questions about yourself. You’ll follow the crowd, but I hope it takes you somewhere you won’t return to. You will make the same mistake twice, but I hope not three times.

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I should have the faith to let you fall and also see you take flight. But, I may not be able to once or twice – that could happen. I won’t always respect you, because I’ll want to preempt you. I won’t always be kind to you because I’m not always kind to myself. I’ll urge you to follow my head, when your own heart knows better.

I won’t always ask you what you want, because you won’t want to clean your room. It will take me time to learn from some mistakes with you, but I promise I will. I could force all the “shoulds” on you from lessons I’ve learned, but I hope that I won’t. I could stick to my five and be just fine.

The shoulds in our house will guide you, not inhibit you. The shoulds in our house will be the compass, and the coulds are the stars. Your faith is the sky that surrounds it all, never leaving and never ceasing. We are the moon shining always upon you but sometimes out of sight, and your life is the beautiful collection of constellations. You should never forget this, but sometimes you will. You could remember forever, and that’s okay too.

Photos by Eileen Roche

Bailey Van Tassel

Founder at Abel Impact

Bailey is the Founder and President of Abel Impact, a social responsibility firm that helps business and families partner with charity to create meaningful do-good programming. Her background is in marketing, non-profit management, sales, and fundraising. She brings a wealth of knowledge from over eight years of studying the way the private sector interacts with the social sector, and is certified in non-profit evaluation. She has worked with companies like Google, MasterCard, Club Corp, and many others. Bailey’s passion lies in bridging the worlds of philanthropy and business, alongside her love for her family, yoga, cooking, and doing anything outside.