I was having an existential moment driving back to the office from lunch.
I won’t call it an existential crisis because I wasn’t in a panic. I felt at peace. But I was listening to a song about the course our lives take, and I was thinking about what I want, what I truly want, from my existence.
And in that moment I had a flash of the life I’ve led and the life I’ll be leading. All of it centered around my children.
This isn’t to say that I don’t have my own identity. No need to fire up the feminist jets—I have my own, and they aren’t needed here. I have a full life on my own, and I don’t define myself solely by my relationships to others.
However, at the heart of everything, in that existential moment, I felt my ancestors and descendants joined in a line. I could feel time, moving backward and forward, stretching through me. Yes, my children are a part of that. Perhaps, at two and three they’re too young for me to think about descendants. Particularly as I myself am only in my mid-30s. But it’s more than that. I was thinking of all the time before and all the time to come and my own small place in all of that time. My time—small in the grand scheme of things, but so precious to me.
And I want to be an old, old lady watching my children watching their children grow old. That’s what I want. But if for some reason that’s not a part of the plan, there are things I want my children to know. I want them to feel it deeply, for it to be a part of their make-up. I want these essential things to be passed from one heart to the next through our line. I want that to be my legacy.
1. I want my children to know that they are always loved. Just that—loved. Without question. Without qualifications. Without end.
2. I want my children to know that I am deeply proud of them. I don’t know what kind of adults they will one day be, but I feel that they will do their best and make the best decisions they can with what they know at the time. Sure, they may make mistakes. But I am proud of who they are.
3. I want my children to know that they are enough. They are worthy. Just as they are. They’re perfectly imperfect, and who they are will always be enough. And to hell with anyone who makes them feel less than. Because they are whole and complete.
4. I want my children to know gratitude. I want my children to live with thankful hearts. I hope that I’m teaching them that. As we go through each day expressing our gratitude for the small things, I hope they’re absorbing that sense of wonder about our world. I want them to know true appreciation, even for the smallest of details.
5. I want my children to know that even though I couldn’t give them an intact nuclear family I have always loved them and put their best interests at the forefront of every decision. I want them to know that nothing about the divorce was their fault and that they are very much loved by both of their parents. I want them to know that they are the best thing that ever happened to me, and I was only able to dream again because I had them to inspire me. I want them to know that I have tried and will always try to give them stability and a happy life. That we will have adventures and be our own perfect little family.
Many of us don’t have nuclear families. We have blended families and single parents and an assortment of combinations. But we’re not less of a family because of it. I want my children to know that.
6. I want my children to know happiness. I don’t want them to feel that they have to chase success or compare to others. I hope they chase joy. I hope they hold it in the palm of their hand gently and share it with the world. Not superficial happiness, but deep, profound joy in the lives that they lead.
7. I want my children to know kindness. I want them to be able to spread that joy through their kindness to others. I hope I can teach that kindness even though I’m far from perfect myself. I want them to know that kindness is important, and it’s more important to be kind than to be right.
8. I want my children to understand the meaning of family. I want my children to know that they can always count on each other. I want them to know that they can always count on me. I want them to feel deeply bonded to their family and secure in those relationships. Not just at major holidays but in their daily lives.
9. I want my children to know that my favorite moments have always been the small ones. My daughter singing to me. My son holding my hand. Butterfly kisses and nose nuzzles. Nice long walks together. I want them to know that I savor those moments, and I hope they learn to savor the small moments, too.
10. I want my children to know that there is power in our authenticity. That they may not be like me and that’s okay. That even if they aren’t like other people, that’s more than fine. I want them to embrace who they are, even if it’s outside of the mainstream. We aren’t meant to be carbon copies, and our individuality is beautiful. Just like our similarities are beautiful.
11. I want my children to know that there is magic left in the world. Magic isn’t just for fairy tales and storybooks. There’s magic in random acts of kindness from strangers. There’s magic in falling in love. There’s magic inside of our intuition and in the smallest of events if we’re looking. I want them to live in wonder.
I’ve always loved history more than science, but we’re both. We are all here because of all of the relationships that happened before us. We are the result of all of it. Genes, DNA, everything is passed down. And then we pass them forward. Even if we don’t choose to have children, we pass what we learn forward in our relationships with others. We have an impact. And in my own existential moment of deep soul-searching, I found that I want my positive intention to ripple through the generations. And I hope that my missteps have fewer lasting effects.
In evaluating our lives and searching our souls, what we truly uncover is our priorities. We find the things that matter and quickly realize what doesn’t matter at all. I didn’t list the cars I want my children to drive or the size of the houses they live in. I didn’t list a six-figure salary or the exact physical details of their significant other. Or the political party they vote for. Or the denomination of the church they attend, if they choose to do so. None of that truly matters.
At the heart of it all, I’m hoping for gratitude and kindness and joy, and I think most of us have a deep desire for that. And we’d all like to think that our legacy is more positive than negative in the end.
By looking closely at those values, we can begin to make the small life choices that build up to that bigger picture. To honor ourselves and our ancestors and our descendants by trying to live the best life we can. Not best as in the most expensive, the prettiest, the most celebrated. But best as in the kindest, the most compassionate, the most grateful. The happiest lives we could lead.
I think we owe it to ourselves and the line that we’re a part of to try.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Image: Jesse Millan/Flickr
Editor: Emily Bartran