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A promise to my son on his first birthday

I promise to make you self-sufficient. You should be able to look after yourself—cook, clean, feed yourself, do your laundry and even sew on the odd button that comes off your best formal shirt the night before an important meeting.

A promise to my son on his first birthday

My darling boy,

Today you turned one. You are officially a toddler and I realize that time is flying by with all the ferocity of a falcon.

Your newborn T-rex hands are now adorably pudgy. You can grab the smallest little speck of dirt and you don't hesitate to put it in your mouth. You have almost graduated from crawling and have already taken your first few toddling steps.

Soon you will be two, then three, and five and 10. And then, as naturally as an acorn growing into a tree, you'll be a teenager and an adult—a full-grown man.

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Much as I want to hit pause and adore your gummy-toothy smile, I am also eager to see the strong, wonderful, kind and loving human you will grow up to be. And to help you be all those things I promise that I'll help you, teach you and set you free to be you.

I promise to teach you independence. You have an adorable way of looking up at your dad or me before you do anything naughty as if asking for permission. (The fact that you do it anyway, perhaps is a reflection of your free spirit). As you grow up, I want you to be empowered, strong and confident enough to take your own decisions. No sly glances of permission necessary!

I promise to make you self-sufficient. You should be able to look after yourself—cook, clean, feed yourself, do your laundry and even sew on the odd button that comes off your best formal shirt the night before an important meeting. "Every woman must be a needlewoman", my grandmother told me when she taught me to sew. In the spirit of equality, I'd like to add, "Every human must be a needle-human." And so, I shall teach you to sew and even to knit and embroider if you'd like to learn.

I promise to teach you the scientific method. The current climate of disbelieving empirical scientific facts and believing in fairytales scares me and I want you to not fall prey to this phenomenon. I want to teach you to question even a seemingly scientific statement and verify its veracity. I want you to debate, contest and research; to keep an open mind for new possibilities, theories and hypotheses. And to take nothing at face value.

To that end, if you ask me a thousand questions about why the water is wet, or why the sky is blue or why there are 36 crore gods in the Indian pantheon, I will patiently try to answer. If I don't know the answer, I will look for it, and in doing so, I'll teach you how to research.

I promise to help you develop a healthy respect for the human body—whether male, female, transgender, old, young or differently-abled. We all have wonderfully efficient bodies which are the product of years and years of evolution. Nobody is more important because of their age, skin color or gender. Neither is a woman impure: because she bleeds every month. In fact, you are a product of a woman's menstruation. We all are.

I promise to never force you to eat spinach or bitter gourd or broccoli if you'd rather not. I will respect your choices as an individual, even when you're a baby barely out of your training pants. Too many parents of too many children force healthy dietary habits on their babies. That does not mean I'll let you have all the chips and cake you'd like, but if you have a particular distaste for a certain vegetable, I'll respect your taste, as I would another adult's.

I promise to teach you the value of kindness, not just to our fellow human beings, but most of all towards animals, trees, birds, insects and the littlest of life forms. If you rescue a sick kitten off the street, I promise to tend to it and find it a home. If you find a caterpillar among the vegetables, I'll teach you to carefully place it on a plant and give it a new lease on life. Kindness is unfortunately underrated in today's world, but I'd like you to prove to the world that one can be kind as well as smart, strong, cool and hip.

I promise to let you climb all the trees you want, dance in every rain shower, jump in the muddiest puddles, make the most spectacular mud pies, grow your own little vegetable patch, swing on the aerial roots of the banyan tree, pet every stray dog and cat, and run around as wild as Mowgli.

I promise to teach you to sing with the birds, gaze at the stars, see shapes in fluffy clouds, follow the rainbow, walk to the furthest bluest mountain, and find a fairy under a mushroom. But most importantly, I promise to give you a childhood you deserve—one that is green with trees, blue with the sky, brown with mud, and pink with flowers.

Love,

Mama

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This is how we’re defining success this school year

Hint: It's not related to grades.

In the ever-moving lives of parents and children, opportunities to slow down and reflect on priorities can be hard to come by. But a new school year scheduled to begin in the midst of a global pandemic offers the chance to reflect on how we should all think about measures of success. For both parents and kids, that may mean putting a fresh emphasis on optimism, creativity and curiosity.

Throughout recent decades, "school success" became entangled with "academic achievement," with cases of anxiety among school children dramatically increasing in the past few generations. Then, almost overnight, the American school system was turned on its head in the spring of 2020. As we look ahead to a new school year that will look like no year past, more is being asked of teachers, students and parents, such as acclimating to distance learning, collaborating with peers from afar and aiming to maintain consistency with schooling amidst general instability due to COVID.

Despite the inherent challenges, there is also an overdue opportunity to redefine success during the school year by finding fresh ways to keep students and their parents involved in the learning process.

"I always encourage my son to try at least one difficult thing every school year," says Arushi Garg, parenting blogger and mom of a 4-year-old. "This challenges him but also allows me to remind him to be optimistic! Lots of things in life are hard, and it's important we learn to be positive during difficult times. Fostering a sense of optimism allows kids to push beyond what they thought possible, like biking without training wheels or reading above their grade level."

Here are a few mantras to keep in mind this school year:

Quality learning matters more than quantifying learning

After focusing on standardized measures of academic success for so long, the learning environment this next school year may involve more independent, remote learning. Some parents are considering this an exciting opportunity for their children to assume a bigger role in what they are learning—and parents are also getting on board by supporting their children's education with engaging, positive learning materials like Highlights Magazine.

As a working mom, Garg also appreciates that Highlights Magazine can help engage her son while she's also working. She says, "He sits next to me and solves puzzles in the magazine or practices his writing from the workbook."

Keep an open mind as "school" looks different

Whether children are of preschool age or in the midst of high school, "going to school" is bound to look different this year. Naturally, this may require some adjustment as kids become accustomed to new guidelines. Although many parents may wish to shelter our kids from challenges, others believe optimism can be fostered through adversity when everyone is committed to adapting to new experiences.

"Honestly, I am yet to figure out when I will be comfortable sending [my son] back [to school]," says Garg. In the meantime, she's helping her son remain connected with friends who also read Highlights Magazine by encouraging the kids to talk about what they are learning on video calls.

Follow children's cues about what interests them

For Garg, her biggest hope for this school year is that her son will create "success" for himself by embracing new learning possibilities with positivity.

"Encouraging my son to try new things has given him a chance to prove that he can do anything," she says. "He takes his previous success as an example now and feels he can fail multiple times before he succeeds."

There's no denying that this school year will be far from the norm. But, perhaps, we can create a new, better way of defining our children's success in school because of it.

This article was sponsored by Highlights. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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We've stocked The Motherly Shop with everything from Halloween must-haves to instant-heirloom gifts kiddos will adore. Whether you're throwing a party or just trying to make the everyday feel a little more special, we've got you covered.

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