Dear R, A, Z & C:
We Jews have a history of writing letters to our children, from Yaakov to the Ramban to Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. I can’t pretend to impart nearly that level of wisdom, but when a friend and past colleague asked that I write my own version to you, I decided I’d be a fool to turn down the opportunity to reflect–something exceedingly rare as a parent. So at the very least, I’ll attempt to stand upon the shoulders of some of our history’s greatest leaders and thinkers and impart to you what I’ve learned in my nearly 40 years of living–more than 14 of them as your mother.
Be grateful. As soon as you learned to talk, we began to teach you to say thank you for what you’ve been given. It’s the smallest lesson with the biggest impact. There will always be those that have more, but know that you are among the wealthiest people in all of history. Take to heart the advice of Pirchei Avot that the one who is rich is the one who is happy with his lot. And when someone does a kindness for you, pay it back manifold. If you can’t pay it back, pay it forward. Gratitude is the secret to happiness.
Be yourself. As different as you all are, each of you is full of charm, wit, insight and style. Learn to love yourself and you’ll be less likely to fall prey to the social pressures to conform. Only you have the ability to be your best self, so always strive for that goal. It will be a lot easier to reach if you accept yourself. Know your strengths and use them to reach your potential.
Be a giver. Once you realize all that you have, take that and give it to others. Your abilities, your love, your time, your money–everything you have is a gift from God. You’ll never regret giving it to someone who needs it more. In the end you’ll have more as well.
Ask for what you need. Whether in a class, a job or in life, never be afraid to advocate for yourself. No one’s going to reconsider your grade on an essay, your salary at work or what you need from your spouse if you don’t tell them explicitly. This is true for you girls, especially. Consider yourself worthy and ask for what you need to succeed.
Accept the opportunities that come your way. Never let self doubt or a lack of time stand in the way of a great opportunity. Whether it’s a new job, a trip, a friendship, an opportunity to lead–go for it. Someone who believes in you is offering you this chance. Say yes and figure out how to manage later.
Be kinder than necessary. This is not my personal strength, but your father models this creed every day. Whether it’s an acquaintance, family or the stranger behind the checkout register–seek out what others need and offer it. Treat others even better than you’d like to be treated. You’ll never lose by being kind.
Say you’re sorry. And when you realize you weren’t kind enough, reflect on it and say you’re sorry.
Forgive and move on. You’ll never lose by forgiving someone. Even when they are still wrong, you can close that chapter by forgiving them. It takes more muscles to frown than smile and a lot more energy to hate than forgive.
Face your challenges with courage. There are no guarantees in life, and hardships come to all of us. Roll with the punches and don’t ask why. Ask instead, what do I need to do in order to keep moving forward and grow stronger because of this? And when you look back, know that you are a product of all your experiences, and you wouldn’t be you without them.
And finally, live each day knowing that you are loved. Daddy and I love each of you as much as any parent can love a child–a love that can feel so huge when I pause to think about it that it hurts. And even more than that is the love of God. Being a mother is bigger than anything I’ve ever done in my life, and I have no doubt that one day, when my days are a little quieter, I’ll look back on these busy years of parenting as the best and most meaningful years of my life.