Life lessons at 50 plus: “Out of the Mouths of Babes”



What have we learned from our offspring? Plenty.

As children growing up in the 1950s and ‘60s, our primary role was to be seen and not heard. Advice was doled out like morning vitamins with such directives as “Sit up straight,” “Chew with your mouth closed,” “Be respectful of your elders,” “Don’t complain,” and so on. We listened without challenging—at least most of the time. We thought our mothers and fathers knew best.

We’d like to think we’ve passed on what we learned from our parents to our children, primarily the many lessons about living a good life and being kind to others, as we’ve watched them grow from babies into young adults. All of our five collective children are in their late 30s and 40s.

But we also raised our children to think for themselves, be independent, pursue their passions, listen and communicate. In doing so, as we observe our children and interact with them, we realize they have taught us as many lessons as we’ve taught them, maybe more. And we’re not just referring to technology as we stumble into the 21st century of Facebook, Wi-Fi, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, YouTube, Kindle, Zoom, selfies, apps and more.

12 lessons

Here are 12 lessons we have picked up from our children that have in many ways made us better people, friends, parents and now grandparents:

1. Put on the brakes. We’re always in a hurry, used to deadlines and overscheduled work lives. We’ve seen our kids prioritize and take time for non-work moments—working out, walking, running, socializing both on and off line, getting their nails and toes done because it’s healthy and looks good, drinking and eating better than we usually do, and spending more time with our aging parents–their grandparents–and growing and learning from those relationships.

2. Forgiveness, openness, and honesty. We’ve made mistakes and our kids have been quick to discuss them with us, let us apologize and forgive us, which has helped us be much more forgiving of others. Our parents told us what we did wrong, we didn’t question their authority, often got punished and that was that. Often there was no or little discussion. Some of our friends’ parents never said, “Sorry.” We’re not afraid to say it. “It’s okay to make mistakes, Mom,” our kids will say. And then we’ll come up with options of how to move forward.

3. Out of our comfort zone. Our kids are more willing to try new things, whether it’s a food we’ve been squeamish about tasting, traveling to a new destination off the beaten track, testing a new technology or wearing something that’s not been part of our typical “uniform.” They’ve shown us how to live in the moment, experiment and have do-overs.

4. A sense of humor. Laughing about our sometimes too stuffy ways and mistakes is another important lesson we gleaned from them. The soufflé flopped. The roast tastes like charcoal and is the same color. So, what! It was fun making it, they say. Everything doesn’t have to be doom and gloom. Your daughter tells you she got up in front of the class to do a math problem and blanked. That’s okay. Our kids often use humor to diffuse the situation. Instead of self-flagellation, they might say, “I guess I left my mind out so long it just rusted shut in math class.”

5. Less judgmental. Oh, there’ve been times when we so wanted to say something without being asked our opinion—“How can you wear that going out?” or “Why would you spend so much money on that?” or even “That haircut is absolutely terrible.” Yet, we’ve learned to hold our tongues—most times. Not every thought in our head has to come out of our mouths and be shared since we’re eager to keep the door open to two-way conversations. Accept people for who and what they are. Our children seem to be able to do this quite well.

6. We’re not talking great sadness—the death of a loved one but momentary heartaches—the end of a relationship with a guy or gal, not getting into a first-choice pick of a college or other program, or even a bad critique from a boss or reviewer. They pick themselves up by the bootstraps and get back into the game again rather than dwell, obsess or ruminate, which is so easy to do. We know all too well.

7. Shorten. We’re writers who love the written—and spoken word. And we could pontificate or write books literally about all we want to say to our grown kids. But we also know that our kids are part of a generation that moves quickly and has better things to do most times than sit down and listen to a lecture, read a tome or an email that’s the length of an essay. We’ve learned to shorten our messages to communicate in sound bites or in a text and still get our points across.

8. Courage and Assertiveness. Our kids stand up for themselves and others. No shrinking violets here. They are focused and know what they want. And they’re not afraid to say it and go for it, but usually by combining forcefulness with tactfulness and kindness. Such a wonderful mix.

9. Live Healthier. Our kids have a better grasp than we do of key messages affecting health. How safe is it to drink the water? How polluted is our air? What constitutes a healthy diet and lifestyle? How bad is soda, especially diet soda, for us? Why do they drink green or black tea? Let’s meditate, do yoga, go to Pilates, hit the gym daily and not shy from those hard squats and heavier weights. Along the way, they showed us how to eat much healthier, which means more cooking at home, less or no sugar, gluten-free this or that, oat milk and tofu! And then they text photos proudly of their results, which also look stunning.

10. Protect Yourself During COVID-19. When the virus was at its peak, they told us in no uncertain terms that we could not go into busy grocery stores and elsewhere, get on airplanes and go without a mask—sometimes a double mask because of our age or a KN95. “You’re old,” they told us boldly but with so much love and caring, we listened, of course.

11. Trust gut instincts. Our kids go with their gut when they think something is right. It’s inner knowledge, intuition, instinct. It doesn’t really matter what they call it, what really matters is that they’ve learned how to work with it and will often say, “Mom, trust your gut. You don’t need to ask a million folks.” All the learning in the world cannot replace what the inner self says. Just open your ears, heart, head, and you’ll hear and feel it. And they also don’t ask a village of friends to consult as we often do.

12. Go for Experiences, Not Stuff. We tried to indulge them through the years with a lovely sweater, pair of boots, warm coat, hat and gloves. They taught us that experiences matter much more—time together in our respective homes, going to a concert, taking a walk in a new park or botanic garden, even taking a trip together. These are the memories that matter.

Thank you from the bottom of our (aging) hearts for caring.

Margaret (Meg) Crane lived most of her life in St. Louis, was associate editor of the Jewish Light in the early ’70s and from 2001-2012, was senior writer for Jewish Federation. Two years ago, she moved to New York City to be closer to family living there. Barbara Ballinger, originally from New York, lived in St. Louis for 23 years and worked at the St. Louis Post Dispatch. She now lives in upstate New York. Follow their blog here.