Maya Angelou is someone whose every word sounds like poetry and beckons you to dance with its meaning. Like most kids that age, I read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (affiliate link) in high school and was hooked. I was genuinely heartbroken to hear of her passing—the world has lost a true literary treasure.
And so we live through her words. And we can learn from them, especially, as parents. Below are a few Maya Angelou quotes, and what they can teach us about parenthood.
Maya Angelou quotes
#1 “I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back.”
In this age run rampant with narcissism and competition, we need to raise kids capable of giving back. Kids who aren’t spoiled and go through life with selfish expectations.
So we teach gratitude. We show them how random acts of kindness garner joy for both giver and receiver. We teach them to give for the joy of doing so and not with any tit-for-tat expectations of receiving the same in return.
Practical action: Ask your child to make a card for someone. Take them gift-shopping not for themselves but for another child. Volunteer to spruce up a local school or park. Enjoy simple hang outs like a play date at someone’s house or a picnic by the beach.
#2 “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Modern parenthood has us stumped. We…
- wonder how our choice to work or not will affect our kids (“Am I still raising them if I’m at work all day?”).
- offer enrichment classes and camps hoping to tap into their potential and widen their horizon.
- shower them with toys because we wonder if we aren’t giving them enough—then suffer the consequences if we give them too many.
- fret over discipline—time out, spanking, not following through with consequences—then worry if we’ve forever tarnished their childhood because of something we did or didn’t do.
In truth, our kids won’t remember these things. They won’t track how many toys they received during the holidays, or compare notes with friends on which enrichment classes they took over the summer. They might hardly notice whether you were home after school or home all day.
Instead, they’ll remember how you comforted them after a frightful night or a fight with a best friend. They’ll remember how you played chase and fought bad guys around the house, laughing hysterically. They’ll remember feeling safe and warm each night as you read bedtime books and sang songs.
It’s the little things, they always say. And it’s so true. How we make our kids feel—loved, not neglected; safe, not frightened—is more important than anything we say or do.
Practical action: Think about yourself from your child’s perspective. What impressions would you like to make on your child? What simple things can you do to make those impressions?
#3 “When you know better, you do better.”
Moms, we blame ourselves so much. And we shouldn’t. Guilt for something we’ve done in the past is over-rated. We did what we did knowing what we knew then.
There’s also the value of continued learning. I keep referring to parenthood as the most learn-on-the-job job there could be. And the more open we are to continually learning new techniques (instead of doing the same, no-results frustrating ones) and becoming more attuned to our kids, the smoother this whole parenting thing becomes.
Maya Angelou quotes #4 “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
Doctors and authors Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson introduced me to the idea of surviving vs. thriving in their book, The Whole-Brain Child (affiliate link). They describe typical “survival” situations: scrambling to get dinner made while tempering our two-year-old’s tantrum, putting the baby to nap (and trying to stay calm when she doesn’t), or disciplining a child for doing something he’s not supposed to.
We’ve all been there. We’re all trying to survive and just make it through the day.
And yet there’s the other aspect of parenthood besides surviving: thriving. Particularly, encouraging our children to thrive not just now but years to come. Teaching them lessons so they develop habits later into adulthood.
Take, for instance, helping a child handle a tantrum. We can take short cuts, offer a bribe or simply ignore them for fear of losing our cool—yes, these are things we do to sane.
But we can also guide them to find ways to calm down. We can show empathy to let them know we understand. And we can talk them through their frustration so they can use logic and storytelling to calm themselves down.
These are the “teachable moments” we discuss. These are the moments we don’t plan for but seize the opportunity when they happen.
We’re not just trying to survive the day-to-day grind—which will happen, of course—but we also help our kids thrive into full-fledged future adults.
Practical action: Today, look for a teachable moment instead of brushing it off. How can you help your child thrive and learn from the situation?
#5 “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”
And this is all what it’s about, isn’t it? Children are perhaps the only people we want so much without knowing who in the world they’re going to be. Yet despite differing temperaments, challenging battles and the sacrifices we make for our kids, we love them wholeheartedly.
And not in the “I’m a parent therefore I’m a martyr” manner. These folks complain about the challenges of parenthood, hoping to get some invisible reward or pat on the back for the sacrifices they’ve made. As if the more miserable they are, the more devoted a parent they must be. No, that’s selfish.
We love our kids because of them. Because of what they’ve shown us and led us to learn about ourselves, and because they’re brilliant and curious and hilarious. We love them so, so much, it seems silly trying to form words around this feeling.
Practical action: Simple—Show and tell your kids how much you love them.
What will you write?
During the last few days we lost a beloved author and teacher. Maya Angelou has touched so many through her words and her presence. I was lucky—back in 2002 she attended The Los Angeles Times Book Festival and I was able to sit among the audience listening to her do her thing.
Now she leaves us with her beautiful words and a life well lived and learned.
We’re not all poets or teachers or writers. But we can create something beautiful with our roles as mothers and fathers in how we interact with our children and those around us.
What will you write? How will you act? What will be your story?
Discuss more topics on parenthood:
- Positive Parenting Resolutions You Can Actually Keep
- Nobody’s Perfect, Including Our Kids
- Moms, We’re All in This Together
- Parenting Tip: Be More Carefree
- Be the Adult You Want Your Child to Be
Your turn: What are your interpretations of these five Maya Angelou quotes? What have you learned from Maya Angelou? Who in your life who has inspired you and your life? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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