Get inspired by one of our most beloved writers and her words of wisdom. Read 5 Maya Angelou quotes about parenthood we can learn from.
Maya Angelou is someone whose every word sounds like poetry and beckons you to dance with its meaning.
Like most kids in high school, I read the autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and was hooked. I also watched her interviews (especially with Oprah!) and would always come away with something new I’d learned.
When she visited UCLA for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, I was among the crowd who had the honor to see her in person. Her very presence already made you smile.
So, like many, I was genuinely heartbroken to hear of her passing on this date a few years ago—the world had lost a true literary treasure.
Maya Angelou quotes about parenthood
One of the wonderful things Maya Angelou left us is the power of her words. Like a good quote often does, her words can speak to you no matter where in your life you might be.
That’s why, as a mom, many of her words have spoken to me, even though they weren’t specifically about raising kids. There’s still so much wisdom and how we might be able to use her words to guide us. Below are a few of my favorite Maya Angelou quotes about parenthood.
1. On loving our kids
“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”
This is what it’s about, isn’t it? Children are the only people we want so much without knowing who in the world they’re going to be. Despite differing temperaments, challenging battles, and the sacrifices we make, we love them no matter what.
And not in the “I’m a parent therefore I’m a martyr” manner. These are simply complaints about parenthood, usually hoping to get a reward or a 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.
How can you apply this quote in your life? Show and tell your kids how much you love them. It’s all too easy to do this amid the hustle and bustle of the day, but this simple gesture grounds us to what’s truly important.
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2. On giving
“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 young people capable of giving back with an open heart. Kids who aren’t spoiled or go through life with selfish expectations.
So, we teach the virtues of gratitude. We show them how random acts of kindness bring happiness to both the giver and receiver. We teach them to give for the joy of doing so and not with any expectation of receiving the same in return.
How? Ask your child to make a card for someone. Take her gift-shopping not just for herself but for another child. Volunteer to spruce up a local school or community center. Enjoy simple hangouts like a bicycle ride at the park or a picnic by the beach.
3. On learning lessons
“When you know better, you do better.”
Moms, we blame ourselves too 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. Parenthood is the most learn-on-the-job job there could be. Parenthood can be smooth if we’re open to learning new techniques and becoming more attuned to our kids.
4. On thriving
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“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 versus thriving in their book, The Whole-Brain Child.
They describe typical “survival” situations. Scrambling to get dinner made while tempering your two-year-old’s tantrum. Putting the baby to nap (and trying to stay calm when she doesn’t). Disciplining your toddler for doing something she’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 kids to thrive not only now but in the years to come. Teaching them lessons so they develop habits later into adulthood.
Take, for instance, helping your child handle a tantrum. You can take shortcuts, offer a bribe, or simply ignore her for fear of losing your cool—yes, these are things we do to stay sane.
But you can also guide her to find ways to calm down and show empathy to let her know you understand. You can talk her through her frustration so she can use logic and storytelling to calm herself down.
These are the “teachable moments” you don’t plan for, but seize the opportunity when they happen. You’re not just trying to survive the day-to-day grind, which will happen, of course. You’re also helping her thrive into a full-fledged future adult.
Look for a teachable moment instead of brushing it off. How can you help her thrive and learn from the situation?
5. On what really matters
“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 experience the consequences if we give them too many.
- fret over discipline. We do time out, spanking, and don’t follow through with consequences. Then worry if we’ve tarnished their childhood because of something we did or didn’t do.
In truth, our kids won’t remember these specifics as much. They won’t track how many toys they received during the holidays, or compare notes with friends on which camps they took over the summer. They might hardly notice whether you were home after school or all day.
Instead, they’ll remember how you comforted them after a frightful night or a fight with a best friend. How you played chase and fought bad guys around the house, laughing hysterically. Of 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, and safe, not frightened—is more important than anything we say or do.
Think about yourself from your child’s perspective. What impressions would you like to make on her, and what simple things can you do to make them happen?
What will you write?
Maya Angelou has touched so many through her words and her legacy. 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 parents in how we interact with our kids and those around us.
Which of these Maya Angelou quotes about parenthood most apply to you?
Get more tips:
- 7 Ideas to Pull Yourself Out of a Bad Parenting Day
- Are You Living Through Your Kids? Why You Should Find Your Own Meaning
- Top Parenting Books Moms and Dads Should Read
- Model the Behavior You Want to See in Your Child
- How to Respond when Someone Criticizes Your Parenting
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