What Nelson Mandela Taught Me About Parenting

I’m always looking for good movies to watch with the children.  I believe that an incredible story with an incredible message can teach and shape and mold the children’s characters.  It can also help them remember what they’ve learned because visual images when connected with emotion are very powerful.

So when Jim and I watched the movie Invictus,* I knew this was one I wanted to share with the children.  If you’ve never seen the movie or read the book, it takes place shortly after Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa.  It is a wonderful story and sparked many discussions in our family about apartheid and imprisonment and forgiveness. 

Shortly after watching the movie, Jim read Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson  Mandela.*  At 656 pages it is a long read, but Jim said the book was worth it and and is “interesting, enlightening, and inspiring”.  When I asked him about Mandela Jim said, “Mandela did a lot of driving.” I’m not sure what that means, but there you have it. LOL

Since yesterday was Nelson Mandela’s 95th birthday, I was thinking about him.  As much as Mandela was an incredible leader, he wasn’t the best of fathers.  Not only was he an absent father because of his 27 years in prison, but he then had a troubled country to unite and run.  In fact, Mandela himself eventually wrote about his regret at not devoting himself to his family during the fight against apartheid.

So one might think that Mandela doesn’t have a lot to teach us about being a good parent, and yet I don’t find that to be true.  Because Mandela was an amazing leader.  And I don’t know about you, but I want to be an amazing leader when it comes to my family.  One of Mandela’s quotes that I really take to heart is this one:

“A real leader uses every issue, no matter how serious and sensitive, to ensure that at the end of the debate we should emerge stronger and more united than ever before.”

A lot of people think my children are perfect.  But that simply isn’t true.  They are wonderful, amazing kids… but far from perfect.  One of our biggest struggles with parenting eight children that are close in age (they’re all about 1.5 years apart) stems from that fact that we are raising each and every one of them to be leaders. 

This is a wonderful thing.  I want them to be leaders.  But Jim and I are also leaders.  So when you have a family with ten individuals, living and working together, and all of them display leadership tendencies, it can lead to a LOT of bickering disagreement over the way things should be done.

It is my job (and Jim’s) as the true leaders of the family to take this disagreement and turn it into a debate.  A debate where everybody is allowed to express their opinions and beliefs.  And Mandela teaches me that it is my job to ensure that at the end of the day we emerge as a stronger family that is “more united than ever before”. 

Of course, we’re never going to all agree all the time.  It simply isn’t going to happen.  God created us as individuals and we’re too unique to always agree on every issue.

But I need to teach the children that disagreement is ok.  I need to teach them how to properly disagree (make it about the issue, not the person). But most of all, I need to teach the children how to get past that disagreement and “emerge stronger and more united than ever before”.

After all, we have a lot of years to spend together.  And some day, if more than one of the children decide to take over Goat Milk Stuff (and Jim and I are no longer there to be the mediators/leaders), they will need the skills to handle disagreement and still function as a team. 

Because we are a team.  A strong family.  A united family.  And I don’t ever want that to change.

So thank you to Nelson Mandela for all the work he did and all the sacrifices he made.  He was not a perfect man and he made mistakes.  But he left a mark on this world that we can all learn from.





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Please note that the photos used here were not taken by me and are the property of Getty Images.

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