In a classic work-life clash, when this yearâs BE Women of Power Summit dates were set, I realized (too late) that it overlapped with my childrenâs winter break. As Editorial Director of the annual four-day event, youâd think I would have taken care to avoid such a conflict. But, I blew that.
So, in an attempt to âhave it all,â I took my two children to Orlando the weekend before the event began so we could spend four days hanging out together before Mommy spent the other half of their vacation at work. The plan was for my son to go home mid-week, while my 16-year-old daughter stayed to attend the conference for the first time.
We had a ball togetherânot a given when youâre sharing a hotel room with two teenagers prone to indecisiveness and bickering and you still have work to fit into the mix. We checked out Seaworld and Aquatica. We swam with dolphins at Discovery Cove. We even decided that the two-hour wait to get into Universal Studiosâ Harry Potterville was well worth it.
So when we sat down to eat breakfast on the morning my son was leaving, as warm Florida sunshine streamed into the Ritz Carltonâs Vineyard Grill, everybody felt really good. Then I looked over and saw my child holding his bacon in his fist, chomping it down like heâd been raised by wolves.
âBecause youâre taking your first solo flight today,â I said, in a carefully controlled tone, âand because I want our parting to be pleasant just in case I never see you again, Iâm not going to go off on the fact that you are 13 years old, sitting in a restaurant, eating your meal with your hands. But I want you to know that when I see you do stuff like this, I feel like Iâve failed as a mother.â
Grinning amiably, bacon paused in mid-air, this young man, who is now my height and outgrows new jeans and sneakers almost monthly, said: âMom, Iâm not high, Iâm not ghetto, and I bathe on the regular. I think youâre doing okay.â
I laughed until I could hardly breathe. It was one of those out-of-the-mouths-of-babes moments. It was a call to stop sweating the small stuff, a lighthearted plea for me to give himâand myselfâa break.
We both needed one and, as Women of Power Legacy Award winner Bethann Hardison would remind me when I told her the story, âHe was right! I donât care where you are, bacon is meant to be eaten with your hands.â
It might surprise actor Kadeem Hardison of A Different World fame, to hear his mother offer my son that pass. By her own admission, as a young, single mom raising her only child, Bethann didnât play.
âI was quite strict,â she says. âAbout everything!â
Take the time 3-year-old Kadeem, sick of waiting on a train, hauled off and kicked her.
âI took that little boy by the back of his shirt and hung him over the tracks and said, âDonât you ever!â His little feet were flapping and people were watching and I told him, ‘That train will come and, after, they wonât even know what pieces of you to scrape up.â I donât know if thatâs why, but from that point on, I donât think he ever said no to me again about anything.â
While those more dramatic lessons might make a lasting impact, Bethann says the real key to child-rearing is to keep a constant conversation going, even when they have little to say, and especially when we think theyâre not listening because âmost likely, thatâs when they are.â
The things sheâs proudest of in Kadeemâhis sense of honesty, integrity and the way he honors and respects the people in his life, especially his 14-year-old daughter, SophiaâBethann claims she didnât teach him directly at all.
âA lot of what your children become is not necessarily what you teach them,â she says. âItâs in their DNA. Itâs who they came here to be.â
And what did Kadeem teach her? She doesnât hesitate: âHave faith. You donât have to be there all the time to have everything turn out okay.â Iâll raise a strip of bacon to that!