Admirable Role Models, Admirable Kids

When you see your kids being creative, courageous, or kind, which role models do you think of? Which character traits matter to you?

That’s the premise of the new book, Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters. In this book, author Barack Obama holds up 13 adult role models and makes connections between what he sees in his daughters and how these role models act.

As a parent, I’m always aware of which adults set good examples and which ones downright embarrass me. I know that adults—and kids—are human beings. We do great things, and we make mistakes, but it seems that some people tend to do more good in the world than bad, and that other people tend to make a mess wherever they go.

However, I had never thought of the idea, however, of making connections between the character traits my kids were developing and the adult role models who also have these traits. As I think about my two kids, I see six traits (that I admire) emerging in my kids and six adult role models who emulate these traits:

Having a sense of humor: Whether life is easy or life is hard, a sense of humor carries you through. Rev. Dr. Desmond Tutu of South Africa was one of the leaders against apartheid and became a global human rights activist. Despite witnessing absolute horrors, Tutu always has a sense of humor. Time magazine calls him “the laughing bishop.”

Being creative: Whether it’s music, art, drama, or some other creative activity, find something you’re passionate about creating. Georgia O’Keefe, an American painter, created gorgeous, lush paintings of flowers and landscapes, which captured her imagination.

Healing the earth and each other: We have a lot of brokenness around us. The earth needs more people to reduce their carbon footprint. Our society needs more people who work toward peace and healing rather than destruction and violence. Black Elk (Hehaka Sapa) was an Oglala Lakota (Sioux) medicine man who was a healer who believed in the wholeness of earth, its creatures, and all of humanity.

Standing up for what you believe in: Developmental Asset #28,: Integrity, is about acting on your convictions and standing up for your beliefs. Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar (Burma) was under house arrest for 15 years because of her beliefs in regards to human rights and nonviolence. She has been recently released. Her most famous speech so far has been “The Freedom from Fear.”

Continuing to try and experiment: No matter what happens, you keep trying, and you keep experimenting. Inventor Thomas Edison is most known for inventing the light bulb. Someone once asked Thomas Edison, “Don’t you get discouraged when you have to try 50,000 experiments before you get any results?” Edison replied, “Why, I’ve gotten a lot of results. I know 50,000 things that don’t work.” Edison invented more than 1,000 new creations.

Setting high expectations for yourself: What do you want to achieve? What are your goals? Actress and singer Rita Moreno was the first woman to win an Academy award, a Tony award, an Emmy, and a Grammy (all four!).

While these six role models are either national or global leaders, I also admire the teachers, coaches, music teachers, club leaders, neighbors, extended family members, work colleagues, and friends who also set great examples for my kids every day. While it’s critical for our kids to have role models, it’s also essential for us as parents to point out the admirable character traits are kids are developing.

What are you most proud of about your kids?


Alex Perry, “The Laughing Bishop,” Time magazine, October 11, 2010.

Barack Obama, Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2010).

Marian Wright Edelman, The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992).

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