Powerful Lessons We Can Learn From Ruth Bader Ginsburg

She was a true trailblazer, and her advice can help us all continue to repair the world together.

Erin Alexis Randolph/ Shutterstock
Erin Alexis Randolph/ Shutterstock

To honor the life and impact of the amazing Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG), a woman who inspired me, my daughters, my grandchildren and many people in my life, I am dedicating this post to celebrating her wisdom about parenting.  Most people don’t know her as a parent or grandparent, but her values and actions reflect that of a wise mother.

Repairing the world

RBG’s philosophy of Tikkum Olan is from the Hebrew phrase meaning repairing the world and has come to connote social action and the pursuit of social justice. This is especially important to teach our children. It is important for all kids to find a passion in life, something they personally care about and a way for them to be a positive change in repairing the world. Our world today needs a lot of repairing. We are all part of a community; we are not just working for ourselves.

Tikkum Olan aligns with my TRICK philosophy which involves treating people with trust and respect, giving them independence, collaborating, not dictating and treating people with kindness. Be kind to yourself, your children, your family, your friends, your colleagues, and the community.

Be articulate in your writing

In the book Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life, RBG’s philosophy around discipline is introduced. She had her kids write and revise repeatedly.  She wanted them to think about what they had done that was problematic and also “be very articulate in their writing.” Turns out that her daughter also uses that same method with her children.

As a parent, if my kids disobeyed, I had them write about what they did  and why it was a problem. They wrote lots of essays and it worked!  As a teacher,  I kept a student who misbehaved after school, talked with them, and then had them write an essay about what they did. The concept is the same; make children reflect on what they did and teach them to communicate effectively. 

Writing makes you think about your actions and helps you realize how they may have negatively impacted someone. I recommend writing as a way for parents of tweens and teenagers to begin to change negative behavior in their children.

In a recent webinar I heard from many parents who have problems with their children:

  • Lying about what they did or are doing
  • Playing games instead of doing their homework
  • Refusing to talk to their parents about any part of their lives.  

These are common problems and writing is a solution that seems to work well to start chipping away at them. When I asked my children or students to write, it was helpful to organize in a simple, 7-step outline:

  1. Describe What you did
  2. Explain Why you did it
  3. Explain Why you, their parent, doesn’t approve of the behavior
  4. Explain the Consequences of their behavior
  5. Suggest a course of action for the parents
  6. Suggest a course of action for yourself, the child
  7. Suggest a compromise to will work for both parent and child

Children will think twice before they repeat the negative behavior, have a deeper understanding of the consequences, and be more articulate in communicating the rationale for their behavior.  

Mothers as a powerful, positive influence

The third idea RBG talked about repeatedly is the importance of her mother. “My mother was a powerful influence,” she wrote. Sadly, her mother died when she was a teenager. Her mother influenced the way she thought and the goals she set in her life. We all need to realize how important parents are in the lives of their children. We sometimes forget that our behavior does have an important impact, even if we think our kids may forget about it the next day. Children do as they see, not as you say.

It helps to be a little deaf

RBG was repeatedly asked if she had good advice to share. One of her most famous pieces of advice came from her mother-in-law. The advice was “in every good marriage, it helps to be a little deaf.” A now famous phrase,   she said that she followed that advice assiduously not only at home, through her 56 years of marriage, but also “in every workplace, including the Supreme Court.” She said, “when a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best to tune it out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.”

An incredible role model, a blessed memory, an inspiration to all of us to make the world a better place, we can all honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s memory by working to continue her goals.

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