In the aftershock of losing a dear friend who was only 32 years old, my husband and I recently found ourselves having a what-really-matters talk over pulled pork sandwiches on the deck of a local restaurant.

The conversation lead to questions like, “How do we want our children to see us?” and “What will our kids remember about us?”

Of course, I could name a hundred things I’d like my kids to see in me. (We all could!) But the five on this list are the most precious to me, the ones I don’t ever want to neglect or compromise.

1) Unconditional love

Unconditional love is unshakeable love. It is free of terms and expectations.

My kids like asking questions to test out my love for them: Would you still love me if I broke your favorite music box? Ate all the cookies? Punched you in the nose?

Yes, yes, and yes. I might feel frustrated or sad if you did those things, but I love you no matter what.

2) Respect

We often associate respect with politeness, but it encompasses so much more than good manners.

Respect is honoring a child’s preferences and affirming her individuality. It supports her interests, rather than our own.

Respect is patient enough to wait for a child to learn at his pace, and brave enough to trust his instincts, even when he makes you a little nervous on those monkey bars.

Five Things I Want My Kids to See in Me

Respect offers questions rather than answers: “How do you feel about that? What do you believe? How should we handle this?”

Respect helps kiddos learn to trust their abilities and instincts, to navigate their worlds with confidence and courage.

3) Truth

One of our boys’ favorite conversation topics is what Chad and I did wrong when we were kids.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told the story of dumping a bucket of cold water on my brother’s head while we were building a snowman, or taking a bouncy ball from Travis’s house without asking if I could borrow it.

Our kids LOVE knowing that we were naughty too, and I’m alright with that.

I want them to know that we are good people and loving people, but man, do we botch things sometimes. We make mistakes. We act selfishly. We lose our cool.

The other day, my two-year-old knocked over a pile of my folded laundry, and I barked, “Miii-les!” He sulked off to the kitchen where Chad was, and, I kid you not, he cried, “Mommy’s frustrated at me!”

Of course I felt like a dirtball as I scooped him up and kissed all over his little face, but boy, was I proud of him for nailing that emotion.

Life can be intense for us and for them. We feel tough emotions. If we choose to be honest with one another about what’s going on in the inside, we’ll have more stable and productive relationships on the outside.

4) Joy

As much as we’re together in the tough, raw stuff, I hope for us to be together in our joy.

Kids are great at this. They crack up at one another’s silly faces or made-up songs. They never tire of ringing the doorbell to make the dog go crazy, or stomping their feet in the puddle that forms at the bottom of our stairs to the backyard. They delight in the simplest things — a butterfly, a fat moon, a bubble bath.

Five Things I Want My Kids to See in Me

One of my greatest joys as a kid was taking family road trips, experiencing the rugged beauty of lakes, back roads, and National Parks. Nature filled my heart with music — it still does. When life is hard like it has been this week, I find myself going to the water, the back roads, the woods, where I know I can tap into that source of joy.

I want my kids to have that. I want to help them figure out to make their own joy when life is sad or mundane, or how to really revel in it when things are good.

5) Faith

In the first eight years of our marriage, my husband and I survived a move, a car wreck, both of us changing career paths and attending grad school, a bike accident, learning to survive on one income, becoming parents to three boys (one with a birth defect, all three by c-section), a whole lot of illness, family feuds, and the loss of seven extended-family members and two dear friends. This was a lot for a couple of immature newlyweds, trying to figure out how NOT to be selfish and independent, how to actually take care of each other as husband and wife.

I don’t know if we’d have made it through without faith.

When life gets HARD, and it always does, faith is what we fall back on. Faith is the connection beyond the physical world that anchors us in the big picture. It helps us make sense of confusing things, and find peace with things that will never make sense.

Faith is the wholeness we strive for, and the net of community that keeps us from crashing. If we can teach our children to create their own living, breathing faith, we know they can survive anything.

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Unconditional love. Respect. Joy. Truth. Faith. Those are my five. The essentials for my children. The gifts I want to give them to bless their little hearts today, and the wide world tomorrow.

What qualities do you hope to demonstrate to your families? What five things would top your list

Stacy Harrison

Stacy Harrison lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with her husband, three sons and a Goldendoodle who wasn’t supposed to shed. When she’s isn’t moonlighting as a wrestling referee (Living Room Floor Federation), Stacy enjoys writing non-fiction, primarily to-do lists and grocery lists. Visit Stacy’s blog,