What do you kids do to help out? That’s a question that came up recently on one of the email lists and people wrote lovely stories of gifts of housekeeping and organization, putting away groceries and laundry. They’re sweet stories, and I don’t want to diminish them, my kids do things like that too. But when I think about how wonderful my kids are and how much I’m glad to be their parent, I don’t think about housework; it’s such a small thing. What follows is a list of things my kids give and do for me, a paean, and an invitation to see your own family in a similar light, and share your joy with others you know.

My kids invite me to step outside myself, to see another viewpoint, a different perspective. They invite me into their lives, their worlds, they offer to play with me, read with me, watch tv, build and create things with me that fascinate them. It took some effort on my part to do that, I have a rather strong sense of self and sometimes that gets in my way. Fortunately, my kids are persistent.

My kids charm me. The offer me smiles when I don’t expect them, allow me to guard their treasures in my pockets, show me wonders I didn’t expect to find in everyday places. They light me up with their inventiveness. Some days, when I’m tired or grouchy or hormonal, it helps to be charmed, to allow them to charm me out of my blues.

My kids remind me to slow down and pay attention – to hummingbirds and cheesy cartoons, to the taste of ice-cream, and the way the light shines through a dirty window like fairy dust. They remind me, by growing and learning all the time, that life is composed of millions of fleeting moments, never to be revisited except in memory.

My kids challenge my expectations and assumptions. They aren’t me, darnitall, and they don’t see the world the way I do! They don’t always share my values or ideals. They persist in being themselves even when it’s inconvenient to me, and give me the opportunity to re-frame my worldview in the light of their different wisdom.

My kids push my boundaries. I have very good boundaries – they used to be practically armor plated, but they’ve softened over the years, with friendship and with my own willingness to become semi-permeable. My kids interrupt me when I’m focused on serious adult business, or serious Meredith business, and give me a chance to see through the gaps in my well-defended fortress of “self”.

My kids hold up a mirror and shine lights on things I’d rather not see. They keep me honest with their artless imitation of my ways and their ingenuous wondering. They allow me to be true to my vision of myself and to change that vision, too, sometimes, when the reality is less lovely than my imagining.

My kids remind me what’s good about humanity. That’s a feat. I’m a longtime cynic and it wasn’t easy to accept that I didn’t need to school my kids away from their human natures. My kids have shown me that human nature is Enough, that it’s the best that we have in the best sense of those words. They have given me a marvelous opportunity to see human beings as people, doing the best they can with sometimes limited resources; the opportunity to see everyone, not just the people I love, with compassion and grace.