I was recently recording a webinar for the National Afterschool Association on the topic of how we engage families in our schools and afterschool programs. After I finished the session I was chatting with the tech guy on the other end, and he commented that he had three adult sons who were all successful, and that in his opinion, parenting came down to one thing: showing up. He said that early on he made a commitment that he would show up so that his sons knew that they were worth showing up for… so that by the time they were teenagers they would believe in their worth so much that they would show up for themselves.
Show them that they are worth showing up for.
That advice about knocked me out of my chair.
Ironically, immediately afterward I went to get my nails done. Chatting with my nail technician, I learned that he was from Vietnam and moved to Michigan when he was sixteen. He shared that just a few short days after they arrived they had to start school, and he and his brother were basically just told where the bus stop was. As it happened, that stop was both a city bus stop and a school bus stop. He told me that he and his brother didn’t know the difference between the buses, but figured someone would tell them what to do, or ask them where they were going. Instead, the school bus pulled up, opened the doors, then closed the doors, and drove off. And instead, the city bus pulled up, opened the doors, then closed the doors, and then drove off. Can you picture that scene? Nobody showed up for them that day.
He also shared with me that he had gym class, and in his country you didn’t change in front of other people so he felt embarrassed and scared about having to change into gym clothes… and then he noticed a few other kids dressed in their regular clothes and just sitting in the bleachers. So he decided to join them. Day after day for the entire semester he just watched from the bleachers until he got his report card and realized he had been given an “F” in gym for “lack of participation.” The kicker? The gym teacher never once talked to him. Never once came over and asked why he wasn’t participating. Never once explained what would happen if he didn’t participate. Never once showed him that he was worth showing up for. Never once.
I just can’t stop thinking about that. What does it mean, to show up for others? How powerful is it, to make someone feel that they are worth showing up for? To my incredibly wise tech guy’s point, showing our young ones that they are worth showing up for from an early age just might shape their own trajectory of self-worth and determination. But it’s not just about showing up for them. Are we showing up for each other? Do your colleagues believe that you think them worth showing up for? Does your family? Your friends? Because if I am repeatedly putting you off, putting you aside, half listening, half contributing, choosing other priorities, then I am telling you that you are not important to me. That you don’t matter. And if I continue to do that, then you will disconnect from me in order to find someone or someplace that makes you feel like you do matter.
There are a million strategies for engagement—engaging our families, engaging our youth, engaging our professional community, engaging our partners. But the best way to engage with anyone, it seems to me now, is to simply start by showing up.
How are you showing others that they are worth showing up for today?