Forty years ago today (March 1, 1981), my parents Karel and Marta immigrated to Canada from the former Czechoslovakia with their two little girls (10 years old and 18 months – that was me!) in tow.

We didn’t speak English. We didn’t have money. It’s the story of many Canadian families.

I often think about how my sister and I became the creative, entrepreneurial professionals we grew up to be. Was my parents’ experience the reason I’m always looking for ways to innovate? Is it the reason I’m so stubborn?

My experience growing up, and in my professional life, and as a mother, have all reinforced it: parents are their children’s first and most important teachers. You can debate nature vs. nurture all day long, but you’ll eventually have to admit that a child’s environment has at least a major role in who they grow up to be.

So I hope you’ll indulge me as I share what I see as the most valuable lessons I learned from my parents – in what they told me, and in what they showed me – with the hopes they might be helpful to you, too.

  1. Humble beginnings are gifts. Like many immigrant families, we didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up. But we had everything we needed to be comfortable and healthy – and we appreciated everything we had. To this day, I take nothing for granted.
  2. Gratitude is the foundation of happiness. Having things is nice. But recognizing those things came from somewhere (from the person who gave them to you, or the person who created them… from your ability to buy things for yourself, because of what others have taught you) is even nicer. Intentionally teaching children about gratitude goes far beyond manners, and helps them appreciate all their blessings.
  3. Presence is more important than presents. Our parents worked hard at multiple jobs to get our family started in Canada – but we never felt like spending time with us, or answering our zillions of questions, was a burden they didn’t have time for. Sometimes we tagged along for evenings cleaning offices – and it was fun spending time together doing something new. Our family had its stresses (I mean, eventually there were teenagers in the house!), but we always knew we belonged and had our parents’ unconditional love behind us.
  4. Kids can and should understand the value of money. My Dad often showed me his pay cheque and our household bills – and I learned how to get creative and stretch a dollar. While this level of financial openness may not feel right for every family, there is a lot of value in teaching kids about limited resources, having to make choices, and taking care of what we have.
  5. Experiences don’t have to be expensive or “organized” to be valuable. In South Winnipeg, we are blessed to have access to just about every kind of activity our children could want. Those activities can help our kids develop skills and knowledge, social comfort, independence and pride. But don’t forget about the simpler things you can do as a family that nurture all those things… as well as your relationships with one another: picking fruit or mushrooms, swimming, volunteering in the community, doing nice things for neighbours. You never know, your child might even stumble onto their life’s passion: at 12, I was allowed to volunteer at a City of Winnipeg preschool drop-in program… and got hooked.

I know you’re busy, so I’m going to leave it there for this month – and share my other five lessons about parental lessons in my April post.

In the meantime, know that you are the best teacher your child will ever have – and they are lucky to have you.

Karolina Dressler
Karolina Dressler