HumanKind: Being a human and a parent

by Shannon Farrell

Have you heard this saying? “Children learn more from what you are than what you teach.”

W.E.B. Du Bois said it. 

And I’ve been thinking about it a lot these days… typically from inside a locked bathroom door, pressed against the other side of which are two small humans asking for their fourth snack before 10 am.  

Quarantine Summer, with its significantly fewer-than-normal options of what to do, has ended, and now we’re knee-deep (who am I kidding? – neck-deep) in homeschooling where, supposedly, I “teach,” and my home is now full of smart things like maps and flashcards and books of famous sayings by famous people. 

Read archived Hell Raisers content here.

Of course, I’m rarely looking at any of those things, locked as I am in the bathroom, pondering the deep philosophical meanings of parenting. But over the discordant din of “Is Mom really going potty again?” and “Mom!!! Where are the granola bars! The CHOCOLATE ones!” I have managed to begin a journey of deep and enlightening self-inquiry, sparked by this very quote.

“Children learn more from what you are than what you teach.”


What I am

I am a 32-year-old divorced mom of two. 

I am an entrepreneur.

And, I’ve begun to notice, I am all-too-frequently a tired, cranky woman endlessly saying things like “Don’t hit. Clean that up. Tie your shoe. Study for your test. Quiet down. Close the door. Apologize to your sister.” 

Those are all important things, right? Important things they need to learn? Important things they need to DO. 

But what are they learning to BE? 

If it’s true that my children learn more from what I am than from all those “teaching moments,” then perhaps we are due for a curriculum adjustment.

Of course, I care that their rooms don’t grow colonies of ants from apple cores (or granola bar crumbs) and that they don’t hit each other. 

But what I really care about is what they ARE. That they are loving. Kind. Peaceful. Resourceful. 


I want them to be humans living happy, good lives in the world.

Preferably mostly outside the bathroom.  (Did I already mention how much time I’m spending in the bathroom?)

Perhaps it’s time to smile at that slightly-bedraggled-looking woman in the mirror, unlock that door and go BE a human.

Giving them maps and the granola bars and lessons about getting along are important.

But the MOST important thing is giving them a model of the kind of human being I hope they’ll be. 

Shannon is a mother of two who likes to run, work out, and drink wine. Except the truth is, she actually only likes to do one of those things.