Tuesday, April 13, 2010



" When Arianna Stasinopoulos was a teenager in Greece in the 1960's, she had a sudden and passionate dream. Leafing through a magazine, she saw a picture of Cambridge University in England. She was only thirteen years old, but she decided on the spot that she had to be a student there. Everybody she told about this, including her friends and her father, said it was a ridiculous idea. She was a girl, it was too expensive, she had no connections there, and this was one of the most prestigious universities in the world. No one took her seriously. No one except Arianna herself, that is. And one other person.
Her mother decided that they had to find out if Arianna's dream was even remotely possible. She made some inquiries and learned that Arianna could apply for a scholarship. She even found some cheap air tickets "so we could go to England and see Cambridge in person. It was a perfect example of what we now call visualization." It was a long flight to London, and it rained the entire time they were in Cambridge. Arianna didn't meet anyone from the university; they simply walked around and imagined what it would be like to be there. With her dream reinforced, Arianna applied as soon as she was eligible.
To her delight and everyone's astonishment (except her mother's), Cambridge accepted Arianna - and she won a scholarship. At the age of 16, she moved to England and went on to graduate from Cambridge University with an M.A. in economics. At 21, she became the first woman president of the famed debating society, the Cambridge Union.
Now based in the United States, Arianna Huffington is the author of 11 books on cultural history and politics, a nationally syndicated columnist, and the cohost of Left, Right & Centre, National Public Radio's popular political roundtable program. In May 2005, she launched the Huffington Post, a news and blog site that has become "one of the most widely read and frequently cited media brands on the Internet". In 2006, Time magazine put her on their list of the world's hundred most influential people.
.......... Huffington says there were two key factors in pursuing her early dream. The first was that she didn't really understand what she was getting herself into.......
The second factor was the unwavering support of her mother. "I don't think that anything I've done in my life would have been possible without my mother. My mother gave me that safe place, that sense that she would be there no matter what happened, whether I succeeded or failed. She gave me what I am hoping to be able to give my daughters, which is a sense that I could aim for the stars combined with the knowledge that if I didn't reach them, she wouldn't love me any less. She helped me understand that failure was part of any life."

This LONG quote is from KEN ROBINSON'S wonderful book 'THE ELEMENT:HOW FINDING YOUR PASSION CHANGES EVERYTHING." I think this book is essential reading for all parents, teachers, in fact for everybody!!

In using this quote I am not advocating that parent should steer their children into high academic training or career paths. Nor am I intending to talk about parents preparing their children for failure - great topic though it is. Rather what I do think is important about this quote, is its description of the close relationship of a parent (mother in this case) with their child.

This mother didn't come to the child with her plans and expectations mapped-out for the child's future. Nor did she maneuver and manipulate the child to fall into such parent-desired ambitions. She simply had confidence in the child, when it seems others, even family members, did not. This mum was a LISTENER and a WATCHER of her child. Do you listen and watch your child?

Arianna's mum took Arianna seriously when she decided she wanted to go to Cambridge University. It must have been that Arianna's mum had had confidence in her determined daughter's ideas for some time!- For an announcement of such an extraordinary and unlikely dream to have been so honourably and willingly accepted by her mum, Arianna must have previously had numerous smaller dreams, which her mum had also taken seriously. What a mum!

The fourth sentence of the quote, says that Arianna did NOT keep her dream a secret - like one would with a hope or a fancied thought. No Arianna's confidence in her dream causes her to tell all. Their replies were very sensible, totally fact-truthful - "Everybody she told about this.... said it was ridiculous. She was a girl (aged 13 years), it was too expensive, she had no connections there, and this was one of the most prestigious universities in the world." But this did not squash the dream.

Her sensible mother investigated "if Arianna's dream was even remotely possible." Yes there were scholarships. Next her practical mum flew them to England and they walked around the campus of the university. Although this may seem usual even outrageous to you, the visit stayed in the realm of realistic - they did NOT attempt to get an appointment with the staff and 'make themselves known' or 'put in a good word' for Arianna's future....and it rained the entire time. Not the stuff most dreams grow on. But having been there only "reinforced" Arianna's dream.

A couple of years passed. Arianna applied to Cambridge, was accepted, won a scholarship and floored all but her mum - the one who had total confidence in the dream.

What had this mum done?
She listened and observed things that indicated Arianna's thoughts and dreams. In this quoted event, Arianna clearly voiced what she was dreaming about. But this may not be how your child responds.

Maybe your child speaks little in your presence of their thoughts, hopes and dreams. Sometimes as parents we are not in a place of listening and observing.
Instead our focus is on achieving -- getting to the end of the day
-- getting the jobs done
-- having a pre-planned conversation with a particular child
. . . . . . . .
or on my goals -- getting through the day without an argument, therefore
minimal contact
-- getting my study done or my time for my sport
. . . . . . . . .
So maybe it's that we simply are not 'hearing' - we're tuned elsewhere.

But it could also be that we haven't created the "safe place", as Arianna called it, in which our children will freely open their hearts.

You need to assess your situation. The last three sentences in the quote may help you to do this. Do they describe the approach to life that you are giving your child? Do these sentences appeal to you? If so, as Ken Robinson would say, you need to listen to your intuition on how you can observe your child and provide an atmospherre where they feel free to be open.

How that works in each family will be different, but some ideas you could find helpful, follow --
* regularly eat meals together - attractively set it up, play music they and you both like,
food you both enjoy, and TURN OFF THE TV.
* regularly do something together.
* change something ordinary into special - eat dinner outside, or around a fire
* be flexible and ready to listen when they chat - give them all your attention.
* briefly talk to your children about something that happened in your life when you were
their age.

Like a lot of things in parenting, it doesn't take a lot of time, it just needs to happen regularly - like eating food

A good place to start THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS is to read Arianna's story to them and see what they say.


  1. Great post! Arianna's story is inspirational and there is defiantly food for thought here.


  2. Cathy, thank you for your wisdom and words and persevering writing - even with a fractured wrist. I love this story and I love your reflections about it. I have been wanting to write about listening to our children - which has been fairly hard for me recently. I will continue to read you! With blessings across the sea. Sarah