Several acquaintances and I recently discussed the books that have shaped our vision for our lives, and my list included a few that informed my parenting philosophy long before I became one.

One title in particular — Marian Wright Edelman’s 1992 New York Times best-seller, “The Measure of Our Success” — reinforced my innate interest in advocating for all children, and when I eventually became a mom, my desire to raise my two children with heart, hope and humanity.

The friendly conversation last month led me to my bookcase, where Edelman’s tiny but powerful volume holds a top-shelf spot. I plucked it from its position and began scouring passages I underlined more than 20 years ago.

I marveled at how all these years later, her message still has the power to mesmerize me, and I was reminded that while parenting doesn’t come with instructions, the wisdom we choose to embrace along our journey can be transformative.

Edelman’s memoir-style sharing is paired with a call for readers to care more than might be comfortable for them.

She encourages each of us to look beyond our own households and accept that, just as important as the world we’re defining for our children is the world outside of our perceived boundaries.

For if our aim is to protect the babies in our nests, don’t we need to make the world they’ll eventually soar into safe and inhabitable for all? Don’t we need to care about the young people whose paths may eventually intersect with that of the children we hold dear?

Edelman’s work at the Children’s Defense Fund, a child advocacy organization she founded in Washington, D.C., serves as her answer, and so does “The Measure of Our Success.”

She shares a story in the book about a childhood friend who died after stepping on a nail because his family couldn’t afford medical care. She never forgot his fate.

Also powerful is the letter she pens for her three adult sons — and for youths everywhere who need some guidance to thrive.

They have to work harder (rather than hard), she writes, and they must embrace integrity for their own sakes, while competing against no one but their individual selves.

Edelman acknowledges the guilt she often felt as a working mom during her sons’ childhood days and apologizes for the missteps she made as a parent.

And then, in the final section of this 97-page gift, Edelman shares 25 lessons for life that may inspire all of us.

I’ve paraphrased some of her recommendations and directly quoted others, to inspire you as you nurture, mentor and love children who are seeking to understand their place in this confusing world:

  • Teach children by example to pay attention to detail, be reliable, create opportunities, never cut corners and never play small.
  • Be confident in who you are and in your worth, so that you’re never afraid to give others the credit due them.
  • Take parenting and family life seriously and align yourself with others (including employers or employees) who value both as well.
  • Rather than give in to despair, understand that the good you do today may take years to yield a reward. Keep doing good.
  • “Learn to be quiet enough to hear the sound of the genuine within yourself so that you can hear it in other people.”
  • “Remember, and help America remember, that the fellowship of human beings is more important than the fellowship of race and class and gender in a democratic society.”

What books form your vision and philosophy for parenting? Revisit that list or start building one today. Your future self will thank you.

Stacy Hawkins Adams is the mom of a son and daughter ages 16 and 19. She is also a Chesterfield County-based novelist, communications professional and volunteer child advocate. Contact her at

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