Don’t Let Your Children Accept the Limitations Imposed on Them

We can choose, at any moment, to redefine ourselves

Photo by Suad Kamardeen on Unsplash

Over the weekend, my nine-year-old reading-reluctant daughter walked into one of my favorite bookstores — Northshire Books in Manchester, Vermont — and decided to buy a book. While this might seem mundane, I’ve been waiting for this moment since she was in kindergarten.

Back when she was six, there were several events that impacted her as a reader and a learner. To my dismay, what began as angst developed into utter contempt for reading.

Nevertheless, we forged on. As a former English teacher, books have shaped much of my life and identity. There are novels scattered throughout our home. Piles next to my son’s bedside, stacks invading our already limited counter space, even shelves of books organized by cover colors in the living room. This is all to say that we are a family of readers — a characteristic my daughter has roundly resisted.

Recently, I read something by Ruth Simmons — the former president of my alma mater — an educator, writer, and inspiration to me and so many others. She said, “The most important thing one can do for children is to not accept the limitations they are so willing to impose on themselves.” I believe this to be true, for our children and also for ourselves.

As we begin this new school year, the moment in Northshire Books reminds me that we have the ability to start over. My budding fourth-grader walked past the toy section and straight to the middle-grade books. She browsed the selections, and then, without any hesitation, chose a book that was right for her. “Mom, this is the one I want to read, can I get it?” Words I never thought I would hear.

When I think about the ways children learn to define themselves, what impacts them, what sticks and what falls away, I also think about my own experience as an adult, a woman, a mother, a teacher, and a writer. My daughter’s reading journey proves that we can choose, at any moment, to redefine ourselves. We can walk past the toy aisle, an aisle we used to find comfort in, and instead, choose a new story. Letting go and starting over have nothing to do with quitting or giving up.

In The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald writes, “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” His words certainly ring true. September brings possibility; there are wonderful surprises ahead. Just like us, our children and our students start a new year, a new chapter of an evolving journey. September offers all of us an opportunity to leave limiting narratives behind us and choose instead to turn the page.

Laura Milligan’s writing has been featured in a variety of publications, including Mantra Magazine, Edutopia, and Moms Don’t Have Time To Write. Working with students of all ages and abilities, Laura began teaching English and language arts in 2003.

Laura’s novel-in-progress is titled “Lucy’s Lane.” She’s currently enrolled in Grub Street fiction workshops and serves as a teacher at New Haven Reads and a professor at Middlesex Community College.




Moms Don’t Have Time to Write is a new Medium publication inspired by the award-winning podcast Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books, hosted by Zibby Owens.

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Laura Milligan

Laura Milligan

Laura Milligan is a teacher and writer. On medium, she often shares personal essays.

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