As the Oprah show fades into history, we have been thinking of our experiences with her, which had great impact on our lives as writers and encouraged our efforts as family advocates.
Here is the main part of the story:
We were having family dinner at home one evening when the call came from Oprah's senior producer. Oprah likes your new book, "Teaching Children Values," she said, and could you come to Chicago in three weeks to be on the show?
"Bring your kids," she said, and we assumed they would love sitting in the studio audience and watching the clips they would make when the Oprah crew came to our house prior to the show to film ideas from the book that Oprah could throw in as she interviewed us.
When we landed in Chicago, the kids (we brought seven of them) loved the stretch-limo ride from the airport to the Drake Hotel, and it wasn't until we got the message envelope at the front desk that we realized that, 1., we would be on with Oprah for the full hour and, 2., so would the kids.
Panic set in. A full hour on a taped-live show that reached 20 million people, talking about parenting, with our kids right up there with us, some of whom had never in their lives gone 10 minutes without some kind of fight with a sibling. Teaching your children values? Right! Should we consider drugging them before we went on air?
But fortune smiled on us. Maybe the kids were mesmerized by the bright lights, but they all behaved reasonably well and even answered Oprah's questions with enthusiasm and aplomb.
So here's the point: Oprah liked the book for the same reason as the parents who bought it. It was a simple system. It took 12 universal values and set up a pattern where families focused on one value a month. The book had "months" instead of chapters. Parents found that by concentrating on one value for a whole month, they could really teach it. The book laid out methods for each age group, and with the "value of the month" on their minds, families would find illustrations of it (or the lack of it) in everything from TV shows to real-life situations with friends.
We didn't fully realize it at the time, but the conscious, willful adoption of a specific value each month can lead to real ownership of that value by children. Being focused and trying to apply a particular value consistently and conscientiously for a full month gives a familiarity and commitment to the value. And parents pointing out its benefits and applications can ingrain the value into the mind of a child. The values are repeated each year, so they are reinforced and further enhanced over and over as years pass and as children grow to grasp them on deeper and deeper levels.
While we were writing the book, our publisher and some critics wondered how we could represent ALL parents' values. "Whose values are you going to teach?" they asked. "Aren't the values that parents want to teach their kids different in different locations and situations?" The answer turned out to be a resounding "NO!" We found that parents all want essentially the same thing for their kids. In fact, we never did find a parent who didn't want each of the values we identified for their kids. The 12 monthly values (and Oprah focused a segment on each one) were:
4. Self-reliance and potential
5. Chastity and fidelity
7. Self-discipline and moderation
9. Loyalty and dependability
10. Kindness and friendliness
11. Unselfishness and sensitivity
12. Justice and mercy
In the years following, the book spawned the website www.valuesparenting.com, where today hundreds of thousands of parents log on and work on the "value of the month" (or on "Joy Schools" for their younger children.)
And you could say it is all because of Oprah.
One postscript to the story of that first Oprah show: We had been on the Phil Donahue show just a few weeks prior, and 8-year-old Eli, possibly our feistiest child, had not liked Phil at all. "He wouldn't call on me," said Eli, "even when I raised my hand! He just likes to hear himself talk!"
Oprah treated Eli much better, giving him a chance to say a couple of things on air and treating him like he was important — a gift Oprah has always had. After the show, Eli rushed down to her, gave her a big hug around one of her legs, and said "Oh, Oprah, you are so much nicer than that Phil Donahue!"
Given the ratings war going on at that time between the two shows, Eli could not have said a better thing to Oprah. She grabbed his hand and took him on a private studio tour!
Note: What do you think of the 12 values listed? Are there others you would add? Do you think that focusing on one specific value each month with your children would work in your family?
Send your comments by clicking the "contact us" button at www.valuesparenting.com.
The Eyres' next book is "The Entitlement Trap: How to Rescue Your Child with a New Family System of Choosing, Earning, and Ownership." For information about preordering "The Entitlement Trap," see www.valuesparenting.com.
The Eyres are the founders of Joy Schools and of valuesparenting.com and the authors of numerous bestselling books on marriage, parenting and family. Their mission statement, developed while presiding over the England London South Mission, is "FORTIFY FAMILIES by celebrating commitment, popularizing parenting, bolstering balance and validating values."
Their newest book, now available in stores and online, is "5 Spiritual Solutions for Everyday Parenting Challenges," and their blog can be found at http://www.deseretnews.com/blog/81/A-World-of-Good.html. Visit the Eyres anytime at www.TheEyres.com or www.valuesparenting.com.