I recently came across a prayer I wrote in 1994 and sent out with our family Christmas cards that year. At the time, our four children ranged in age from 6 to 13. We knew there were many influences that could negatively impact their decisions if they were not confident in themselves and did not hold fast to their beliefs and values.
I think of so many of our Alaska kids today who are struggling with depression, drugs, alcohol, rejection, failure and abuse. Some are being bullied or are bullying; others are engaging in criminal behavior with deadly consequences.
These issues are complex and will require all of us – parents, teachers, lawmakers and community members – working together to bring safety and comfort to our children's lives. While the governor and legislators face the important policy decisions associated with these challenges, we too can do our part to better the lives of children closest to us.
So I'm dusting this decades-old prayer off and presenting it anew because my heart is heavy for Alaska's children. It is a prayer for new hope in the new year for our children to be strong, resilient and successful. It is titled "A Mother's Prayer" but it is one we can pray for all the children of Alaska:
"I want kids of character, Lord. Not the prettiest, best dressed or most popular, but a child with the courage to defend the classmate being bullied and the compassion to play with the one no one else will.
"I want a child who has worked hard and long and earned the right to be in the starting line-up, but remains humble because he knows the frustration of warming the bench.
"I want character kids, Lord. Kids who know about setting goals and making every effort to achieve them, kids who understand that anything obtained is valued more if earned.
"Lord, help me raise kids who care about what goes in — T.V., music, books, movies – and what comes out – words, thoughts and actions.
"I want a child who has experienced her fair share of victory and defeat, hope and disappointment, spotlight and shadow. One who knows the importance of teamwork on the field, in the home, at church and in the community. One who understands that all parts working together, sharing gifts and talents, make for a better whole.
"I want to raise children, Lord, who have gained the respect of their friends and who are brave and strong enough to lead in the right direction rather than follow in the wrong.
"And if the phone is not constantly ringing and they are not hanging with the crowd, that's OK. I just ask for one true friend of like mind and spirit so they can stand together. Even if at times my child must stand alone, lend your strength and perseverance, Father. It's not easy being a kid in these troubled times.
"Help us too, Lord, as parents to do our part. We tend to give too much of the things that don't count, and too little of the things that do.
"If I raise a child, Father, who laughs at the overweight or disabled child, who disrespects her teachers or cheats on a history test, then my job is not done.
"If I raise a child who can look into the eyes of a hungry, hurting child and not feel pain in his own gut, I've still much work to do.
"Talent, charm, intellect, success, all are fine and laudable in certain measure but without humility, integrity and conscience, they are hollow, empty and without honor.
"Lord, I pray for kids with character, kids who find reward not so much in the trophies and medals but in their heart of hearts and in the very corner of their souls in those hidden places where only you can see. Character kids. Kids with compassion, empathy, a kind and gentle spirit. These are the desires of this mother's heart."
In addition to praying for our children, I want to leave parents with one concrete thing to strive for in 2017 to help in the mission to raise character kids. Research has shown that there are physical, mental and emotional benefits when families sit down together and converse over a meal. Especially during those turbulent teen years, dinner is the very best time for teens and parents to connect. The thefamilydinnerproject.org identifies benefits that include better academic performance, higher self-esteem, greater resiliency and lower risk of substance abuse, depression, teen pregnancy, eating disorders and obesity.
Through these efforts large and small, we can all do our part to better the lives of Alaska's children. As 2017 gets underway, let's start the new year with new hope and new strategies to raise kids of character. And let us all strive to be positive influences in building character and resiliency in the children whose lives we touch.
Donna Walker is a mother, grandmother, attorney and first lady of Alaska. She serves as the honorary chair of the Alaska Children's Trust.