“I always wanted to have a friend just like you…”
Even now, at 40+ years old, I smile when I hear those words. One of my favorite shows to watch on TV growing up was Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I hated to miss any part of it, whether it was when Mister Rogers swapped out his shoes and sweater at the beginning or the very end when he’d sing the last song and head back out the door.
I could relate to some of the problems that the puppets ran into. And I loved that he always had an idea for making things better. The routine of the show was soothing. While he had special guests visit sometimes or visited a different place in the neighborhood, I grew up counting on the beginning, middle, and end. And when it ended, I had to wait until the same time the next day. Back in the early ’80s, there was no instant replay or streaming TV. It was delayed gratification at its best.
Mister Rogers was someone I could count on. He taught me how to be patient. He taught me how to name my feelings. Mister Rogers taught me how to be a friend. He taught me that I was special. Sure, I got those things from my mom. But with a little brother in the house, she was often busy taking care of him. During our half hour “visits” each day, Mister Rogers gave me (and countless other kiddos) his undivided attention. Eventually, I stopped watching. I can’t remember how old I was, but I remember feeling like I didn’t need him every day anymore. Suddenly, books and writing in my journal were much more interesting to me.
Fast forward a couple of decades. Now I’m a mama to three boys. More often than not, I feel like I don’t know what the heck I’m doing with this whole parenting thing. While they share some similar traits, each boy is wired very differently. What works with one, doesn’t work with another. And it’s constantly changing. So how do I figure out how to approach new stages or parenting dilemmas? I look to my friends, family, and online communities.
Imagine my surprise and delight when I stumbled across wisdom from Mister Rogers. I read article after article and learned that he went into TV because he hated it. That’s right. He believed so strongly that the available children’s programming in the late 1960s was so dangerous for children that he felt called to create a show that would support children in their growth. And not only that, he actually testified to the US Senate in the late 1970s when public television was facing a funding crisis. I recently watched the video of his testimony. It was awe inspiring. He delivered a speech that was so filled with restrained passion for supporting healthy childhood development that it gave me goosebumps.
Although children’s “outsides” may have changed a lot, their inner needs have remained very much the same. Society seems to be pushing children to grow faster, but their developmental tasks have remained constant.
I truly believe he was a visionary. A man so far ahead of his time that it took us fifty years to realize it. So much of what he said back then and shared with the world about children rings true today. His messages regarding self-worth, service to others, and being able to talk about feelings are more relevant today than ever. The rise of social media, changing family dynamics, public policies that don’t support healthy children, and increasing numbers of violent acts worldwide are eroding our ability to raise our children into strong, healthy adults. Yet.
If we take some time to revisit his values and teachings, we can take power back from those negative forces. By focusing on the simple things, we are investing in a positive future. One where our kids will feel safe, loved, and valued. And it all starts with having a friend who likes you just the way you are.
Happy Birthday, Fred Rogers! Thank you for being the first friend many of us ever had and thank you for teaching us how to be good friends to each other. You left this world a better place than it was before you were born. The gifts you’ve left behind and the love you shared will forever be tattooed on the consciousness of mothers, fathers, and children everywhere.