by Harriet Heath, Ph.D.
She's old enough to remember the Great Depression and the Nazis taking over Germany, but there's nothing to indicate that Harriet Heath is ready to retire. In fact, when you hear the intensity in this psychologist's voice, you're convinced she's just gotten her second wind.
A Methodist minister's daughter who began her career as a school teacher, Dr. Heath has spent years as a counselor and parent educator. Today her commitment is to values: to helping parents identify their values and teach those values to their kids.
The author of the recently-released Using Your Values to Raise Your Child to Be an Adult You Admire (Parenting Press, Seattle, (800) 992-6657, $16.95), Dr. Heath is impatient with those who try to dictate what others' values should be. She's almost as frustrated with those who don't give you the skills you need to implement your values. Wanting to do something is not good enough, Dr. Heath insists; you have to know how to do it as well.
When you listen to Harriet Heath's life story, you understand her "can-do" mindset. Her parents lived their values and dreams, exuding confidence despite a modest minister's salary and the privations of the 1930s.
"There were times when there was literally no money in the house, but our parents always gave us the sense that we'd be all right; there was an optimism, a faith," she recalls.
That faith extended far past providing the basics of food and shelter. In the middle of the Depression, when many Europeans were espousing socialism and the Nazis were taking over Germany, Dr. Heath's adventurous parents emptied their savings account, borrowed against their life insurance, drove from the Midwest to the East Coast and loaded their car and two young children on a ship for a five-month visit to Europe. This was more a study tour than a vacation. Dr. Heath's father took every opportunity to research the cooperative movement that was then popular in Scandinavia, questioning whether that was a possible solution to the U.S.'s social problems. The psychologist's parents also asked the people they met about the hints of war and oppression. Decades later, Dr. Heath still remembers the tension when her parents met with the Quakers in Berlin, who were fearful of providing more than cryptic responses to the minister's questions about Jewish refugee projects.
In later years, Dr. Heath's parents acquired one of the earliest tent-campers so they could spend weeks traveling between western national parks with their son and daughter. And despite the economy that made even high school a luxury for many American youth, Heath's parents never let their children question whether college was a possibility.
When you hear Heath's stories about her early career and marriage, you'll also understand why she's impatient with our society's focus on short-term gratification. Charmed with the Maine coast during their honeymoon, Heath and her husband were determined to build a summer retreat there for their future family. While still newlyweds, they bought a rocky waterfront lot. By the time Heath was pregnant with their first child, she and her college professor husband were breaking ground for a cabin--living in a tent-trailer in weather so foul the trailer's tires had rotted by summer's end. But the commitment and vision paid off: today the cottage is a favorite gathering spot for all the Heaths, including the eight grandchildren.
Like her parents, Dr. Heath and her husband weren't afraid to venture abroad with young children. In fact, when Douglas Heath won a Fulbright grant, the Heaths relocated for 15 months with three children, one of them just a preschooler. They traveled as far north as Bergen, Norway, and as far south as Morocco, camping for months at a time.
A decade later, the Heaths returned to Europe for six months; while her husband wrote, Dr. Heath interrupted her own work to help her daughters pursue their passions. The eighth-grader immersed herself in French, proving to herself that she could master a foreign language, and the 18-year-old, just graduated from high school, spent months (and 6,000 miles) with Dr. Heath retracing the paths of the Plantagenet kings of 12th and 13th century England.
The trips gave the Heath kids more than extended vacations: adaptable, flexible and appreciative of other cultures, all three now have worked overseas. They too are adventurers: the oldest sailed around the world, solo except for those weeks when his mother or another family member joined him. One daughter taught for years in Japan, learning the language and country well enough that she and her mother could set up their own tours of the country's industrial north. The youngest started her career in the Peace Corps and eventually gave birth to the first Heath grandchild in a jungle hospital. (Now that sense of adventure—along with the commitment to help others—is being passed to a third generation. The younger Heath daughter, a midwife who focuses on Hispanic communities, is taking her own children—including five-year-old twins and teenagers—to Guatemala where she'll be training native midwives for at least six months.)
For Harriet Heath, the adventure also continues. She teaches parenting programs close to home—and far afield: she's carried curricula west to Eskimo villages and east to Moscow and lectured in New Delhi, Tel Aviv, Rome, Lima and Caracas. She's even shepherded nursing mothers and pregnant women into a bar's back room when no other classroom space was available.
"I'm flexible, just like other parent educators," Dr. Heath chuckles about the unusual work settings. "Sometimes we're on a stage with a mike, sometimes we're working over noise—but usually, it's the noise from babies and toddlers!"
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