Teaching Character: Hope

Posted on Mar 7, 2021 by 10 Comments

I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. You know that little voice, don’t you? That little engine who could - she’s a great teacher of hope. A looming mountain stretched out before her. Her little engine working and working toward making it to the top. She might break down [gasp]. She might roll back [gasp]. She could fail [gasp]! But she keeps on keeping on, hoping.

Often, when I think of hope, I’m calling on my expectation that something good will happen. ‘Good.’ Not a great word. ‘Good’ is almost undefinable because it is relative to bad, now isn’t it. Like a spectrum. A pendulum.

Or ‘less fat.’ Like at Starbucks, the ‘reduced fat’ muffin might be less fat but less fat than what? 20% less fat than a pound of butter? OK. Less fat than the muffin that put that fat tire around my mid-section. Ahh. Now we’re getting somewhere. But it’s all relative.

Hope is kinda like that. So many ways to define it, but to really understand hope you have to compare it to something.

The Carrot Seed

My younger daughter has a favorite book called The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss. The illustrations, by Crockett Johnson, harken to a simpler era. A 1950s innocence. Super cute. It’s actually a sad little book because everyone - even the family dog (not really!) - is telling this young kid that his carrot seed will not grow. They big foot him and you feel him struggle as he hopes that his seed will grow. That his work won’t be in vain. That his expectations will be met and it will all make some sense.

Of course, the carrot seed does grow (thank goodness). If it was written today, I think the ending might be a little less gracious and he’d be saying “I told you so” or some such defensive, self-congratulating comment, but he doesn’t. The boy is very steadfast with his quiet knowledge, persistence and hope. This little book is another great one for illustrating hope.

Hope and Expectation

In a sense, just that we parents get out of bed, day after day, is a testament to our hope. We understand the rhythm of the days as they unfold and we greet them. Sleepy faced, some days, yes. But we greet them. And hope the day will be good (or at least better than a bad day). So we’re modeling hope all the time.

You could say that hope is the link between present and future, for it takes a looking forward, an ambition to continue moving. But, like Jane Austen said in Sense and Sensibility,”…with them, to wish was to hope, and to hope was to expect.”

So we get to the heart of the matter: expectations. Such a bummer of a word to partner with hope.


This past weekend, I was going out of town with a friend and her son. We were to have PJ party at her cabin, us moms and our babies. It sounded so fun and I talked and talked about it with my girls. We packed our bags. Chose the PJs! Bought the firewood and made snacks. And then there was a lice outbreak at school. Our trip was cancelled.

I thought maybe I should have not said a thing. Not gotten my daughters’s hopes up. After all, what do they care if there is a planned sleepover that gets canned if they don’t know about the sleepover to begin with? I thought that I failed as mom. I let them down by not protecting them enough. Their hopes were dashed.

But that’s the thing about hope - expectations are sometimes met and sometimes they aren’t. Hope can hurt sometimes because there is danger of failure involved. And that can make it titillating, exciting, unpredictable. There would be no hope if outcomes were predictable. There would just be plans.

Hope in Possibilities

The little engine chugs up a mountain. A carrot seed grows. 1 + 1 = 2. You raise a doctor, lawyer, actor, trapeze artist. Oh, hello hope. Nice to see you again!

Ahh, the possibilities.

Speaking of offspring…”Hope has two beautiful daughters - their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.” - St. Augustine

Previous character lessons: Love, Gratitude, Zest, Social Intelligence, Self Control.

photo credit: Calsidyrose
photo credit: Amazon.com

Posted in: Parenting

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  • http://www.twobearsfarm.com Lisa @ Two Bears Farm

    I remember The Carrot Seed - sweet book.

    Hope is a hard one at my 5 year old’s age, because when his hopes get dashed he takes it so hard.

  • Julie C.

    We have both these books at home and you’ve described them very well. Persistence and hope. A lovely combination that every child should learn.

  • http://www.livingthescream.com living The Scream

    That looks like such a neat book and of course I remember the little engine that could. I always make that mistake about telling my girls about an event and they do freak out when it is canceled. But in some ways it is good for them to know that things fall through. such is life.

  • http://makedoandfriend.blogspot.com Charlotte @ MakeDoAndFriend

    This is a lovely post. There is a grea tlist over at No Time For Flashcards:


  • Henny Ort

    a bit over my todlers head but great for me.

  • http://www.adventuresinbabywearing.com Adventures In Babywearing

    I don’t know the Carrot Seed… definitely want to check that out now.


  • http://busykidshappymom.org busy kids=happy mom

    I love that you used some classic books for this post!!

  • Kate

    @busykids=happymom Thanks! I do love the classics.

  • http://Www.Mommywithselectivememory.Blogspot.Com Mommy With Selective Memory

    My husband always says I struggle with my expectations are always higher than my reality. Hope and disappointment are tricky lessons that I still havent mastered!

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