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A Tribute to Empowering Parents' Elisabeth Wilkins

Posted by Cheryl Kepner

EP’s Elisabeth Wilkins lost her brave, optimistic battle with cancer last week. She loved supporting people on their parenting journey and we will continue to do so for you, for ourselves and for Beth.

“There’s nothing more important in this life than love.”

These were the words Empowering Parents Editor Elisabeth Wilkins left with us on her final Caring Bridge post, the day she learned that cancer would soon take her life.

Beth passed away on July 26th. She was a woman who cherished her husband and young son, a gifted and sensitive writer, and a dear friend to many. I worked with Beth for six years as a member of the EP editorial staff and was fortunate to become her friend. I’d like to share some thoughts with you about an extraordinary person who was instrumental in the development, growth and heart of this website.

In the 13 months that she lived with cancer, she spoke of the “imperfect love” she shared with her family and how thankful she was to have another day to share that love with them. That term stuck with me because it was so true and so Beth. The love we have for our children and our families isn’t the glossy and perfectly staged stuff of stock imagery on websites or TV. It’s the frantic reminder you give your child when she goes out the door in the morning, when what you’d really rather do is just hug her. It’s the never ending effort you put into your child, wondering and worrying if you’re doing it “right or wrong.” It’s the relationship that’s forged from hard conversations you wish you didn’t have to have. It’s the bond that deepens when you face fears together, with no idea of the outcome.

Beth understood that, and from the very beginning of EP, she worked to make sure this was a place where parents could come—out of love for their kids—and not be perfect. She made it okay for people to talk about both the mundane stuff of raising kids and the really tough stuff, without judgment. In many ways, the opening accepting demeanor of this website is a direct reflection of Beth. That’s how she was, too. You could talk to her about anything. The absurdity, the joy and the truly scary things. She was there for you—present, real, caring, funny, insightful and never, ever judgmental.

She wasn’t afraid to share her own missteps, fears and hopes as a parent. You could relate to her in Is Yelling the New Spanking? when she talked about yelling at her son as she tried to get him out the door, and feeling bad about it afterwards. You felt her pain when she described seeing her son being held down on the ground by another boy in Battling the Playground Bully. You understood how tricky it was for her to talk to her son about how to handle the bully when she and her husband fundamentally disagreed about it. Beth wasn’t afraid to put it out there and to just be human. In doing so, she helped to create a place where we can all just be human.

I remember a day early on in the development of EP, when a reader emailed Beth to share a note of thanks. “It’s like you’ve been looking in the windows of my house and know my family. I’m starting to parent differently, and my kids’ behavior is finally changing. And, best of all, I don’t feel alone anymore.” She was so excited to share this email with all of us. She knew she was making a difference in people’s lives. That’s what gave her energy.

On December 14, 2012, I was in an airport, trying to make sense of breaking news I was seeing on TV screens. The horrific shootings had just taken place in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. My cell phone rang. It was Beth, shaken, fighting back tears. We talked about what was happening, shared our disbelief, and she then did what millions of parents did that day. She went to the bus stop to hug her son when he stepped off. Writing about the Sandy Hook tragedy was one of the greatest challenges Beth had as our editor. It was a sad national inflection point for parents. The piece she produced, Responding to School Violence: How to Move Forward with Your Family, was personal, insightful and beautiful. “While we all have our own ways of addressing this publicly, I think one thing we can all do is start small at home.” She asked, “What if we were to create a movement of kindness” that began with doing something kind for your child. “Empathy, kindness and connection: they’re not the answer to all our problems—and I realize our problems are extremely complex—but without them, we are lost.”

I think about Beth every morning. There’s a hummingbird that comes to visit our red hibiscus in the morning, right as I am having coffee. Beth loved hibiscus. One morning last week, as the hummingbird was flitting in for a visit, I opened Facebook, scrolled and found an EP blog post by Beth that one of my FB friends had shared and tagged to get the attention of her teenage son, Nate. The post was called 10 Things I Want to Teach My Child Before He Turns 18. Along with the post, my friend wrote, “Nate, there is some great advice in here in case you haven’t learned it yet. I’m so proud of you.” Boy, did I smile when I read that. A moment of kindness and connection between a mom and her child. I know Beth is smiling, too.


About Cheryl Kepner

Cheryl Kepner is a founding member of and producer of The Total Transformation Program. She has four stepdaughters and three grandchildren.

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