03/09/2013 09:52 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why We Must Listen to Children

Yesterday we marked International Women's Day, a day that traces its roots to the women's suffrage and labor movements, and has since evolved into a celebration of the progress women have made, as well as a day to look ahead at opportunities for future generations. In many countries, International Women's Day is celebrated as an occasion to honor mothers, and women in general, similar to Mother's Day.

I had the opportunity to speak with H.R.H. Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands on that special day, about her work and thoughts on motherhood. As mothers to four young children between us, the reflections and aspirations shared by other moms take on a special meaning, showing the common bond between mothers. While our daily lives may be different, our priorities are similar and include the desire to be healthy and raise healthy children, to protect them, and to empower them to achieve even more in their lifetimes than we have.


The author with Princess Laurentien.

Not only are we both mothers, but we are mothers to young girls (Princess Laurentien also has a son), which makes us acutely aware of the challenges that girls face, both here at home and globally. For our daughters, we see future challenges focused on finishing homework, first dates, and promoting a healthy self-esteem, but for mothers in other countries, they are often faced with concerns about early marriage, and a lack of access to education and healthcare.

The results can be devastating -- one in seven girls in the developing world marries before the age of 15. Medical complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among girls ages 15-19, and a vast majority of these deaths take place within a marriage.

We know that our daughters have unlimited potential, and by investing in girls around the world, they have the opportunity to unlock new possibilities as they grow. Programs that enable girls to attend schools, delay marriage, and receive health care not only make girls stronger, but also the community around them, as women and girls reinvest 90 percent of their income into their families and communities.

Here's a little of what we spoke about yesterday.

What's the best advice a mother has ever given you?

My mother always told me to 'be yourself'.

And have you given that advice to your children?

I think there is one thing I can help facilitate for my children, and that is that they have the self-confidence to live their lives to the fullest. They are all different. They have talents, and they need to use them. Ultimately it's about being themselves, but they need to have the confidence to be themselves.

You are the special envoy for UNESCO which tackles so many important issues, but tell me what you think is the most important issue facing mothers and their children today?

For me literacy is the basis of many other things. It's not just the ability to read and write, or to be able to read health information, but it's also literacy as a means to feel confident about your self, to have self-esteem. Wherever we are in the world, if people don't have self-esteem, everything else is difficult. Literacy is a key to achieve that.

What are you working on right now that you're most proud of?

I'm most proud of the projects I'm doing to harness the thinking power of children and bring it together with our world of grown ups. Whether it is with companies or with governments, we must not separate the worlds of children and adults. Decision makers have to make their decisions, but children can help us think in a very different way.

I'm proud of the thinking power that these children provide me as a person, as a professional, but also through the Foundation I started, The Missing Chapter Foundation. We are actually bringing those worlds together -- boards of directors of companies combined with children, with the view that these children can help decision makers think differently on the challenges that we face.

If we don't join hands, we're not going to make the change happen that we all want.


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