Life is hard sometimes. But one mother faced that fact head-on, dove right in — and won’t look back.
Michelle Weber of Charlotte, North Carolina, was busy raising two young daughters when one of them — her younger one — was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. Suddenly she was in the position of balancing the demands of both her girls, including that of the competitive gymnast (her older girl) who had dreams of making it to the Olympics.
Struggling to teach her girls patience and kindness in the midst of challenge — and to level the playing field for them — Weber came up with a parenting tool she called the Family Honor Plate. In the midst of chaos, she took her hopes for her family, her struggles to get everything done, and her financial aspirations — and poured them into a new business that helped parents teach character to their kids.
Using the Honor Plate kit she created (the product has its own Facebook page and Twitter account), each family member builds a lunch or dinner plate using food-safe paints to express their creative vision. After the plate is painted, it’s baked in a home oven to make the paint permanent — and is then ready to use. But that’s only the beginning. Parents use each child’s plate to teach vital lessons at meal time.
Weber shared her insights with LifeZette about this unusual project, how it came to be — and what it’s meant to her and her family.
Question: When you created the Family Honor Plate program, what were your short-term and long-term goals?
Answer: When my daughters were just three and one, I created the very first “Weber Family Honor Plate” at a girl’s night out. My short-term goal was to create a fun way to encourage my girls’ good behavior each day by presenting their dinner on our “Family Honor Plate.” I was a new mom at that time and was looking for creative and fun ways to enjoy my girls. As they got older, I turned my focus from their behavior to their choices, their attitude — and their character.
I looked up the verse she was referring to: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
My long-term goal was to raise my children to be strong, happy and confident adults in healthy relationships. When Amanda, my younger daughter, was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy (MD), it created new challenges that required me to become even more creative and “intentional.” I wanted to make sure that no matter what physical challenges might lie ahead, she always felt loved and supported. I was determined to raise her to be a kind and loving person with healthy relationships in her life. I later realized the gift that our Family Honor Plate had been for me as a parenting tool — which led to my wanting to share it with other parents.
Q: You were a busy mom. Most of us are just trying to keep it all together. How’d you get all of this done?
A: When the girls were 11 and 9, in 2006, I was home-schooling my oldest daughter because of her training schedule, while also running a small farm with my husband, who was always traveling. I was already very busy. I became impassioned about the idea of sharing a gift with others. I had never done anything like this and had no idea how to pull it off — but once I had a deadline I took an idea, created the products and all the components that came with it, and presented it all at a conference. The business went from there.
Q: You emphasize qualities of love, joy, and peace, when you talk about your business. Why?
A: On a particularly emotional day, a friend shared that our Family Honor Plate reminded her of a Bible verse about the fruits of the Spirit. I looked up the verse she was referring to: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” It went on to say, “Against such things there is no law.” Those final words stopped me in my tracks. Everything changed that day.
It was as if someone handed me the answers I had been looking for. We had recently moved into our sixth house. My husband was traveling during the week. I was juggling two kids with new schools, doctors, activities, friends, determined to look like I was keeping it all together while feeling like I was flying by the seat of my pants. That verse grounded me and reminded me of how I needed to be.
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No matter what, I needed to come from a place of love, not the anger and frustration I often felt. I needed to find joy in everyday things. I needed to create peace in my heart and in our home. Every word spoke to me. I felt as if I had my own personal mantra that helped me stay grounded.
If I wanted to my children to grow up with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and self-control in their lives, it was up to me to show them what that looked and felt like. Finding that verse was like finding the last piece of a puzzle that helped connect the other pieces.
Q: What do you want others to take away from your story?
A: All parents have the same dreams and desires for their children no matter who they are. And all families have unique situations. Amanda’s diagnosis of MD made me aware of how it is those intangible characteristics we exhibit, not what we can or cannot physically do, that make us who we are. This was highlighted by the fact that my older daughter, Emily, was becoming an Olympic hopeful in gymnastics.
Emily worked hard and deserved accolades for her achievements as an athlete, but at home, we celebrated character — hard work, kindness, joy, resiliency — jumping back up when we fell down, empathy, and having a great attitude when things didn’t go our way. My hope is that all parents and children feel grounded and know they are defined by their choices and the character they exhibit to others. The Family Honor Plate can provide the inspiration and be a tool to help parents teach and create this within their family.
It teaches children how to have a voice, how to share an opinion, how to even have an opinion.
Q: What’s been the most challenging part of starting a business like this?
A: That’s been wearing all the hats required to get a product to market: design, manufacturing, promotion. The best part is knowing the tools I created and principals I raised my children by because of our unique situations and struggles are already making a difference for others. My saying is, “Any story that ends well is a good story.” My girls make me proud. Both are in college now.
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The simple question of “Why?” at the end of every question leads everyone to where the magic is — the unique and often surprising reason why that is their answer. It teaches children how to have a voice, how to share an opinion, how to even have an opinion, how to think of and craft a response, how to listen.
These questions help teach how easy it is to have a conversation where you truly learn about and share with one another. These are the types of conversations that create strong connections and deeper relationships, which is exactly what so many people wish they had more of today.