Sunday, May 30, 2010

Parenting by Example

First, let me make it clear that I don´t consider myself a perfect parent. I am just as guilt-ridden and doubtful as the next mother – feeling guilty for working too much or not enough: take your pick; doubtful about giving them too much or not enough (of different things to include time, clothes and attention), … Being a mother seems to be naturally tied into that.
I do, however, feel a sense of pride when I see my kids behave in certain ways and like to think I had something to do with it. I also know that the small victories I may achieve as a parent do not come from lecturing my kids as much as they come about by setting an example. Mind you, not everything I do is intentionally geared towards raising my girls to be the best people they can be. But, by striving daily to become the best version of myself, I realize I am modeling exactly that for them.
Children may not always listen to what you say, but oh boy, do they watch what you DO! Their values are, whether you like it or not, the values they have picked up from you. If you don´t lead them in the right direction by example, be assured society will, and that may not render the results you´re after.
My 6-year old surprises me often with statements that show me how much she observes how I deal with life.

“Mommies need to exercise to feel better.” (I was thrilled she didn´t say ¨to look better¨)
“You did that because you´re a good friend.” (I had stopped to offer a parent from her school to jump-start her car)
“Mommies have to read a lot to learn things.”

Recently I went window shopping with my girls. We tried clothes on, browsed and had a fun time. My 9-year old really wanted to spend the $15 she had in her pocket. Every time she chose something I asked her: “Do you really need that?” She wasn´t happy with my question and grew annoyed when she saw me pick out a T-shirt for myself. In the end I left it behind. She asked me: “Why didn´t you get it?” My answer: “I didn´t really need it”. My daughter put down whatever it was she had picked out and announced that she would like to treat her sister and me to dinner with her allowance money. I was pleasantly surprised.
My kids are readers because I´m a reader, they enjoy the outdoors because I do, they enjoy time alone because I embrace solitude. I don´t tell them about it, I just do it and they watch – and emulate. And then, I´m a reader because my father is a reader (dare I say I´m a writer because he and my grandfather are writers), I enjoy exercise because I practiced sports with my dad when I was a kid and up into adulthood.
Of course there are other things I wish they didn’t emulate: my eldest is very emotional, as am I, and she says “trust me” more times a day than even I do! The little one likes to sleep in, like her mom, and she also marches to the beat of a different drummer (unfortunately, also different to the one I march to!).
You can´t really tell your kids to knock off the junk food if you´re piling it on your own plate. If your TV set is on all day to keep you company, your kids will learn silence is not ok, plus they will absorb the information you are tuning in to - be it useful or harmful. If you have regular outbursts of anger in front of them, if you can´t control yourself - don´t expect them to be even-tempered and polite.
I don´t mean to be coy about this, but … if you have young kids … know that they are watching you, even if you think they aren´t.
Become the best person you can be, and they will become the best people they can be. It really is that simple.
How do you parent by example?


  1. I agree with much that you say about the children. They are certainly watching actions as well as words. It is also very important, even for the young ones, to see their parents living their lives with honesty, truthfulness (even if it is a little uncomfortable sometimes), and integrity. I teach my child that it is okay to get upset about things. Anger and frustration are 2 of many emotions that we all share as humans. We acknowledge our emotions, talk about them, and try to find resolution where there is conflict. It is by far more harmful to be emotionally repressed and simply judge others' when they do express emotion. It does seem a bit dubious though for you to conclude that "outbursts' of anger" will result in impolite and uneven-tempered children. That's a somewhat confusing statement. Anyway, the one thing he knows is "not okay" is to lie. It is contrary to honesty, truthfulness and integrity, and fortunately, he understands that he can tell me anything and I will never judge him. That is priceless and I'd say we are definitely on the right track!

  2. LOL-I am inclined to add to my post. Personal accountability is another attribute that I impress on my child. Acknowledging your own missteps' is a very powerful tool for better knowing yourself. Believe it or not, I recently witnessed a parent let their own child feel guilt for the mishandling of a situation that the parent was responsible for! That is a sadness that shoots straight through my soul............

  3. Well of course expressing emotions is healthy. How it is done is the issue. I see angry parents "expressing" their anger on the highway flipping other drivers and spitting out insults in front of their kids. Emotional intellingence implies managing those emotions. Anyhow, whatever we do, consciously or unconsciously, they watch closely and digest ... or indigest. Thank you for commenting

  4. Jump start a car? This will help. After watching this you can decide to do it, or stay out of the way.

    Children. I was younger father when my child was born. There were many challenges at the time and I didn't think about being watched. But, a child grew to be a good, thoughtful adult. Mostly, it was the spirit and personality of the child. I'm much more sensitive to my grandchildren.