February 27, 2011

The Example We Set

As parents, we often think about how to respond to our children -- what to say or what to do when our children behave in a particular way. We usually see parenting as something actively directed to give children suggestions, correction or guidance. Despite our knowledge of the axiom: "Actions speak louder than words," we tend to notice our children's actions or our own responses to them more than the actions we take in our other relationships.

We often forget to tune into the examples we set in how we speak with each other and how we treat ourselves. It can be a humbling moment when we see something in our children that we've inadvertently taught them by example. The way in which spouses speak to each other affects how children speak to their parents. It may also color the picture children get of long-term relationships or marriage. Do you criticize your spouse in the presence of your children? I don't mean disagree; I'm referring to criticizing, putting down, or talking down to in some way. The unspoken message can be: You idiot, why did you do/say or not do/say that? If this happens often, kids may start talking to the parent in this disrespectful manner. If we expect children to treat us with respect, we need to model the same kindness in our interactions with them and with each other. How many of us model the type of relationship we'd like to see for our children? Do we treat our spouses in a loving manner, or are we too busy and preoccupided to go beyond the to-do list?

Another aspect to consider is how we treat ourselves. Are we really hard on ourselves when we make a mistake? Are we unwilling to admit we're wrong and apologize? Are we always insisting that things go our way? Or, do we give up our position as soon as the other person seems anything less than thrilled? Do we even say what we want? Are we trying so hard to be "nice" that our children never see us expressing a preference? Is that what we want for them? Do we take care of ourselves or parent in a way that leads us to feel depleted? The comments of one teenager brought home the degree to which parents can seem like martyrs, whether they intend to or not: "I'm not sure I want to have kids. My mom doesn't have much of her own life, and I don't know if I'd like that." Sobering words indeed!