Sunday, January 15, 2012

What Are We Teaching Our Children?

I have a sweet photograph of a child walking away down a forested path that I have had framed for many years in my home. Underneath the photograph, it reads:

"Children are always the only future the human race has. Teach them well."

If you are a parent, the people your children become are likely to become your best legacy when you leave. Often as parents, we can become so busy trying to support the family financially, drive kids places, and stay happily married that we lose sight of our goals with our children. It is helpful, as I often do with parents I am coaching, to refocus on the goal.

What is our purpose in parenting? Every parent, or set of parents, needs to develop their own clear mission statement about the purpose of your parenting journey. It will help to guide your steps as you parent day by day. Let me share a few examples with you.

My goal as a parent is to finish raising our three wonderful children to become capable, independent, responsible, kind, well-balanced adults who can contribute to the world in their work and through their personal relationships. Then we can work backwards to figure out how to get there.

I wanted our children to be responsible,so we continually reevaluate what age-appropriate tasks they can be taught and take over for themselves. This is where strong self esteem really comes from. This means that girls and boys need to begin when little picking up after themselves, helping with a few tasks at home, and keeping up their room. We don't want to overprotect and make them lazy and weak. It is my preferences that early teens learn how to do their own laundry, make a few meals, and manage some small amount of money. Part-time and summer jobs can help teens learn to be on time, responsible, kind to counter help and servers, and learn the value of money. Even when they come back from college, evaluate if they can pay a few of their own bills while they save to move out on their own. If you are fortunate enough to have some housekeeping help, instruct that person not to do things the children should be doing for themselves.

Watch out for what you are role modeling. If you are a hoarder, throw your things around, or leave clothes and belongings around the house, your behavior will speak so loudly that it won't matter what you are trying to teach the children. They learn by watching you. This is another great way in which having children gives us the opportunity to grow up and mature ourselves. If you want them to understand the benefits of having a clean and organized home environment, you need to involve them alongside you in creating it. One family I am currently working with had a successful family clean up day recently, having the kids go through their rooms with a bag for trash and a bag for donation. That's living your values.

We are also teaching our children about selfless service to others, respect for older family members, commitment to a loving marriage, managing money wisely, practicing your faith, and how to treat people at stores and restaurants. We are constructing blueprints for how we want our children to handle disappointment, frustration, anger, and loss.

How you treat your partner also constructs an emotional blueprint for your children. Can you both apologize? Repair things after a fight? Do you fight fairly? Are you affectionate with each other? Do you have date nights as well as family time? Are you a faithful, devoted partner whose marital commitment means something? Are you honorable, kind, and fun to be with? I am now seeing several couples whose parents gave them no template at all for being a part of a loving couple, and they are starting from scratch in that department. We know we can do better for modeling to their young families.

We are also role modeling how to deal with stress. Do we go for a run or workout, rather than drink or overeat? Are we open emotionally, so that we teach emotional courage, generosity, and being vulnerable with those closest to us, rather than stuck in blame, pettiness,and control attempts? Do we role model practicing our faith? Are we resilient under challenges ourselves?
Being the very best person and parent you can be is an evolving, ongoing process designed to make us more the person we were meant to be. I had no idea when I became a parent 22 years ago what a fascinating, difficult and awe-inspiring journey was beginning. Truly, if we are open to it, our children polish us up and make us look at the lessons our life is teaching. I can't imagine my life without all the good things our three girls are teaching us.

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