I know that my day-to-days are greatly shaping Kaylee, but I so often think about how differently difficult it will be to parent a kid, a teenager, and a young adult. There are some values I hold closely to my core, so I wrote this in hopes of checking back if and when times are tough, to be sure I'm doing my best with my babies, so here it goes:
The Power of DOING
I remember leaving for college, leaving to live in another city, and leaving to live with my new and growing family, and my mom trying to cram her last bits of knowledge onto me. I’m talking “Did I teach you the importance of looking both ways before crossing the street?” knowledge. I may have rolled my eyes then, but now, I totally get it. We’re given this window of time to teach our children all that we can to make them contributing citizens of our society and to ensure they can make it without us. What my mom probably didn’t realize at the time was that it didn’t matter how many times she told me it was important to look both ways before crossing the street, but how many times she simply looked both ways with me, or did it by herself even when she didn’t think I was looking. That, the most effective form of teaching our young, is modeling. That, is the power of doing.
We want our daughters to love their bodies, to treat them with respect, and that being strong is beautiful. Telling them, “love your body, respect your body, see your strength as beauty” will typically have little to no impact. The most influential way to teach your daughter to love her body? Love yours. Flaws and all. Omit the word diet from your vocabulary. Compliment yourself, in front of her. Don’t just tell her she’s strong, work on things together that only the strong can accomplish, like shoveling the driveway or raking an entire yard of leaves, you know, one of those jobs that’s “for the boys” and afterward reward yourselves with cookies and ice cream. Exercise in front of her. Dress appropriately. And what I think the best way to teach having respect for your body? Have respect for yours, and those around you. Don’t talk derogatorily about young girls around you, but try to lift them up. Don’t point out fashion faux pas, but admire differences. Even purple hair on twelve year olds. Which leads me to my next point, Kindness.
“Be kind to one another.” Ever heard those words? Spoken by the one and only, Ellen DeGeneres. Ever wonder why they’re so impactful coming from her? It’s because every day, she spreads kindness. She does kind things, and she makes people feel good. We can tell our teenage sons and daughters until we are blue in the face that if they see someone sitting alone in the cafeteria, then invite them over to eat, but how can we model this? It’s hard. Whether you’re a busy working mom running from sport to activity to PTA meeting or a stay at home mom with littles, it’s hard to fit random acts of kindness into our jam-packed days, but, to teach kindness, to raise kind kids, it’s what we have to do. If you see someone crying in the bathroom, ask if they’re ok in front of your child. Compliment the cashier. Tell your waitress what a phenomenal job she’s doing. Ask your child’s bus driver about his/her grandchildren. To show kindness, we must show interest in others. Do this in front of your children, and, like Ellen, when you tell them to be kind, they will listen because they are seeing it first hand.
Accept others’ differences. I want my son and my daughter to love the differences that make up our world. I want them to know that God made each of us as a masterpiece that one another can learn from. How do we model this? We have intentional conversations about racism and that it does still exist. We talk about gender and sex. We talk about homosexuality. We realize the tragic realities of kids who feel they can't go to their friends and families if they feel "Different," so we tell our sons that if they love a boy, we will love them just as much as if they love a girl. That their gay friends are just as wonderful as their straight friends. We tell our daughters the same thing. If we hear others speak in ways that honor bigotry or sexism or discrimination, even if it’s coming from the elderly, we speak up, in front of our children. It’ll be awkward or uncomfortable for all parties, but necessary. This teaches them to never, ever be a bystander. If someone you know says the “n” word or the “r” word, you speak up. We teach our children to accept differences by standing up to those who do not.
Treat others with respect. We, in fact, are raising our children to be someone else’s. I say my baby so frequently when referring to Kaylee and her unborn brother. Because, right now, in our small little world that some days only consists of the walls of our home, they are mine. I know in my heart I am raising them both to be someone else’s. Someone else’s mother, father, husband, wife. I want them to want my presence but in no way need it. I want them to feel dependent on the love of our family, but independent enough to start their own. How do we model independence? I’m not really sure. I think all of that comes from support of the pursuit of their dreams. Don’t pressure them to live at home or stay at a college near by. Support them, offer advice, but let them leap. Even if you know they may fall short. If they forgot their homework for the third time this month, don’t drive it up to school. Let them learn consequences and hardship. The path of least resistance isn’t usually the one that builds the most character or that teaches the greatest lessons. Making things easy for our children only makes the real world extraordinarily hard for them. Another way to model respect, eye contact. When your child is raising their voice at you and you’re thinking about all that you’ve done for them and that buzz word entitlement is flashing in your head, never lose eye contact. It is the greatest, unspoken form of confidence. When you’re walking into your child’s school with him, greet the janitor the same way you will greet his principal. When your daughter comes home talking about a mean girl at school, be sure she doesn’t shy away from her in the hallway, but look her in the eyes at any run-in. Respect comes in many forms, and it will be a pillar of her success.
Teach them how to stand up for themselves and how to argue. This, in my opinion, can only be done by modeling. My generation in particular gets the entitlement wrap, and that’s not what we want for our sons and daughters. Teaching them how to stand up for themselves doesn’t mean complaining to a coach about a lack of playing time or crying to a teacher about the ‘C’ they earned on their mediocre paper, but it’s about standing up for themselves when someone talks down to them, or bullies them, or when they are treated unfairly. Oh, and I am sure some of their work will be mediocre. Tell them. If a ‘C’ is their best, applaud them, but if they get an A- because they didn’t put in the work they could have, reprimand them. Conflict and confrontation are two large parts of our world, and they are inevitable, which makes showing our children how to deal with them imperative. Not arguing with your spouse in front of your kids, ever, is probably unrealistic. Show them how to compromise, show them conflict resolution, show them how to apologize. They need to know that apologies are not signs of weakness but signs of strength.
Highly effective parents walk the walk. They aren’t perfect, they make mistakes, sometimes really big ones that are reprehensible, but the effective ones don’t tell their children how to act, they show them. Now, children are not extensions of our arms. They will do things and say things that will make you say, “I didn’t raise you to do this.” I’m not there yet, these lessons are only ones I hope to model, aspire to teach. My biggest struggles with my child right now is being together too much, getting her to wear pants and brush her hair, when it will one day be trying to get her to tell me just one thing about her day. While I don’t know how the next years of parenthood will play out, I am devoting myself to the power of doing, to ensuring my babies have the brightest futures I can give them. And I’m going to enjoy every minute I can call them mine.
**I'll also be telling her that if she wants to stay little and be my sous-chef forever, then that's fine by me :)
***Lighter blog post coming later this week hehe :)