2/25/2015

Parents are the Model

I became a parent at a very young age, eighteen infact for my first child. I had my next child, my only other one, just two and a half years later, giving birth a few months after turning twenty-one.  While friends from high school were off attending college, I had two in diapers and was a stay at home mom. To make it even more isolating, I lived in a city far away from where I grew up and was too young for neighbors in the apartment complex to really want to befriend me. Thus, I put a lot of energy always into the relationship with both of my children.

One thing I noticed early on with both of my children is they mirrored quite a bit of what they saw of me.  I felt it was unfair to expect them to do something I myself did not do anyways though. I eat healthy, so as children they were introduced and made to eat food from all food groups.  They were not allowed to simply eat junk food or whatever they pleased. If that was their goal, they went hungry.  They both quickly learned sweets were not going to be the only source of food. This lesson was learned much better by my son who, to this day, eats very little sweets! 

When my daughter was born, the second child, and was diagnosed with asthma, it gave me the ammunition to put my foot down and insist my husband quit entirely his smoking cigarettes in the house and in the car. I think it is hypocritical to tell children it is unhealthy to smoke and then smoke around them.   Dueling messages are confusing, especially at young ages. Children can’t comprehend which is right and wrong and are looking to their parents for direction.  They should not be put in a position where they have to choose sides either.   

Today, in schools, children are reading at a much quicker pace than ever before.  The bad news is that there are more children with special needs than ever before and most of these children have language issues which include reading.  My children were read to daily, encouraged, even prior to reading, to look through books.  I have been an avid reader all of my life and, at this time in my life, though time was limited, I still read some. I made certain my children knew reading is a lifetime habit for me. This is not something that, we hit a certain age, and we simply stop doing.  As they got older I told them that it enriches the mind and keeps our reading skills sharp.  That might not stick but the seed was planted.

When my children got into sports, I was working out also, exercising regularly, playing tennis with friends and even progressed into coaching children’s sports.  Dropping children off at practices and games simply says that the parent is keeping them busy. Staying there from time to time shows an active interest.  This shows a parent how they are spending their time there, giving a firsthand view of what is being accomplished, how they are being coached and an opportunity to reinforce those efforts at home.  Your child may not be the star player, most aren’t.  He or she can still benefit from team play from hearing from a parent that their efforts are not going unnoticed by you.  Telling a child that their discipline is preparing them for the future and that dedication is what makes people successful is awesome affirmation for a child to play sports or any extracurricular activity.  You also participating in some other hobby likewise shows them that what they do is something that should be a lifetime goal.  For mental and physical health, these activities matter for us all, we need balance.

I had to wait to go back to college as a non-traditional aged student. Hence, while my children were doing homework, I was helping them with homework, proofing their work and then doing my studies.  They saw this. My children witnessed me working from home as an assistant book publisher during my college years.  I was a single mother, having divorced their father by this time and raising them on my own. At some point in the evening, when we weren’t on the run to practices or games, I would transition to my coursework. 

The usual routine was they did their homework first and I studied while they did theirs. I checked theirs, took care of their needs, put them to bed and then finished mine. When my son was old enough, he would quiz me when I had tests coming up.  There were times when he had no idea what he was asking me as I would make up tests for him to quiz me but he would play along.  It became a learning lesson for him because he learned some of my material from quizzing me and he was quite bright to begin with! These evenings taught my children the value of a good education at any age.

We struggled financially.  It was not easy to find ways to make ends meet. My children were aware of it and I made sure they had the majority of what they wanted and needed. They both got to go to a private Catholic high school, my son by choice.  I put my daughter there, and that was not entirely by choice but it seemed the best place for her to be at the time.  I still believe, my pursuit of my education led to them both setting high educational goals for themselves.

My son and daughter both have gone on to get educations past Bachelor degrees.  My son lives closer  to me so it is easier to attest to his behaviors with his wife and children.   I see many similarities with him and myself.  I see someone who enjoys interacting with his children and supports their extracurricular activities exactly how I was.  His wife tells me he never waivers in his support.  He has sat at soccer games where his son simply runs after the crowd of kickers.  He sits and cheers for his daughter at dance recitals being the dutiful dad taping her dances and rushing the stage with roses.  He has taken his other son to horseback lessons encouraging him to hold on to a huge horse and that he, the little 4 year old, will be just fine!  

I recall attending both of my son’s graduation, first for his undergrad and then for his PhD.  Both times I recall hearing him say that he would never read again.  That stuck about 3 months.  To this day, my son is constantly reading updates on his field, publications, online articles, attending seminars, and reading other materials. Yes, that drive of reading is still there. His amazing ability to write he had in school, occasionally, when he has the need to write, it is still as strong as ever, he just seldom has time to tap into it. 

All of this to say, my son and I have an extremely close relationship all of his life.  Our bond has always been more of one that was unspoken.  He has always watched me, from the time he was a little guy.  He was always the lover of the two kids though and never questioned me on anything. But what he did too was observe.  And what he taught me was this, children learn from what you do, how you live, your example.  It is very similar to how a leader leads by example. 

Parenting is best done by being what you want your child to be. Being honest, being fair, being truthful about where you have made errors. It is about stressing education, having laughter in your home, teaching morality, accountability and understanding what the word love really means, in the Christian sense.  Parents need to show children how to apply intelligence to life, how to have self-discipline, and how to admit they have a problem and when they have one how and where to seek help and get it when they need it. Getting help is not a weakness, having a problem and not doing anything about it is.  Above all, loving God and letting your children and spouse know you love them is key.  This is done not just in words but in deeds. 

Indeed, this is a hard job.  Sign up only for the serious minded!




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