I’m a firm believer that no pearl of parenting wisdom ever started with the phrase, “Don’t ever do what I’m about to do.” Does this mean I’ve never uttered these words? Absolutely not; in fact, just yesterday I climbed up on a barstool to dust the top of our kitchen cabinets while my 2-year-old stood in the background surely taking notes. And what did I say as I climbed up there and he memorized every move? “Don’t ever do this, son.” If he heard me at all, I’m sure he was thinking, “Yeah right, mom.”
I know I’m not alone in this “Do as I say, not as I do” parenting trap. Both my husband and I catch ourselves occasionally saying things in front of our son, then holding our breath in hopes that he won’t pick out certain four letter words to repeat. So far, so good, but I’m sure he’ll remember such words just in time for kindergarten. I guess when I get those inevitable calls from his teacher, I’ll just have to explain to her that I told J not to repeat those words that we modeled for him. I don’t really expect that will work as an excuse, but that’s the story I’m sticking to.
As parents we have to know that our kids are watching our every move because we expect them to learn to walk simply by watching us. I don’t know about you, but I never gave my son a presentation about the mechanics of one foot in front of the other. I just assumed he would learn by my example, and wouldn’t you know it, he did. So why wouldn’t our kids pick up on everything else as well? Of course it’s just as easy for our kids to pick up on our bad habits, like biting our nails, occasionally leaving dirty dishes around the house, eating junk food, getting road rage and passing judgment.
My son is now at that really fun age when he repeats everything—no, seriously, EVERYTHING. Probably 80 percent of what he says and does is a repeat of something he heard or saw. Talk about accountability as a parent. I suddenly find myself having to think about everything that comes out of my mouth and thinking twice before I climb to the top of a piece of furniture or playfully shove my husband.
Without a little forethought, I’m going to raise a very confused boy who instinctively yells at cars during rush hour even though he knows it’s wrong or shoves a kid down on the playground because he saw the same motion at home (obviously with much less force since I would never hit or push anyone violently). But, wait a second…don’t we all do that? We judge people for wearing certain outfits or saying the wrong thing even though we hear our mom’s voice in the back of our head saying, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” We grow furious in bumper to bumper traffic when we know there is nothing we can do to solve the problem and we should just be patient.
So, really we’re all just confused kids that were taught one thing but learned the exact opposite. While it seems a little overly ambitious to break this cycle when—to be perfectly honest—I don’t have time to shower until lunch time some days, I can do my part to set a better example for my son and soon to arrive daughter. I can accept the fact that the “Do as I say” technique is washed up and the “Do as I do” has a lot more staying power. I can’t get mad or frustrated when my kids do something I don’t approve of when I’ve just done the same thing. That’s just not fair, and I don’t know about you, but I hate it when life isn’t fair—even though mom told me, “Life isn’t always fair.”
So, in an effort to hold myself accountable as a lead-by-example kind of parent, I am promising to myself (and you are the witnesses) to do less of the following:
- Yelling. Sometimes I don’t even realize how loud my voice is, but trying to talk over a TV, noisy toys, a barking dog and a little boy yelling, “Mommy, mommy, mommy,” often leads to yelling. Then I wonder why my son feels the need to yell my name instead of whispering it.
- Playful pushing and hitting. We have all done the playful shove or arm slap in casual conversation to indicate “You’re silly,” or “Oh, stop it,” but I never stopped to think what that looks like to a small child. Luckily my son hasn’t started hitting or pushing anyone that I know of, so hopefully I can cut back before we have a problem!
- Cussing. Admit it; you do it too. Sometimes these words just roll off the tongue all too easily, and we have to remember that it’s just as easy for them to roll off of our kids’ tongues. Scary thought, right? No one wants to have “that kid” who teaches the entire playground how to talk—at the risk of sounding cliché—like a sailor.
And more of the following:
- Keeping the house clean. OK, maybe this one is more for my husband, but how can we expect our son to keep his room clean, throw away his own trash or clear his plate when we (some more than others…ahem, my husband) are occasionally guilty of “getting to it later?”
- Exercising patience. Whether for our yip-yapping dog, other drivers stuck in traffic or each other, I want to be better about taking a deep breath, remembering that whatever frustration I have probably won’t matter in an hour and staying calm for the sake of my son who is watching like a hawk.
- Being careful. I am so often guilty of the mindset, “Oh, I’ll be fine,” but the second my son starts thinking he can go headfirst down the slide I’m doing everything but calling 9-1-1 to prevent a bad idea from turning into a severe injury. I know boys will be boys, but if I exercise a little more caution for myself, maybe he’ll follow my lead (if even just occasionally).
If you haven’t gathered by my laundry list of bad parenting confessions, I’m nowhere near perfect, so I can’t expect that I’ll raise children that are perfect in anyone’s eyes but my own. What I can hope for, though, is that I can raise children that are, if even just slightly, better people than I am. I want them to know when to bite their tongues and when to stand up for what they believe to be right. I want them to be careful with their bodies that I worked so hard to grow. I want them to possess a vocabulary that won’t embarrass me if they’re ever interviewed on the news, and most of all I want them to be kind and patient kids that grow into kind and patient adults that realize that no one is perfect, but it’s OK to strive for it in what they say and do.