My children are going to learn what I teach them. They are going to be shaped most profoundly by the examples that I provide. I can say whatever I like, but it’s what I DO that they are going to see, and what they are most likely to emulate when faced with a similar situation.
Early this morning, after bottles for the kids but before getting in the shower, I checked my email and saw a message saying that a blog post of mine was being included in Huffington Post’s “best of the parenting blogosphere” roundup for this week.
Wow. Ok, that’s pretty cool, and I couldn’t help but bet a little excited about it. It’s validating that someone who knows about blogging chose my post, but also really scary because now people are actually going to read my blog — and they aren’t people who already know and generally like me.
After getting over the initial shock and frantic scrambling to check out my site for any glaring grammatical errors, my next instinct was to totally downplay this and try to convince myself that it’s not a big deal. My natural reaction was to make sure not to make too big of a deal out of it, not to get overly excited and not to act in a way that’s going to bother anyone. My fear of seeming egotistical made it hard for me to feel appropriately excited about it. It made me really uncomfortable, and at first, I didn’t want to share the news with anyone, for fear of coming across as boastful. (In short, I really don’t know how to navigate the very wide waters beyond “pretend nothing out of the ordinary has happened” for fear of drifting out into the region of “obnoxiously prideful and egotistical” even though I know there’s a lot of space between the two.)
But, then, I had a thought that comes to me a lot lately. If this happened for Benjamin, or Liam, how would I want to see them experience it? Would I want them to hide it for fear of looking arrogant? Or would I want them to enjoy the moment, celebrate it and share the good news with their friends and family?
So, I went ahead and got excited, posted to Facebook, emailed my family, went out for an unscheduled Starbucks break . . . and then got back to life as usual because these bags for our trip to the States aren’t going to pack themselves.
And, it was great.
I find it so much easier to judge whether or not a reaction is appropriate by imagining my children doing the same thing as adults one day, than it is for me to evaluate myself. When I was trying to determine what the “right” reaction was, I couldn’t get over my fear that I would make someone uncomfortable by enjoying the moment too much. When I imagined it as Benjamin experiencing it, I didn’t care if his happiness bothered someone (that would clearly be their problem) and I would be so disappointed if he let fear or self-consciousness get in the way of his joy.
And since I know that how my children see me react to my own successes is going to teach them how to react to theirs, I had to get over my own hangups and just enjoy it.
Nothing has ever motivated me more to work on myself. (I’ve got plenty of material, so there’s lots of room for improvement.) My kids are more likely to follow my example than to be shaped by my words, or by the words or actions of others. That’s true of how I react to success, failure, frustration, exhaustion, anger, sadness and absolutely everything else I experience. They will see it, they will learn it, and when faced with a similar situation, it is most likely going to be their first natural reaction.
So, what kind of example am I setting?
When faced with a situation that I don’t know how to handle — or when I know my way of “handling” it is less than functional — I find myself thinking, “What would I want my kids to do?” Would I want them to feel ok with celebrating something good? Would I want them to apologize if they did the wrong thing, or hurt someone’s feelings? Would I want them to feel liberated enough to express themselves, even if it bothered someone else? Would I want them to take care of themselves, even at the expense of manners or propriety? Would I want them to make healthy choices for their minds and bodies?
I can see those things SO CLEARLY for them. I want them to take good care of themselves. I want them to celebrate with joy and make amends with honesty. I want them to feel sadness without embarrassment. And they are more likely to do ALL of those things if I do them, too.
I am learning to do all of these things for their sake, but at tremendous benefit to myself. I am able to be kind to myself because I want that for them. I am able to be patient and flexible when life happens because I want them to be able to take things as they come. I am able to let go of the details and of a goal of perfection because I want them to be free from the torment of anxiety and perfectionism. I remember to find the joy in the moment because that is the best thing I can show them how to do. I focus on what is really important because they will only see themselves as important if I show them that they are.
It’s not enough for me to feel these things. I have to DO them. I have to be their example. They will be who I am, not what I say. It’s really scary, but it’s certainly excellent motivation for self-improvement.