“It’s January 19 and I still haven’t come up with a New Year’s resolution.” My friend and colleague is musing over her coffee. “Somehow I feel I’m not doing my part. I mean, other people are already breaking their resolutions and I haven’t even made one yet. The pressure is getting to me.”
I appreciate her tongue in cheek humor. I don’t appreciate that she’s reminding me that I haven’t dealt with the New Year’s resolution thing either. But she did get me thinking. January is as good a time as any for taking stock. This January has particular meaning for those of us in the United States. We have a new president who ran on a platform of change and who calls on us all to join him in making it happen. That’s what resolutions are about: planning a change.
As a family therapist and parent educator, my thoughts naturally turn to families.
What would I most want parents (including myself) to resolve to do better this year? What do I think is the most important thing that parents can do to raise kids to be cooperative members of their families and good citizens in the world?
The answer came to me as I sorted through this week’s list of emails from parents wanting advice. The good news is that only one resolution is necessary. The hard news is that, like most things that are worthwhile, it isn’t easy to do.
Be The Person You Want Your Children to Be
It is as simple and as complicated as this: Think hard about what kind of person you want your child to be when she or he grows up. Then to do your very best to be that person.
Kids, you see, take in everything we do, not just what we say. From the very day they’re born, they are absorbing the example we set for them. One of my best teachers used to say that small children pick up our real values through their pores. It doesn’t matter how much we teach, lecture, correct, cajole, or nag. The kids know that the real lesson is in what we do.
Our children watch how we relate to our partner, to them, and to family and friends. They observe how we treat the people who do things for us (from the kid who delivers the paper to the professionals). They take in how we talk to and about the people we work with. They carefully note what we take seriously and what we think isn’t worth our time or trouble. For kids, especially young kids, who we are and what we do are minute by minute lessons in how to be an adult man or woman in the world.
Do we want our kids to be loving partners? Then we need to show them how. Do we want them to be serious students in school? Then we need to show them that academics are important by talking about how we use what we’ve learned in school every day; by reading and doing puzzles in our free time; by taking adult classes and continuing to be active learners. Do we want our kids to be honest and law-abiding? Then it’s time to get rid of the radar detector on the dash and to pay full price at the movies for kids who have aged up out of the kid rate. Do we want them to have good manners? Then we say please and thank you and practice being our most considerate selves all the time, not just when we’re trying to impress. Do we want them to talk things out, not fight with people they love? Then we need to show them how it’s done. Do we want them to appreciate music and art? Then we need to be practicing an instrument and inviting them to join in. Do we want them to stay drug-free? Then we need to show them that good times don’t require alcohol or drugs. Is physical fitness and enjoyment of sports a value? Then it’s not enough to take the kids to their games and sit on the bleachers. We also have to participate, even if it’s just a walk a day. And so it goes.
Daunting, isn’t it? Being what we say it is we want our kids to be isn’t as easy as it sounds. I talked it over with the same friend who got me started on this line of thinking. “People have been making sacrifices for their kids for thousands of years,” she said. “I guess I can be a better person for their sake – if I have to.”
My friend’s wry humor helps. She reminds me that many of us can do things for our kids that we haven’t been able to do for our own benefit. Instead of focusing on fixing our flaws for ourselves (an audience that has let us down time and again), why not refocus our thinking to becoming excellent role models for our kids?
The kids are observant and appreciative witnesses of our efforts. They show us we’ve succeeded by copying what we do, mimicking what we say, and becoming some version of us. Change is in the air this January. When in doubt about our ability to keep this resolution, the commitment to be what we want the kids to become, we can remind ourselves of our new president’s slogan: “Yes we can!”