When I was young, the saying, “Do as I say, not as I do” was actually a common parenting phrase. That sort of made me mad as a child. It seemed quite unfair that I was being required to behave in a way that my parents or other adults were not. Shouldn’t it have been the other way around? After all, they were the adults with more life experience and better coping skills; they had more power over their circumstances and choices than I did.
Now that I am an adult and a parent, that statement seems to be an incredibly lazy way of parenting and an absurd responsibility to put on a child. The idea that I would expect my children to be nice to someone or to share something while at the same time I was being mean or hoarding something myself seems a bit ridiculous. And what would that really teach my children other than the notion that as soon as they became adults, they would not have to follow any rules or treat others well.
I remember hearing a really good piece of advice when I was a new parent:
Be the person that you want your child to grow up to be.
We all have hopes and dreams for our children and most parents would like them to be kind, generous, caring people that are well-liked with friends that will treat them well. So how do we get there?
The reality is that simply telling them to be kind, to be generous, to be caring are not effective ways, especially if they are seeing the opposite lived out in their parents. If instead, we are kind, generous and caring, we often do not even need to tell our children to do those things.
Humans are imitators by nature and if they are surrounded by people who consistently treat others the way they want to be treated, they are likely to do the same.
This does not mean that as parents we will not make mistakes. We are human and therefore will be selfish. These are great opportunities for humility and teaching as we go to our children and humbly say, “I should not have acted that way, and here’s how I’m going to apologize and make it better.”
Parenting in this way is not easy. It requires us to do the hard work on ourselves, often unpacking baggage from how we were parented or from our own life experiences. It may mean seeing a counselor or therapist, unlearning bad habits or unhealthy character traits. It may mean finding parenting tools that were never given to us because our own parents did not have them.
I think this may be the greatest responsibility of parenting, but ultimately the way to change the world for the better.