The Scary Truth About Being Our Kids’ Role Models
What do my kids see when they’re watching me?
I picked up my daughter and her friend at the mall as they jumped in the car, both holding shopping bags while sharing what great deals they found. Then my girl’s friend exclaimed, “We found a gift for you too! It’s perfect because it’s how you live every day.” My girl chimed in telling me the big price for her small pocketbook and how she was excited to give it to me for Christmas.
Besides being thrilled my girl thought of getting me a gift with her own hard-earned money, I was immediately struck with panic and intense curiosity.
What do I live every day that they noticed? What on earth is this gift?
And it hit me. Everything I do every day – my actions, my words, my habits, and all the minutia of all that entails has a powerful influence on my children – and apparently their friends too. For this friend to make that weighty statement with such assurance, she must have a good grasp on how I live every day. If she has a good grasp on how I live every day, then my gosh, I can only imagine the magnitude of my influence on my own children during our daily dives into the trenches of life.
When our kids are little, they are oblivious to all our mistakes; all the details of what we do and how we live. They are too young to notice all the broken places in this world and so many broken pieces of our own. During those innocent years, they are blind to the dark details of adulthood and all the challenges that come with it.
When we failed back then, they would so easily leap back on our laps with resilience, with forgiveness, soon forgetting what transpired. With little ones, we can pretend things are fine, mask all the ugly faces that lie beneath our smiles while cutting the grapes and bandaging their boo-boos. We are their heroes, no matter the ugly outbursts and frantic frustrations that occur on the day to day monotony of motherhood.
But as our kids get older, they tune in with increasing awareness to what we are all about and how we do life. Their little-protected world slowly opens into a big vulnerable place that pierces their innocence and deflates their belief in superpowers that soar and heroes that save.
As the teen years hit, they develop a deeper understanding that reveals the real and raw layers of this new rocky landscape, once hidden from their view. Now they begin to wipe the window of their carefree and easy life to see all the hurts and hardships before them while discovering their parents are broken people too.
I’m often reminded of this revelation as my kids are now old enough to notice everything with that intimate lens they now have on life… And they see all those ugly faces and broken places in me.
They watch how I cope with problems and they observe how I handle it all and my gosh, they know all too well how often I fail.
They see how I spend my time and if I actually practice what I preach, because the values we teach must match the decisions we make. I constantly question if I’m truly demonstrating this profound life-lesson where my walk reflects my talk and I know my kids catch every misstep I make.
They are learning by my example, they are carefully assessing my ways, they are absorbing it all and I can only hope and pray they catch the good stuff too.
These are the years our actions are the greatest influence on our kids and this haunts me.
So, I wonder what my girl bought me that reflects how I live my life every day?
Is it some angry elf with a grimace that reflects my irritable outbursts or critical comments?
Is it some framed decor that says, “Patience is over-rated” because I am persistently impatient?
Or maybe it’s a necklace that says “Breathe” because she knows how easily I get stressed and how anxious I am about pretty much everything.
My imagination runs wild with all the ways I live my life and all the ways my kids are impacted by it.
I hope that as both my tween and my teen watch me every day, they witness the things I hold most dear:
I hope they see me living an authentic life that somehow teaches them to live their own.
I hope they realize that in my faulty and often fragile existence, I try to uphold those values I want so desperately for them to learn and live too.
I hope they understand that even in our brokenness, we can live a fulfilling life full of passion and purpose and all our fragmented pieces make room for incredible growth.
I hope that they believe that although there are hard places and tough people in this world, they can always find tender mercies and comforting hope embedded in it all.
I hope they learn to give relentlessly and hold tightly to the enduring gift of gratitude because both enrich our lives in a deep and meaningful way.
And mostly, I hope they grow to live a life that cultivates compassion and creates connection, two arms that wrap around this overwhelming world to make it breathtakingly beautiful.
I am confident my kids catch every awful thing I do and say in the daily grind of life. I am sure they will learn much of their lessons by me showing them how not to live theirs. But somewhere in my motherhood mess, I pray they catch these glimpses of goodness and they hold them most dear to them too.
You know every time I read your essays, I’m taken back to when my kids were young. I feel your words so deeply and wish I’d had them to read when I was struggling to be the shining example I so hoped they’d follow. It’s such a hard time in life, for them and us as parents. Your children are so lucky to have you to guide them and are already amazing kids and are going to be even more amazing adults. They will be prepared for whatever life has to throw at them and know in their hearts, that when the tide gets rough, mom will be right there to provide the shelter and comfort they need to head back into the storm. I love your words and your heart.
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