A few years back I let go of a muffled swear word after pacing mile after frustrating mile of city blocks with my daughters looking for smart black flats that bucked the trend of imitation tramp.
Ever alert to any parental blemish that might be used as evidence against me, my eldest caught my cussing which was supposed to be contained in my head. My potty-mouth shoe-shopping incident has become a counter-argument if I direct my eldest daughter to tidy up her own words. Children are well designed to copycat and it is my responsibility to deliver behaviour that is worth mimicking.
I can tell my daughters “Eat your broccoli” all I want, and if I don’t clean up my own green vegetables of death then they are straight onto me. If I hound them for four minutes of teeth cleaning and I skip out on two, then they call me in an instant.
Kids have been mimicking parents since Noah’s kids took up boat building as a trade. Their logic – which sort of makes sense – is “good for dad… good for me!” So, I try to remind myself of the imperative to get my parenting right so that my precious children can form their good-behaviour-code from what I model.
Of course, there is a presumption in me believing that my parenting is worth modelling. The truth is, I don’t presume. I am a parenting plagiarist.
Most of us – myself included – pick up a lot of our style from our parents. My dad gave me a strong family connection and I inherited the desire for deeply honest conversation from my mum.
Yet, there is also a pragmatic element to parenting and my parents didn’t have the experience of guiding three boys through technologies that have embedded themselves in my daughter’s lives. For modern-day wisdom to replicate, I tap into friends as well as experts who are also parents. My relationships are essential for benchmarking and extending my parenting.
The wise counsel held in my friendships and relationships is vital. I like myself, but I am a much better version of myself for the people I count as friends, family and colleagues. I love me for the friends who love me. My friends affirm me and critique me. They fill lonely bits with joy and hold still when I need to be sad. And I love them back wholeheartedly and trust them so deeply that I will mimic some of their parenting gems.
One of the greatest gems I might pass on to my daughters is my certainty that relationships give worth to our lives.
A great motivator for me is the profound longing to do the best and be the best for the people I love. I also believe that the blessing is most fully present when I am at my best for someone who cannot reciprocate. Sometimes offering my best is simply sitting alongside my children to share ourselves in a chat.
I still grieve for the loss of time with my children that comes with separation. I don’t like the sense that our relationship sometimes seems to run as clock-on clock-off. But, mostly, I don’t like the loss of the opportunity to set an example of what a rock-solid marriage looks like. My grandparents lived a rock-solid marriage and I hoped to copy every bit of it. Marriage is the greatest relationship and is the best of gifts to model to children.
But, I am not married and cannot offer what I don’t have. Still, I am regularly embraced by people who care deeply for me and I do great, caring holds in return. Somewhere in that is my hope that my earthly angels look on and see enough that they can one day lift and copy into their own marriage.
Photo by Mizuno K.