“You will not believe this story,” began the email from a client who had just returned from family services for the Jewish New Year. She described the mother and three children sitting next to her own family. “She was knitting!” (Yes, you read it correctly, knitting.) “And when she was done knitting, she pulled out her Blackberry and began texting.” I queried as to her guess of the ages of the children. Elementary and middle school, was her reply.
There really isn’t more I need to write here. You who are taking the time to read this blog know exactly how I feel and what I am going to say.
When I was writing the Introduction to my book, You’re Not the Boss of Me, I seriously considered having only a single sentence on the page: Be the person you want your child to be. We all want our children to be honest, respectful, self reliant, and manifest all the myriad character traits that put them in the position to have options and lead a satisfying life. Can’t you hear the woman from temple lecturing her children about paying attention and showing respect and all the rest!
Being a parent is a job; it isn’t a birthright. It comes loaded with responsibilities (and yields tremendous pleasure.) You might as well have signed the contract right after the doctor handed you that tiny newborn: I accept the responsibilities that come with being a parent.
After Love your child, number two on that list is Be your child’s teacher. Seems obvious, I know. But there are those who just don’t get it. There is the mom who insists on respectful talk and yells at the parking attendant… in front of her child. There is the perfectly healthy dad who preaches honesty and tells his colleague that he can’t make the appointment because he isn’t feeling well…in front of his child. You know the mom who demands that her child not use the word “stupid,” the one who screams out “Stupid driver!” to the car in front of her. And we all know the dad who insists on his child’s full attention who himself can’t resist looking at his BlackBerry at the dinner table, during story time, or when he’s just walked into the house.
Children are the first to spot character and value hypocrisy. In fact, their learning is cemented by noticing consistency in the world. Oh Daddy, you said the S word! They look to you, their first teacher, for validation of what you have taught. Every day in so many ways you have the chance to model your expectations for your children and bring the lesson home.
Remember this, your children will do what you do, not what you say.