Written by Karm
I am keenly aware that my 12-year old child’s behavior is due, in part, to the behaviors modeled by his parents. And although I feel I have always known this, and try to remember it during stressful moments in our home, I know that I have failed at modeling good behavior many times. Parenting is hard. It’s really hard to do it all correctly, all of the time. Most of us are pretty good at admitting we are not perfect parents. Sometimes we focus on the things we have done well to make ourselves feel better. But as I see my tween responding to the world and the people in it, I feel both pride and shame.
My most important duty, the one I prayed for so fervently, is to be a mother and to raise a good human. That’s it. That’s what I signed up for. It’s what I begged for. I can pat myself on the back all day long about what good manners my boy has, or how truthful he is, or how much he thinks about and cares about other people. But I know he has learned some terribly awful things by watching me too. And I’ll throw my husband in there as weel (sorry babe). Now before you get concerned, I’m not talking about aggressive, violent or abusive behavior here. And it’s important to note there are other things that influence a child’s behavior besides what they observe in the home. I’m basically talking about bad habits of relating to each other, and handling stress. The kind of behavior that doesn’t psychologically damage kids, but definitely is a bad example of how to behave in social environments and the world in general.
Embarrassingly, my son has heard me swear in anger. He’s seen my husband and I be short with each other. He’s witnessed tit-for-tat disagreements. He’s heard our gossip, even about people we love. He’s watched me get wound up about dirty clothes and forgetting to walk the dog when I was really annoyed about something that had nothing to do with him. He’s watched me needing to be right. All. The. Time. He’s watched me let things I can’t control stress me out. He’s heard me yell until my throat became sore. He’s witnessed us being unfair, biased, hot-tempered, impatient, sarcastic and I’m sure a few more unsavory things. Pretty awful, right?
When I hear my son repeat my own sarcastic, know-it-all tone, or grunt in anger at a video game, I want to hide my face in my hands. For real. How much damage have I actually done in prepping him for life as a social being?
Go ask mom
I asked my 77-year old mom of eight children if she ever worried about screwing me and my siblings up, and if she ever sees herself in us today. Here’s what she shared:
“In the early years of raising my children, spanking was acceptable punishment. I remember never feeling OK with that. As a child myself, I remember only once that I was ever spanked and how awful it made me feel. Happy to say most parents today do not spank.
I see a nurturing in all my children, but I don’t know if they learned it from me or if it was in their DNA. I think we are all born wanting to take care of others. But I did worry about the affect I would have on my kids. I wanted to teach them to be kind and generous, and I wasn’t always that way.
She reassured me my fears are normal; most parents feel the same. My mother had similar worries. She said I was raising a good little human, even with my missteps. But I know I have some work to do. As healthy adults, once we’re aware of our behavior, we have the option to change it, right? Know better, do better. I certainly would never blame my parents for my own behavior, because I know I am in control. But change can be difficult, and it takes practice.
Progress not perfection
I recently took an online parenting course which acknowledged my concerns about parental behaviors rubbing off on children. The facilitator said almost all parents are guilty on some level. But there are things we can do. Recognize your less-than-exemplary behavior and what triggers it. Learn new techniques and behaviors. Practice those techniques until they become your new normal. But I think the most important thing to remember, is that our kids need to know we make mistakes too and that they are not expected to be perfect. So I will keep learning. I will do better. I will admit when I’ve acted wrongly. Speaking in a calm voice is what I’m working on today. Next is trying to let my son make more of his own decisions, letting go of the control I hold on to so tightly.
I’m not ready for the teen years ahead….they honestly scare the hell out of me. I have a little time left to undo some of my mistakes and learn some new skills. The encouraging news is that our good behaviors rub off on our children too. I’d like to think my son has seen more of the best parts of me than the worst, and that those good behaviors are the ones that will stick. To be continued……wish me luck.