Parenting is comprised of all sorts of moments—instances of clarity, confusion, success, failure, embarrassment, pride, victory and defeat. It’s a collection of our efforts, a sum of all moments. We can only hope that the overall picture is a positive one and that we’ll somehow come out on top. I have always hoped that my efforts would result in children who are better than I am.
That hope comes crashing down around me a lot. Sometimes I sit and wonder where I’ve gone wrong. Maybe the six loads of laundry waiting to be folded that are piled next to me on the couch somehow cloud my view, but occasionally the prognosis looks pretty desperate.
How are my children going to end up better than I am if I can’t even get them to obey?
Why is it that when my daughter is sent to her room for lying, she sits in there and colors on the walls with a blue crayon?
Why is it that no matter how many times I teach them about what is and is not appropriate to say, they just keep spouting off words or discussing topics that I wish they knew nothing of?
Why, oh why, am I failing at this?
I love being a mother. I feel like I’m immensely dedicated to that task. I feel the weight of its eternal importance on my shoulders every waking hour. I want to succeed. So, what’s the problem?
I’ve learned a critically important lesson in the past month or so. It’s a lesson that has taken some time to completely absorb into my soul. But nonetheless it’s now sitting there, waiting in the quiet recesses for me to learn to successfully use it.
A couple of times a week I babysit two little girls. Awhile ago, when I showed up for what I believe was only my third time in their home, the four year old came out of the house wearing a baseball cap with her sunglasses resting on the bill.
“Look, BriAnne! I’m you!”
Anyone who knows me very well at all knows that her vision of me is pretty accurate. I’m losing a lot of my hair of late and have yet to come up with a medical reason or any sort of remedy. So I wear a baseball cap. A lot. Trust me, it’s better than a comb over.
She was downright adorable. Her declaration made me smile. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?
George Bernard Shaw once said, “Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery—it’s the sincerest form of learning.”
While there was zero harm in this little girl attempting to look like her babysitter by putting a hat on her head, it got me thinking about the behaviors that are probably imitated by my own children. There are behaviors they see in me that I’d rather they not duplicate.
But my children’s behavior is learned. Plain and simple.
So while it’s wonderful to hope that our children somehow turn out better than we are, it’s probably more accurate to assume that they’ll be exactly who we are.
I can ask my children to stop yelling in our home until I’m blue in the face, but if I’m yelling that instruction, they’re not listening. The words we say to our children, the lessons and instructions that we give, are not nearly as important as what they see us do.
So if you’re anything like me, and spend time on your knees praying that your children will turn out better than you have, I empathize. But I’m also telling you that we have to be better than we are if we want that for our children. Every character trait, every behavior, every word, good or bad, will be learned and followed.
Lest anyone feel confused, Tanner did not learn to ingest chemicals from either one of his parents. Haylee does not have a tendency to write on walls because she’s seen us do it. Hunter is not defiant because he’s seen me act that way toward my own mother. And Avery doesn’t obsessively wake up during the night because we’re up throwing a party.
But I’ll tell you what they probably have seen. I guarantee that they’ve seen their mother withholding forgiveness or acting defiant. They’ve heard me raise my voice far too often. They’ve seen me resort to anger. They’ve seen me clinging tight to my pride. And I wish it weren’t true, but at times they’ve probably heard me say unkind things or watched me fight doing something that I, and they, know I should.
It’s a frightening realization that our kids might be exactly who we’ve trained them to be. With that truth comes a lot of regret and sorrow and ugly fear.
But the beautiful part about life is that it’s never too late to fix anything. Being on the right track has nothing to do with perfection, but everything to do with direction. We can turn ourselves around. We can correct in ourselves the behaviors that we want to see corrected in our own sweet children. We can change. We can take responsibility, not only for the children entrusted to our care, but for ourselves. Then, on the day we realize we’re being imitated, we can be confidently flattered instead of sorry.