Welcome back to our three-part series highlighting a progression of principles that will lead to the good result of a happy, well-rounded, engaged, trustworthy, and self-governing child. This post is number 2 of 3.
Principle number two is… (drum roll please)…
2. Right Example.
“A child’s heart finds something to attach to and then becomes like it.” -Gordon Neufeld
Once you are in “right relationship” with your child–providing them with a secure and enduring attachment–you will find that they are much more amenable to your influence. This is why Relationship is principle number one and Example is principle number two.
You can be the best example in the world, but if your child is more attached to his buddies than to you, their influence will trump yours every time.
Conversely, if your children are deeply attached to you but your example is underwhelming, you could potentially be doing your child a disservice. Both principles are vital in their respective order.
So, how are you?
I don’t mean how are you doing… I mean how are you? What are you like? (¿Como es? for the Spanish speakers out there). If your child were to become just like you, would that be a good thing?
What kind of an example should we strive to set?
Well, that depends on the results we want. But I imagine that most of us want our children to be kind, trustworthy, capable, family-oriented, successful adults who are living lives full of meaning and purpose.
So, are we setting an example of these things? Do you know what your purpose is? Are you chasing it? Are you seeking after knowledge and wisdom that will benefit those around you? Are you a lifelong learner? Do you have joy in your learning? Do you look for ways to give meaningful service? What do you do in your spare time? What do you think about when you do not have to think? Do you exemplify and seek the good, the true, and the beautiful?
Go Tiger Go!
Now with this idyllic goal of excellence in mind, we must acknowledge that no parent is the perfect example, all of the time. However, in our imperfection there is actually a hidden layer of perfection. You see, in the same way that parents are human and flawed and broken, children are also human and flawed and broken. And the way you deal with your humanness and flawedness and brokenness is the number one way that your children learn how to deal with their own humanness and flawedness and brokenness.
So what do we do when we have not been the best example? What do we do when we mess up? When we fail? When we are angry or disappointed? When we hurt someone? When things don’t go our way?
Do we seek out justification for our bad behavior and mistakes, or do we admit when we are wrong and seek to right the situation with humility?
Providing an example of what to do when we don’t live up to the ideals we try to live by is perhaps more powerful than being an example that never messes up. As they say, “it doesn’t matter how many times you fall down, as long as you get up one more time” (cue Chariots of Fire theme song).
Another aspect of the hidden perfection of our imperfection (did that make sense?) is that children can learn from a good example just as they can learn from a bad one. This means that seeing weakness in a parent can motivate the development of a strength in a child. Or as my wise friend Amber Williams once put it, “You are the perfect parent for your child, not because of your strengths but because of your weaknesses and flaws.”
At first glance it seems like being an amazing mom who never “loses it” or needs to eat chocolate chips in the pantry would be way better than the kind of mom I am (the losing it/chocolate chip kind). But coming from a home where mistakes were made (read: my parents were normal humans), I can say from experience that I learned very powerful lessons from the flawed examples I observed on the daily. Even in my very early youth I can remember thinking, “when I am big, I will be different.” But also “when I am big, I will be just like that.”
And honestly, in some ways I am different, and in other ways I am much worse! As a mom, I am woefully aware of the lackluster example I am setting for my children in so. many. ways. But I have hope that they will take the good and allow me to lean into grace for the rest.
Demonstrating our constant dependence on grace and sending the message that they can too is a huge blessing to our children. Receiving grace and dishing it out to everyone we meet, regardless of their apparent worthiness, is the most Christlike example we can set. The goal is not perfect performance, but perfect empathy and charity.
So here’s to setting the best example we can, demonstrating humility in our errors, and hoping that our children will do better than we were able to show them.
Stay tuned for principle 3 next week!