Parents are funny. They’ll think that they are parenting their kid whenever they are consciously attempting to impart something. So when they teach them this or show them that, that is what they think of as parenting. And that is just nuts. It’s ridiculous and silly and entirely indefensible. That is the tiniest part of parenting there is.
Actual parenting is life. Your kids will walk like you or your spouse. They will talk like you or your spouse. If you love swimming they won’t be afraid of water unless something serious happens. Same if you like Chinese food, or curry or octopus. None of those will seem strange to your kids because you are who delivers reality to them. What they will call “normal” will be defined by your lives.
The only caveat to this is that there are two forms of imitation—direct and reciprocal. In one case your kid subconsciously copies you simply because they didn’t know they had an option—like speaking their native tongue for instance. And in other cases they act the way they do entirely consciously and in open defiance to who you are. So the kids of alcoholics are rarely moderate drinkers. They’re either like the parent and they go to booze to deal with stress, or they’re a teetotaler because they never want to deal with the damage they’ve witnessed the parent cause due to alcohol.
Now that paragraph contains the heart of my point. Because that parent doesn’t take to drink hoping to convince their kids to be alcoholics. They’re just imitating their parent. And they don’t drink in the hopes that it will lead their kid not to drink. They are just being themselves while the kids/sponges are present. So the kid sucks it all up by nature, without any perspective as to how useful or detrimental that lesson might be to his or her future.
So how does this play out? Well, if you’re in the car yelling at other drivers while your kid is in the car seat, you are parenting. They are watching your every move and they can imitate anything quickly. And you’re not teaching them the things you imagine. You’re teaching the principles. So you’re not only teaching them impatience and intolerance and disrespect, but you’re also teaching anger, and phrases of speech, as well as lessons on how long one should stay angry after getting angry, or if one should apologize after getting angry, etc. etc. etc. So the getting mad in front of your kids can still be a good lesson, if it includes an apology.
So you can say to your kids to treat people with respect, but if you yourself routinely disrespect others—whether that’s through parking in handicapped stalls when you’re not handicapped, cheating on insurance claims or taxes, not correcting a clerk who generously gives you wrong change, or even insulting a relatives relationship choices, you are teaching your kids to judge, disrespect, and feel superior to their fellow man. And that is decidedly not good parenting.
Virtually everyone is concerned and complaining about the direction society is going, but the simple fact is we all need to cooperate to make societies and even the planet itself work. This means sometimes compromising your own desires in favour of what’s best for the entire group. But in this iGeneration that’s been taught by advertising to ravish themselves with attention, few are investing the energy required to raise a good tribe member who can successfully advance all of us through cooperation, creativity and self control. Instead we focus on selfish, self-aggrandizing behaviours that are then picked up by kids and the amplification happens throughout each generation.
It’s awesome that a kid can grow up free, and fed and healthy. And it’s nice when they can realize the best in themselves. But it’s also really nice when a kid can grow up in a friendly, cooperative, supportive, caring, compassionate and loving environment. And since that environment is made up of everyone else’s kids…. I think you get the point. So if you’re looking for the best way to set a good example for your kids, just ask yourself what you want the world they live in to look like and then act accordingly.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.