The values we aspire to teach our children are important, but the values we show our children are inevitably what they learn, no matter our intention. If you teach that all people are worthy of respect, while putting down people in another class, of another race/religion/lifestyle, I can guarantee your kids will act as you do.
“Do as I say, not as I do.” That was a familiar refrain when I was growing up. As a youngster, it meant I was to listen to my father and obey his words. Now that I’m older, it has another meaning: my father knew he was a flawed human being, and wasn’t going to be bothered to change his ways to be a better example. Don’t get me wrong, he was an example of many things, some good and some bad. A lot of my “teaching” was through lots of thought on my part, not from any conscious example of his. As an adult, even if mostly in years, I know that my daddy did and said many things he shouldn’t have, and made some mighty poor decisions, as all humans do. I also know that he taught me, through example, that actions speak louder than words; that honesty, no matter how painful, is always the best policy; that sometimes you have to swallow your pride and apologize; and that if you say you’re going to do something, you better damn well follow through.
My mother taught that all opinions are valuable; that people are equal; it’s important to think for yourself; and that family will always be there for you. What she showed me was that you can get what you want by manipulating others; people are only valuable by what they have to offer you; thinking for yourself means nothing if you don’t agree with the “powers that be”; and that you can pick and choose what family you have, or at least what family you prefer to interact with when you feel like it.
From both of my parents, I learned how to be a loner with friends. Someone with few memories of the past beyond what I chose to remember, or at least create to my liking (sometimes I have trouble telling the difference). My “broken home” shaped an odd amalgamation of simultaneously repressed emotion with explicit outbursts. My life experiences through high school only served to reinforce my outlook, and if it hadn’t been for university (despite its rough beginnings), I might have mistaken my reluctance to interact with others beyond my daily scope with true independence for the rest of my life.
My parents aren’t bad people. They may not have been the best parents all the time, but they tried. What they didn’t teach, I learned elsewhere – usually the hard way. It made the lesson stick a little more, and the bigger the lesson, the better I took it to heart. In some respects, it might have been better if I had been shown by mom and dad than the life experience, but it’s too late to change it now.
This comes up in my head now that I’m about to take on full-time motherhood. I worry, like all first-time parents, if I’m going to be a good mom; if I’m going to pass on more bad things than good from my life. I think all parents should worry , at least a little – after all, how can we check ourselves if we don’t examine our words and actions? The thing that I keep telling myself is that, unlike my parents’ divided style of child-rearing, I can learn with my kids while I’m teaching them. I can teach my children that it’s okay to be human, to make mistakes and learn from them, even if that means having to apologize or make amends at the expense of pride.