If you agree that we generally all strive as parents to instil good values in our children, the next challenge becomes how to instil those values.
I have learnt that if I don’t actively raise my kids, someone or some people will passively do so. It could be their friends or teachers at school who don’t share your ideals, family friends, nannies, indeed anyone they spend any chunk of time with. However, the greatest passive influence on children’s minds is usually parents. How we speak to our children, how we speak to others, if we obey all rules or break them, if we keep our promises and honour our commitments, if we do what we tell them to or if we compel them to do one thing while we do the opposite………after all, we’re the grown ups and we “own” them, for better or worse.
Raising children who have a solid foundation in the midst of the rot that has pervaded our society, takes commitment and strength of character; so we have to start with ourselves as parents. What are our values? As humans, a majority of us actually assume we have good values until we run our character through an acid test. We have to first determine what we want our children and society to know we stand for, then find out what it means to have those values and where we derive our “code” from. Are our values derived from the Bible or some other source? What standards do they outline or set? Are we committed to them or can easily drop them at the slightest cause?
Sounds easy enough right? Wrong, ’cause guess what? It’s the stressed times when our values are put to the test, that determine how seriously our children take the values we have dropped under that situation. Yes we’re human and we fail sometimes, but when those “times” are often repeated we’re telling our kids that upholding values are only possible when it’s easy and convenient. Let’s consider some common scenarios:
– RESPECT: When your child does something wrong that isn’t harmful nor was done intentionally, do you fly off the handle? Do they see you sometimes speak to and treat your staff, domestic or otherwise, as of they’re less than human or without a brain? Yes people can be annoying and sometimes show themselves lacking in initiative or common sense, but how you treat people when you are in a position of greater strength or advantage says a lot about your character and can teach your children that they only need “respect” those in authority or those that can influence their well being, success or failure…….that’s how sycophants are born 🙂
– HONESTY: How easily and often do you lie to your kids or in their presence? The usual justification for white lies does not help your children distinguish between acceptable or unacceptable lies (even when your landlord is at the door demanding rent you don’t have and you’re trying to get him to believe you’re not home). How often do you break your promises – to get them some treat, take them somewhere or do something with them?
– STRONG WORK ETHIC: Do you leave for work early or late? If you work for the government, can you often be found at home or anywhere except the office simply because you can get away with it? Do you constantly complain about your job or show gratitude for having one and the means it affords you to provide for your family.
– COMMITMENT: Are you committed to promises made or do you check out at the slightest opportunity? Are you committed to your spouse in front of and behind their backs or do your kids and driver probably know the names and/or faces of your “liaisons”, “aunties” or “uncles”? Do you cave when the going gets rough in any area of your life?
– DISCIPLINE: Do you exhibit self-control, or does anything go? Are you timely, concise?Do you even know the meaning of the word or does it only apply to your children?
– LOVE: What is love? How do we show it? How do we receive it? Under what circumstances is it appropriate or inappropriate to show love? Do we know what unconditional love is?
These are some of the areas or instances where our values, or lack thereof, become glaringly obvious for all to see and our children’s characters become formed based on what they see of us.
So ask yourself this: am I living a life, in secret and openly, that I want my children to emulate? It doesn’t start when you have children but way before then, once you become an adult. Your conduct before you become a parent, still comes to light after you have children and can put a chink in the foundation you’ve helped them build. Some psychologists and counsellors advocate sharing the wrong turns you took in life and how you overcame your failings or learnt from your mistakes. They argue that sharing your deepest, darkest mistakes as well as your triumphs can help teach your children that they should be wary of repeating the same mistakes and give them the confidence that even where they go wrong, they can turn their lives around like you did.
I must say I find the reasoning behind this quite sound. It can be a frightening prospect to reveal shameful details about your past but it’s much better you share with them (at the appropriate age to handle the information and when it will be most useful to them, but before they need it) than it be revealed by some old school mate, a colleague, an ex or a relative at a time where you seem like you’re lying if you try to explain the circumstances. Being knocked off a pedestal can be humbling and hard to contemplate in your children’s eyes but better when you’re prepared than when you’re not. How many children learn they were born out of wedlock by overhearing some aunts discussing it? How many children who believed their parents perfect, learn about some less-than-honourable past from an old school mate who bumps into you, after 20 years, at a wedding or some such event?
Foundations are important. Our children are important. Values are important. Our children having confidence in us and our words are important, especially if we want to influence them. How do we marry it all successfully?