Parenting and Leading by Example: Is it Easier Said Than Done?
Ever since I got this fierce need of wanting to become a mother, my obsession with parenting techniques took on the driving seat of most of my choice of readings. Being the perfectionist that I am, I had to go into all the details of parenting, from the medical and scientific facts to the psychological complexities related to pregnancy, delivery, breast feeding and… well the list goes on and on!
My husband refers to me as ‘doctor’ now, because of this growing fascination of mine. The other night, I was doing my usual reading on my on parenting and child care on my iPad, when I came across an amazing article by writer and parenting expert Lisa Belkin. Of course, it was about becoming a mother, what it means, and how it feels.
I loved every bit of the article, but there was something in particular that she wrote that stayed with me and kept the wheels in my head turning. She wrote, “Most of what [your child] becomes in life won’t be because of anything you say or do, but because of who you are. [They] will watch you and absorb you and reject some parts of you and embrace others. Bits of you will build [their] psyche and [their] character and [their] worldview and [their] sense of self. You can’t spare [their] pain nor ensure their happiness. Just love [them]. The rest follows logically.”
Those particular words kept me up hours after I had put down my iPad. It hit me: our children are most affected by who we are! It’s not only about what you try to teach them in terms of behavior, ethics, and lifestyle. It’s more about them watching, absorbing, and imitating your own behavior, sense of ethics, and lifestyle. Bottom line is, your child will reflect who you are today.
There was a time, mostly when I was somewhat of a rebellious teenager, that I regarded myself as completely different from my parents. I thought of myself as a polar opposite and couldn’t see any sign of resemblance between us.
Today, I take a deeper look at myself, a sincere and honest dissection of who I am, how I think and act, and I see so much of both my parents in me. I see within me huge chunks of the way my parents think and act; some I like, and others I think to myself “How did I end up with these characteristics that I once hated (or thought I did) so much?”
The answer is: those characteristics unconsciously grew on me. I inevitably took on a lot of the mental and physical behaviors that I was surrounded with for so many years, before moving out and creating my own little family.
The truth to this matter is, despite all denial, children eventually become a bouncing reflection of who their parents used to be. They might be influenced more by one parent than the other, probably because of the amount of time they spend together. But in the end, they are a byproduct of various behaviors.
I say that to remind myself that if I want my baby girl to be polite and courteous towards others, I have to be polite to others myself. If I would like for her to be active and take initiatives, I should take steps towards achieving my own goals first. If I wanted for her to be well rounded and educated, I should spend more time reading and educating myself. This goes on to each and every aspect of my life; be it obeying the law, helping the less fortunate, or simply standing up for myself. It’s all about setting an example. Not by words, but by actions. Actions are easier to imitate, and it is only natural for people to adopt what they see in front of their eyes as a way of life.
All this talk about action should not undermine the fact that we must all do our research when it comes to raising children. We must look into the best strategies, the best diets, and the best emotional environments, and try to bring up our offspring using all of the above mentioned elements.
When it comes to dealing with my beautiful baby girl, I take a very by-the-book approach. I very rarely neglect the scientific facts, case studies, and new advancements in the childcare field. And from my brief experience so far, doing my homework has thankfully paid off very well. I couldn’t ask for a more cheerful, loving, disciplined, or smarter baby. However, I know my job is not done yet. I still have a long way to go.
It’s easy to overlook the fact that in order for anyone to teach a concept, they must first seek to implement it on themselves. That is the only way they can go on to teach it to others. As parents, we are obliged to develop our own characters and minds, even as we age, and ensure that we ourselves are satisfied with whom we have become as mature adults. That is the starting point.
Once that is achieved, parents can add more building blocks on top of the base that they’ve structured for their child. Parents can place layers upon layers of new blocks, each block representing positive additions to that child’s character and personality. With each positive addition, is a new opportunity created for that child, enabling them to have a better life than their parents’.
Keep in mind that this doesn’t have to take a lot of physical or mental effort, because by just being the best version of themselves, by being great role models, parents automatically build that strong base of building blocks for their child.
Be the best you can, because that’s what your children will turn into someday – at least partially. Better yourself; not only for your sake, but for the sake of the people you cherish the most in life, your children.
– Reem Behbehani
Illustration by Amina Al-Ansari
This article first appeared in the Oct/Nov/Dec 2013 Power Issue.