- Pull up your pants. Tuck in your shirt. Don’t leave dirty clothes on the floor.
- Say “please” and “thank you.”
- Don’t talk with your mouth full. Stand up straight.
- Answer adults with, “Yes, ma’am” or “No, sir.”
- Brush your teeth before you go to bed.
- Do your chores. Finish your homework. Study hard.
- And, on it went…
If I had a dollar for every time I heard one of these lines as a child, I’d be very wealthy today. Chances are, you’ve heard them too. Remember how it made you feel when an adult exhorted you to behave, have good manners, stop fidgeting or obey the rules? Sometimes it was boring, and at other times maddening, but mostly meaningless. Remember the feelings of righteous indignation that blossomed somewhere in the region of your chest, when you felt you were right — and that they were the ones who were wrong?
Do you remember that instant reflex to push back against authority, to have your point of view validated instead of being dismissed with a comment like “eat all your vegetables” or “no elbows on the table”? Do you recall rolling your eyes and tuning out these well-meaning but annoying people at home, school and within your religious congregation? In your resentment, you might even have mumbled to yourself, “I’ll never say things like that to my children.”
But, You Evolved Into a Parent
Time marched on. You went through your various stages of development, for better or for worse. You made mistakes and learned from them. You disobeyed your dad in high school and got a firsthand lesson in actions having consequences. You didn’t follow traffic rules and ended up in a car wreck. You cheated on a test and failed a college course. You finally got a job and connected with the reality that the so-called “real world” isn’t perfect or fair after all. Maybe you got married, divorced and married again, even became a parent yourself. In short, life happened. Without even realizing it, you began to see the value in those bothersome childhood lessons. You discovered first-hand that breaking them meant bad things were not far ahead.
And, then You Heard It!
Suddenly one day, you heard those same words come pouring from your mouth before you could stop them:
- “Pull up your pants right now!”
- “If you chase after that dog one more time, you’re grounded!”
- “Be quiet, or I’m going to send you to your room.”
- “Do not treat your little brother like that!”
- “Pick up this room…I mean everything.”
Then it hit you: You sound just like your mother. Or, maybe it was your aunt or a teacher or your father, but the words had the same ring to them as the ones you heard when you were growing up. You did the one thing you swore you would never do. You started using some of those same words. How in the world did that happen?
It happens to the best of us. Teaching the next generation to get along well in society always has a way of reminding us how previous generations tried to prepare us too. Suddenly, it doesn’t seem so unreasonable to demand your kids to look both ways before they cross the street. Suddenly, untucked shirttails begin to grate on you in a way they never did before. Suddenly, hearing a budding teenager say a four-letter word shows you exactly how tacky you must have sounded years ago.
Now, peer pressure seems much more trivial than it did when you were growing up. Now, completing homework and contributing to household chores don’t seem like unreasonable demands to place on children. Repeatedly reminding your child to clean up their room seems to be the appropriate thing to do.
Isn’t it amazing how things come full circle in life?
What this Should Teach Us as Parents
The important thing to realize as you’re struggling against your children’s resistance is the need to forge ahead no matter what. These quick and oft-repeated reminders will pay off some day. Being their best friend is not what you’re here for. Teaching children good manners and consideration for others is paramount, no matter what. Even when they spill things or can’t sit still or blurt out information they shouldn’t. Even when they stumble and fall…even when they do something you thought your child would never do.
The key to being a good parent is realizing that no matter how much breath you seem to waste in trying to instill these basic but important lessons, kids will be kids. They’re going to do what they’re going to do. They are difficult to control. Try as we might, it’s hard work to fashion them into “good little people.” They can be reminded, they can be taught, they can be punished for misdeeds, but ultimately they have minds of their own. So, as parents we have to be willing to hang in there – repeating some things over and over – to get our children to think effectively for themselves.
Our role as parents is also to be there to remind them that actions have consequences, and to teach them that it’s best to think things through before leaping into action. But when they do make a mistake, we’re not here to clean up the mess. Children have to learn at the earliest opportunity the value in cleaning up their own messes while avoiding even bigger ones in the future. This is how they will learn. It’s how we learned! If you consider how you have grown as an adult, I’m sure regrets, mistakes and poor choices are some of the leading reasons of why you are making better choices today. Mistakes can be just as important to a child’s growth as not making mistakes. And, controlling too much of their actions can be just as detrimental to their growth as not providing guidance at all.
It’s a delicate balance, but the key is to give them the tools to make the right decisions, and then the space to let them try their hand at life. There will be times when you aren’t there to say those words (you never thought you’d say), but your child will be stronger and more successful if you allow them to make some decisions on their own. And your own success as a parent will be even more rewarding when you stand on the sidelines and see your child make the right decision.
So, now we have these words for you as a parent:
- “Don’t give up!”
- “Hang in there, no matter what.”
- “You have to keep after them…yes, every single day!”
- “Your persistence is good for them, they need this from you.”
- “If you stay at it, your expectations will at some point become theirs.”
Developing good judgment and personal character in children is hard work and is never accomplished quickly. To a great extent, children are blank slates. The gaps in their knowledge must be filled with an appreciation for good habits and a good understanding of some of the basic lessons in life. Children need an innate sense of what is right and wrong, and sometimes it takes repetition – and lots of it – to get these points across.
As their custodians, we have to teach them the fundamentals that are so important in life, and that job almost always requires frequent reminders. At the same time, we must increasingly provide them with the freedom and opportunity to learn some things on their own. Such is the constant balancing act known as parenthood…on one hand, staying right in behind them and, on the other, letting them learn some things for themselves. It’s the toughest, but often the most rewarding job, on Earth…no doubt about it.
“I know the price of success: dedication, hard work
and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen.”
Frank Lloyd Wright
Written by Lindsey Jones
Copyright 2014 / Good Choices Good Life, Inc. / All Rights Reserved
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