Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Teach Your Children Well

It wasn't the first time a driver was caught with an open container. That, in itself, was clearly not newsworthy.

What turned heads is that the offender was the township's police chief. And the director of the local school's D.A.R.E. program.

Move over, Kanye West and Amy Winehouse. You've both been dethroned, at least in northwest Ohio, as this year's Most Disgraced Role Model.

None of us is a saint. As anyone who even peripherally knows me can attest, I will never be canonized. Like most of my similarly aged friends though, I left behind the biggest sins of wayward youth when I took the Vow of Parenthood. The majority of us morphed into respectable, law-abiding citizens. We wanted to be good parents, and that includes being proper role models.

So we try to teach our children to abide by the law by staying within the boundaries ourselves. We teach them a work ethic by dragging ourselves to our jobs each day, even when we're dead-tired. We teach them healthy habits by eating all the vegetables on our plate. (Lima beans? I admit parental failure here.)

By laying down some basic rules and by following those standards ourselves, we hope we're teaching them right from wrong. Yet what's easy for us to overlook are the subtleties in parenting, the daily behaviors we seldom realize they are observing.

The parent who screams at his ten-year-old's referee can guarantee he's raising a bully. The parent who lies to the PTA to avoid volunteering at a school function can't expect her child to be truthful about his Saturday night whereabouts when he's sixteen. The parent who can't make the time to visit an elderly relative will one day find himself old--and quite likely, very alone.

How we behave in the seemingly insignificant moments of our daily lives doesn't go unregistered in our children's minds. While we're teaching them respect for the law and a tolerance for lima beans, perhaps we should be focusing equally on how we behave when we forget our children may be watching.

Virtues aren't commodities we can select for our children from the shelf at Target. We can't just buy them the gifts of patience, honesty and compassion, and hope these things will one day simply fit. And our children won't buy it themselves, unless they've seen us wearing the stuff first.

We can't count on others to always point them in the right direction either. My guess is that D.A.R.E. officer did a respectable job of teaching the children well throughout her carefully planned curriculum. Unfortunately, she didn't think about her actions when she thought no one was watching.

We're not fully responsible for how our children turn out. Even a perfect parent, as elusive and unlikely a possibility as that is, will raise imperfect children. We will make mistakes, and our children will make their own.

As role models, all parents can do is hope for the best. And hope our children emulate the best they see in us--even when we think they're not watching.


  1. Well said, my friend.

    There is nothing like watching your child imitate your least favorite self-trait (eg. impatience) - to put this in perspective.

    They see a lot more than you think they do.

  2. I followed you here from Betsy Lerner's blog. You may be interested in my latest post. It's along these same lines.

  3. Kim--
    I checked out your blog and your website. Very interesting stuff... How are your book publishing efforts going?

    Didn't see an email address for you anywhere. If you'd like, send me a message at the email posted at the top of my site.


  4. Way to "talk the walk" with this post.