Be the Change....
...Even with your Kids
I now have grandclients, which seems odd to me since I don't feel any older these days than I ever have. But a young man who was my client when he was 11 years old now has two young sons of his own. This young dad, who I'll call Mark, had a rough upbringing; his parents didn't have much in the way of either luck or skill and while they loved their kids, they didn't exactly give them the best start in life. Now Mark, a single dad, has two little guys to raise and once again, he found himself sitting on my blue sofa and talking to me.
"I know I don't want to raise my sons the way I was raised," he told me. "But what should I do instead? I'm trying hard to be a good father but all those parenting lessons are hard to remember when I'm frustrated or angry." He sighed. "Got any suggestions?"
Research tells us that a great deal of our own behavior as parents depends on how we were raised. Children who experience a secure, loving connection with their parents generally do well with their own kids--although no one will ever be perfect. But for people who didn't get an ideal childhood, whose experiences are not ones they want to share with their own children, parenting can be extremely challenging. Attachment--the connection we experience with our parents--influences everything from empathy to conscience development, from trust to patience. Many of the parents I talk with have wonderful intentions--but very few skills and little self-awareness. And if you've never experienced loving, thoughtful parenting, it's hard to do it yourself.
It occurred to me that with so few reliable relationships in his life, Mark somehow needed to become his own role model. But how? What popped into my mind was that old parenting standby, "Do as I say, not as I do." As anyone can tell you, that approach doesn't work well for either kids or parents. But my next thought gave me an idea.
Gandhi once said that we must be the change we want to see in the world. Those words have become a common sight on bumper stickers and refrigerator magnets, but they speak of wisdom and truth that only becomes richer over time. In this world of ours, it is easy to point fingers at others, to complain about their faith or their sexual preferences or their politics. But what would happen if we all tried to become people who live out the ideals of integrity, compassion, and respect?
So I got out a piece of paper and asked Mark a question. "What sort of men do you want your boys to become?" I asked him. And together we made a list. Mark wanted his sons to be successful and happy, of course, but he also wanted them to be clean and sober, to be hard-working, and to have good relationships. He wanted them to be honest and kind. He wanted them to be patient.
When our list was finished, I smiled at him and made a suggestion. "Mark," I said, "what would happen if you decided to live your life as if you are the kind of man you want your boys to become?"
Mark laughed. "I'd make a ton of mistakes," he said, "but I guess I do that already." Suddenly serious, he told me, "I think it's worth a try." And while everything is not perfect in Mark's world, he is working hard and his boys are doing well. He tells me that trying to be the kind of person he wants them to be is difficult, but it helps him stay on course. He often refers to the list we made in my office. I am impressed with his courage and devotion to his sons.
And in truth, Gandhi's words should resonate for all parents. How many times do we expect our children to be honest, kind, cooperative, generous, hard-working, and patient when we struggle to demonstrate those qualities ourselves? What might happen if we simply decided to be the change we wanted to see in our families?
Well, it just might change everything.
| Posted by cheryl | Tuesday, August 7, 2012|