‘Stop yelling at your sister,’ I yell in my very best angry voice.
Luckily, at only four years old, she didn’t see the irony in my behaviour – a behaviour I’m trying to teach her not to do by exhibiting exactly the same thing myself. But parenting is full of irony, isn’t it?
Children hold a mirror up to you, and reflect back exactly what they see. That’s why raising children can be the most intense time for shining a light on your own personality traits – warts and all. And oh there are some nice warts that show up every now and then.
Like the yelling thing. And the pointing at someone when you are talking thing. And the leaving the table before others have finished eating thing. The list goes on!
My darling little life teacher (otherwise known as one of my children) even said to me in her most mummy-like voice last week as we sat down at a very nice restaurant for a special dinner – ‘don’t put your elbows on the table Mummy.’
I promptly took them off.
No matter how good our intentions when it comes to teaching our children life lessons, it is totally useless unless we continue to look at our own behaviour and seek to be the best example we can be.
Research has shown over and over again that parents that exercise and eat well have healthier children. Kids that see their parents on the laptop all the time, or glued to the TV at night, will be less active in their own lives. And over the last two weeks as the Olympics has taken over our TV and radios, I’ve found myself spending a fair bit of time thinking about the life these top athletes must have lead as children, and the support their parents must have given them.
It goes beyond exercise and diet too. Guiding our children to focus on the positive in life, building their inner confidence and teaching them to pick themselves up and dust themselves off, can only be done if we know how to do that ourselves. If they hear us constantly complaining about our jobs or being negative on the phone to friends, they soon learn that’s the way to communicate. Want to learn some confronting things about yourself? Watch a toddler pretend to be mummy or daddy on a mobile phone, and listen to how they talk. Trust me, that can change your life forever!
I can’t believe the things I am learning while teaching and guiding my kids. Often, for the first time in my life, I have had to clarify what I think on an issue – like what to do about a bully at pre-school, or what happens when someone dies.
The minefields of questions can come from anywhere, anytime – they can pounce on you at the most unsuspecting time. The question about death came as we were waiting at the traffic lights one day, prompted by my then-three year old overhearing a conversation on my mobile of a work colleague’s mother’s death (mobile phone again – perhaps I should ban them around my kids!). I was so shocked by her question, as I had thought the morality issues were a good few years away, that my answer fluctuated wildly between heaven, reincarnation, and a couple of angels for good measure. It was not my finest parenting moment.
But you bounce back. The heart stops beating wildly (seriously – I broke out in a cold sweat!), you gather your thoughts, and you realise that you are figuring out more about life as you are teaching it than ever before.
You stop yelling. You make sure you have three serves of vegetables with your meal. You don’t answer your emails or phone calls during dinner (in preparation for the teenage years!)
You even take your elbows off the table. After all, what monkey sees, monkey does.