This weekend, one day before a big holiday, I was in a crowded big-box store. I suspect we were a bunch of procrastinators who just wanted to get in, get it and get out. A young mother had her probably-two-year old son in the cart next to mine. He was fussy, whiny and wanted everything he saw and this had been going on for several minutes. Mom was understandably frustrated with him and it finally led to an outburst of anger. She shouted at him to “shut your f---ing mouth”. I was keenly aware of the looks of judgment on the faces of my fellow shoppers and I shared the tension of the space we occupied. I know I was not the only one contemplating the wisdom of saying something. But in the time it took to ponder, a man with a child of his own spoke up. He, in a respectful tone, suggested that her words were inappropriate and abusive toward a two-year old and that her actions begged advocacy for the boy. The woman did not take kindly to his interference and the words she chose to tell him so were of the same caliber she had for the child. The onlooker’s parting remarks to her were prophetic: the day was coming that those words would be used by her son…on her.
I have mixed emotions when it comes to interventions in situations where our personal values are upheld at the expense of another’s freedoms. I have repeated this story a few times and received a mixed-bag of opinions as to whether the man had a “right” to put himself in another family’s affairs. I’m certain you have your own position on the matter; but ultimately, what resonates with me is the truth of the man’s prediction that the behavior of the mother will be imitated by her son.
Moms and dads, stepfathers and stepmoms, we are the primary models for our childrens’ values and actions. Do not be fooled into thinking your authority will override your example! Do not deceive yourself by believing your children are unaware of or not influenced by your behavior.
If, as a step or bio parent, you were to make a list of the virtues you want your child to grow up embracing, what would you include? Honesty, patience, respect, responsibility, forgiveness? These are but a few of the honorable qualities in a good man or woman. For a child to learn and own them they must see them demonstrated; practiced regularly within the family, and led by the people who are responsible for shaping their future. Parents can certainly preach the academic concepts and require obedience to them, but there will be no greater lesson than observing the way they are lived out.
Children are watching. Are they seeing kindness in their home? Sensitivity to others; truth, fairness and unselfishness? Are there traits we hate in others that we justify in ourselves? Are negativity and criticism causing a friend or family member to feel unloved or discouraged? Your personal inventory of the important factors may include other values based on culture, religion or tradition…so add them as you evaluate the teaching atmosphere in your own home. Then, make a new and concentrated effort to model the behavior that will one day make you proud to see imitated by your children.