Becoming a parent is a joy.
A challenge. A learning. A sacrifice. An experience which is exhausting, humbling, rewarding… and much more.
A child emerges from the womb like molten glass from a furnace, says historian Yuval Noah Harari, and can be spun, stretched and shaped freely. And as the first caretakers of the baby, parents play an unparalleled and unforgettable role in laying the foundation of their child’s beliefs, attitudes and behavior.
Children watch everything their parents do. They are watching us when we meet others, they are listening to us when we speak with others and they know exactly what we are thinking… And they learn from what we do. The younger they are, the more cues they take from us. Our ideas, our inclinations, our actions become integrated into their being. Our good behavior gets picked up. So does our not-so-good conduct. Whether we like it or not, our children see our example as a pattern for the way life is to be lived. So what we do matters. It really does.
I know that my habit of meeting people, even strangers, with love and warmth and open acceptance comes from my dad… as does my instinct to hurl anything within reach in blind rage! From my mom, I have learned to be content with whatever I have without feeling deprived… She raised us on limited savings while my dad worked on his dream of creating a thesaurus in Hindi for 20 long years. When I am worried, when I am in turmoil, a feeling of calm practicality pervades me because, thanks to my mom, I truly believe that things will be fine in the end.
My daughter often complains about the time and effort she puts in when she has guests over. And yet she does. Willingly. Because she has always seen me do the same. Come to think of it, I remember my mom-in-law going out of her way to make her stuffed karelas for my dad or get my mom’s favorite cookies when they visited. Even today, in her advanced years, she goes the extra mile to make guests feel especially welcome. And in all likelihood, my daughter’s daughter will pick this habit from her!
The truth is, at every moment, we are setting some kind of an example for our children. Actions, they say, speak louder than words. Our actions, both good as well as not-so-good, are seen and factored into our children’s consciousness. That is why children of happily married parents have a greater chance of finding the same satisfaction in their relationships. If parents abuse alcohol or drugs, their children are more likely to be addicts too. Disrespect, carelessness, aggression, unruly behavior, greed are all learned from parents as are honesty, compassion, generosity, dedication and sense of responsibility. How our children handle stress and frustration in their life, how they respond to problems, how they treat other people or deal with responsibilities and mistakes is modelled on our approach to life.
“Children are educated by what the grown-up is and not by his talk,” remarked legendary psychoanalyst Carl Jung. He knew you can’t simply tell your kids what to do—you must lead by example. Any contradiction in what we say and what we expect is easily picked up by our children. For instance, how can I demand that my son pay attention to me when I myself keep interrupting him all the time? Or ask him to quieten down when I am always hollering at people? Or get my daughter to go to the gym when I don’t look watch my weight?
One successful strategy my husband and I have always tried to follow is to create the right milieu in the home for desired behaviour. For example, we have always wanted our children to be avid readers ~ we have kept them surrounded by books, journals and magazines, and both of us read a lot… and true enough, by and by, both our children have taken to serious reading!
Indeed. Parents are a link – a vital link – in the process of life. The way we have seen our parents live and conduct themselves has greatly influenced the way we are as also the manner in which we have brought up our children. Our children, in turn, will, by example, imbibe the same in their children! Parents shape the family legacy for generations to come! A huge responsibility indeed.
Here’s to being the role model our children deserve. Cheers!