Just recently my parents moved to the Twin Cities. This marks the first time in 20 years that we’ve lived in the same city. Now that we see each other multiple times each week, rather than just a couple of times a year, I've noticed that I’m a lot more like my mom than I ever knew. For example, it turns out we both really like things neat and tidy and we really really really don’t like conflict or going to the dentist.
And now, looking back at my childhood I can see that I picked up these (ahem) preferences by just observing my mom, day after day, year after year.
It's true, apples don't fall far from trees. It's also true that if your apples are adopted they don't fall very far either.
Even though my sons (all of which are adopted) won't have the incredible blessing of my fair skin, thinning hair, and small hands, they will have something else I'm not always certain I want to pass along either - my example. As that uncomfortable truth sinks in, an equally menacing question pops into my head.
If my kids turn out just like me (which there’s a good chance they will), will I have done my job as a Dad?
Basically, I am asking: "Am I living a life worth imitating?" It's an ass-kicker of a question for anyone, but none more so than for parents. It can hardly be disputed that there will be no more formative influence on kids than mama and papa bear.
Wait a minute, Catholic Ryan. What about Jesus? Shouldn't your kids imitate Jesus and not you? Yes, they should, but they will learn what a life lived in imitation of Jesus actually looks like from me. Like Paul, I'm saying to my sons (until they can stand up on their own as disciples of Jesus) "follow me, as I follow Christ". I'd love to be able to say, like Jesus did of the Pharisees, that my boys should do as I say, not as I do, but it doesn't work that way in family life.
So as a result I am smacked in the face with three truths about the importance of a parent’s example in a child’s life; three truths (two of which present daunting challenges and the last an incredible opportunity) that every parent has to wrestle with at one point or another.
1 Our kids are watching
Just last week I got the dreaded “you spend too much time looking at your phone” comment. For a long time I thought they hadn't noticed how much time I spend looking at my phone. Nope. Sherlock One through Sherlock Four don't miss a beat. They are observing my every move trying to make sense of the world through what they see me repeatedly doing. For better or worse, they are picking up whatever I am laying down.
2 Our kids are absorbing
Have you ever watched one of your kids scold another one of your kids and think “I hate it when they do that” or “who taught them that?" Then seconds later it hits you, “oh yeah, that must be what I sound like.” Shoot! They are not only watching us, they are absorbing us. I'm not sure what else I expected. I guess I hoped my kids would be the first on the planet to learn more from words than from actions.
3 Our kids are growing
Our kids are growing, which is to say they aren’t done yet and there is still time to adjust the mold. Isn’t that incredible? The story isn’t finished. It is still being written for them and for us. Our example can (and must) help guide the way. While we can’t control the outcomes for our kids, we can significantly influence the inputs they receive from us.
Whether I like it or not my kids are watching. The stakes are getting higher and more so than ever I am aiming to give them an example worth following. In fact, on not a few occasions recently my behavior has actually changed as I've thought: "would I want my boys, in the same situation, to make the same choice when they are all grown up?"
So, it's starting to sink in, one privileged dad-moment at a time.
Question: What about you? How have you seen kids picking up on the example of their parents? Please keep the discussion going in the comments below.