Making your Children see a Role Model in you

—S Meera

When a father gives to his son, both laugh; when a son gives to his father, both cry.
—William Shakespeare

Learning Anew

“The child is the father of man”, William Wordsworth said. This had intrigued me tremendously. How can the child be the parent? What can he or she teach an adult, given the lack of experience and exposure.
But when I became a mother, and as my children grow older, I realize the weight of the words. Indeed, there is much children teach us, but most of all, they hold a mirror to us. As we are, so will they be. And they get influenced by unspoken words, actions not precisely meant to be followed but that which they imbibe and silently inculcate. Thus the parent learns from the child who he or she truly is, what values they hold and how they impact their children.
And therefore, the responsibility to set the right example falls on the parent. Role model is too ambitious a word. To become a role model, one must reach great heights. But if one can embark on that journey to begin with, then hopefully at least the next generation or the generation after that will achieve the heights one aims for.
The responsibility becomes doubly challenging because one just graduates from youth to adulthood when she becomes a mother. And so, she has to unlearn her follies quickly and learn anew. Do you become a hypocrite when you shun the very thing you did as a youth? Or is that what growing is all about? How does one balance between the unlearning and the learning?

Stepping Back

Instead of talking about how I become a role model, I would like to step back to my childhood and see the role my mother played. Was she my role model? Did she set the example that I follow and want to follow?
Largely what I am today is because of my parents. They worked as one unit, with mother the face that spoke and father the silent wall behind. Through the thick and thin of my youth, my rebellions and my obduracies, my parents stood by me as a pillar. They encouraged me in my strengths and accepted me in my failures. They seldom raised their voice, but managed to convey their displeasure. They rarely praised me, but silently made me feel my worth.
My mother gave me a long rope, but tugged when it was time to bring me back. She let me explore the world, and though it would be considered orthodox by many, she trusted me in a fast changing world. She had implicit faith in her values and confidence in herself and her children to know that they will not go astray. When she feltIf there were calamities or problems, we never were touched by them. There was no bemoaning of fate, or wallowing in self pity. It did not come out as impotency turned sour, nor as impatience with unruly children. Each had its place in life and was dealt with accordingly without spilling over to other aspects.
What made her my role model despite disagreements and fights? The security she gave me, of knowing I could run to her and she would keep me safe. And with time, I followed in her footsteps.

Moving Forward

children learn despite the horrible creature I turn into at times. My children come across as disciplined, confident and multi-talented. Whatever the tantrums they throw within the safe walls of our home, when outside, even visiting others without parents, they know not to be grabbing or demanding. They share, await their turn and are polite with their friends and elders. They are seen but not heard — as children should be. Is this something we explicitly taught them? We may have advised them when sending on visits, but I do think that it has become innate to them because that’s how they see the elders in their family behave.
They have varied interests and they are encouraged to hone those to the extent appropriate for their age. But what gives them the confidence to try new things is the fact that their parents too pursue their passions apart from work. And the sharing of experiences and the result of the activities makes it a family activity, giving arts and hobbies respect and importance.
They are given free time with their peers so that they learn from life — leadership, fighting and making up and understanding different personalities. And their privacy is respected.

My Eyes on You

We do falter, of course. And we realise when children imitate us in that too, showing undesirable behaviours. Indeed, they hold their mirrors to us, and in that we see for what we are — good, bad and ugly. Any disparity between action and words is caught immediately and thrown back without malice or ill will. Just a thought-provoking pointer to the slip. Watch your language, watch your actions, watch your step.
We are not perfect. So it is important not to put the pressure of perfection on the children either. When we realize, we take the effort to correct it for the sake of our children. And this we make the children aware too — to make them realize that erring is human, but accepting the error and changing is even better.
So, what if our youth was a folly that we wish to forget? How do we deal with an erring adolescent if we had been there, done that too?
Though my children are young, and my childhood pretty unexciting, each of us has done things that may not be worth tom-tomming. The best way would be to give our children the rope to explore, learn from their mistakes, but be there to ensure that they are within boundaries so that they do not fall beyond salvation, and can come back to the safety of our arms. We have but one life and but one youth … why waste it fretting and walking the tight rope? But be the railings that they can hold on to as they swing in air.

Role Model

This is a role we cannot escape – of being the example children follow. A typical cycle of children’s feelings for a fairly normal, loving set of parents would be to adore and idolise; rebel and ignore; and finally, emulate and worship.
It is up to us to be worthy of each of these, to watch ourselves and catch us in time. And I think this is important not only for the emotional and physical safety of the child but also because it is our duty to create responsible citizens who contribute to the society in positive ways. Lead by example and there is a fair chance the world will remain a worthy place for them to live in.

About the Author
S Meera is an editorial consultant, based out of Chennai. A mother of two children, she is also known as a classical dancer. She has been writing and editing since 1993.

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