“Not just a song by Jill Sobule” was going to be my subtitle, until I realised her song was “I’m gonna be a Supermodel”… although that may still be appropriate.
In the olden days it was called “setting a good example”, but in 21st century parenting lingo, it’s known as “modelling”. Whatever you want to call it, it’s been something I’ve been giving considerable thought to lately. Partly because I’ve been modelling some particularly bad behaviour & coping mechanisms, partly because (as a result of said badness) I have be consulting widely with various parenting/self-help manuals, [the best of which was a book called The Smallest Things by Angela Mollard– it was very un-self-helpy and easy to read] and finally, because I had Dr Phil on today (while doing some really boring work-stuff) and they had yet another “family in crisis” where the parents’ behaviour both towards each other and towards their kids was pretty diabolical and their eldest child was starting to “disrespect” her mother. I thought: “Only starting to???” but also, “Well how do you expect her to act any differently when she’s been seeing that kind of interaction all her life?” Which is exactly what Dr Phil said. Genius, evidently.
I know I’ve banged on a lot about this on my blog (well, as much as “a lot” can be with my rather scanty posts) but again and again, I’m struck by the reflection of myself in my kids, especially Master L. And I’m usually really quite ashamed. He shouts at his sister (not all the time, but sometimes), he loses his temper very quickly, often with the simplest of things, and the other night when I stopped briefly to snack on a piece of bread on the way up to their bath and bed, they of course wanted a piece of bread too and I realised how they want to copy everything you do. Some of this (like the temper outbursts) is typical toddler behaviour. But all you have to do is hear your words come out of their mouths (good and bad words, I might add) and you realise what little sponges they are.
I’ve been conscious of my propensity to lose my temper more easily than I should for a while and am desperately trying to be more patient. I found a nice little poem the other day and stuck it on the fridge which has helped a bit:
Give me patience when little hands
Tug at me with ceaseless small demands
Give me gentle words and smiling eyes
And keep my lips from hasty, sharp replies
Let not fatigue, confusion or noise
Obscure my vision of life’s fleeting joys
So when in years to come my house is still
Beautiful memories its rooms may fill
But the bread incident made me think- what other behaviours am I “modeling” for my children that I’d really like to be modeling better?
1. Eating habits– It doesn’t help that I’m now 15 weeks pregnant with number 3 (yay!) so despite the fact that my eating should really be squeaky clean in the interests of number 3’s health, I figure I did ok the last 2 pregnancies eating with (almost) reckless abandon, lost my baby weight each time and produced healthy babies. (Albeit sizeable ones- whether their size was because of my more than 20kg weight gain I’m not sure. Probably not.) Since they started eating solids we’ve been aware of how they want to eat the same things you do, they always want what’s on your plate regardless of what’s on theirs. On the whole, we do eat fairly healthily and I like to think that having the occasional cake or muffin teaches them that these things are part of our way of life and we need to learn to enjoy them in moderation. But I am terrible when it comes to standing up snacking & grazing, eating slowly, not eating the kids’ leftovers and eating while driving/walking around etc. It’s really bad, unconscious eating, which goes against everything I’ve learned when it comes to enjoying food but not over-doing it. I don’t want my kids to start copying this.
On the plus side (let’s acknowledge the positives too!) the kids always eat breakfast and dinner (and 99% of the time, lunch) sitting at the table, I don’t let them walk around and eat, and I don’t have my phone/laptop/book/magazine at the table and I’m trying to ban toys and other distractions for them too (we don’t have the TV on at meal times). I try to be fairly relaxed about what they eat and how much (I never make them finish their food but when Master L’s vegetables remain on his plate untouched it’s very hard to not say “Just eat 3 pieces of carrot and then you can have your yoghurt/fruit etc”.)
Anyway it’s a work in progress but I’m really becoming conscious of the example I’m setting these days.
2. Getting things done– I’ve mentioned before that I tend to procrastinate and be of the “Oh I’ll finish it later, I really need/deserve a sit-down/rest/mindless TV viewing session” mentality (the definition of procrastination). This is exactly how my parents are and exactly how I don’t want to be and how I don’t want my kids to end up. And to be honest, when I’ve worked till 2am the night before or been up with Master L 5 times during the night, I feel quite entitled to do what I want while Miss L’s asleep! But I can’t expect the kids to understand this. Besides which, I’ve often found that it’s when you feel most tired and lethargic that the best remedy is to keep busy or you feel even worse. The fact that it’s hard to get anything other than a limited set of tasks actually done with the kids around is hardly a motivator to start sometimes, but sitting around trying to do nothing with them is probably even more frustrating.
3. Exercise– I’ve pulled the pregnancy card lately but they do see me take the dog out for a walk (not often enough). When I look around at friends of mine who are active, by and large they have active parents (this goes not just for physical exercise but also for activities in general, as per my previous point). They also tend to have active kids. I remember when my Dad went through a jogging phase when I was about 8 years old. It lasted about 2 weeks and I think he went for 3 runs in that time. I was so excited to go with him- waking up early and going out running seemed like a huge adventure. Then, when I got a bit older and could really have benefitted from a bit more exercise myself, but wasn’t old enough to go out running alone, having one of my parents to go with would have been perfect. I remember always being envious of my cousins, who used to go on family bike rides with their parents. I have seen my Mum on a bike once, my Dad, never. We got to go for family walks, or we’d ride our bikes while Mum and Dad walked, allowing us to clock up a grand total of about 5km for a bike ride. Hardly a work-out. So not just for myself, but the sake of my kids, I think it’s important to make time to exercise, even though they are so often the excuse why I don’t.
So I’m wondering if the extrinsic motivator of my kids will prove to be more powerful than my own intrinsic motivation. I don’t think my hair will ever shine like the sea or that everyone will want to look just like me, but I’m hoping one day, even if not a supermodel, I might just make a super model.