Monday, February 1, 2010

The Stronger Half of My Influence

Ever wonder if your children are really catching on to what you are trying to teach them? I mean, I never cease to be amazed at how quickly they learn to imitate my negative behaviors and attitudes, or those of others, but when it comes to passing on positive influences, it often seems they aren't paying attention. It's like they have a radar for internalizing all the "bad stuff" thrown at them in a day, and that radar seems to pass over the important, character-building lessons to be learned.

Case in point. I will never forget the time when my now 10-year-old was only two. I had been a bit stressed out, trying to deal with a move and prepare for a new baby that was coming soon. Instead of handling her whining and fits with patience and composure, I had begun to say, "Hallee, get a grip!" (I'm pretty sure you won't find that technique in any parenting manuals).

One day, when I was particularly stressed about something, I found myself pacing around our apartment, mumbling under my breath, accomplishing nothing productive. My young child peeked her head around the corner, and said (in exactly the same tone of voice I had often used), "Mom, get a grip!"

Now, I'll admit it was actually a pretty effective way of getting my attention and reminding me to pull myself together, but it's not exactly the type of parenting behavior I hoped to pass on.

Then there's the time I was having a bad day when something happened that I decided was "the last straw." Forgetting about self-constraint, I immediately screamed, "Aaaaahhhh!!!," stomped to my bedroom, slammed the door, and told everyone who tried to find out what my problem was to, "Go away!" (If there is one thing I've perfected in adulthood, it's definitely fit-throwing). My whole march to the bedroom, I kept hearing that little voice inside my head telling me to model a better way to deal with frustration and anger, but at that moment, I was tired of the little voice in my head, so I ignored it and went about throwing my tantrum.

It wasn't until a few days later I wished I had listened to that voice of wisdom. My son got frustrated, threw his homework on the floor, stomped to his bedroom, slammed the door, and told everyone to leave him alone. When he finally settled down enough to talk about his feelings, I began my sermon on how to deal with feelings of frustration and anger in more appropriate ways. That's when he looked at me and said, "But Mom, that's what you did when you were mad the other day." Somehow my speech suddenly seemed a bit ineffective and hypocritical. He was right. I had set a poor example, and he had picked right up on it. When I thought about it later, I wondered why he hadn't picked up on all the other times I had been stressed or frustrated and had handled myself with some degree of composure. It's like his radar hadn't been turned on all those other times, but as soon as I lost my edge, he was right there to copy my poor behavior.

I mean, seriously!! I can't do it right ALL THE TIME, but I was hoping if I could get things right more than half the time, the stronger half would win. That makes sense, doesn't' it? Apparently not.

The holidays this year found us less than perfectly happy. I was so excited to spend all day every day with my children, but by the end of the first week, I was counting the days until school started. My children fought like cats and dogs. Determined to remain patient and calm, I came up with inventive strategies for distracting them and trying to help them get along. Nothing seemed to work. The weeks turned into a month. Our family nights were focused on kindness, family love, thinking of others more than ourselves, and every other topic my husband and I felt we all lacked. No change. To say the least, I was beginning to be discouraged.

Then, just the other day, while picking up in my girls' room, I found a little sticky note with my oldest daughter's handwriting. It only held a few words, but those words made my entire day. On this sticky note, she had written her goals for the upcoming year, and by golly, a few of them even included some way to love her family more.

I sat down on the bed, and with tears in my eyes, took a deep breath. I found myself thinking, See? They are paying attention. They are picking up on some of the positive ways you are trying to influence them. It's not all in vain. Being a strong believer in goal-setting, I often write my goals and stick them somewhere I will see often, and apparently, my daughter has caught on to this practice. It's such a simple thing, but it reminded me to never fool myself into thinking my influence (good or bad) isn't making a difference. Sometimes our imprint as parents may be so subtle it takes a while for our children to internalize it and apply it in their lives, but the truth is, that without even realizing it themselves, our children are soaking it all up, and I believe that one day, when they need it most, it will all come back to them.

So, although I've decided to try minimizing my tantrums to when my children aren't around (which, by the way, is never, since I have young children at home), I'm also hoping to remind myself regularly that my children are learning some of my good habits as well. And maybe if I'm lucky, that stronger half of my influence will eventually win. Atleast I hope so.


C. K. Bryant said...

WOW! What a wonderful post, Lori. Thanks for this. It really makes me thing about the way I am around my son. I'm quoting you on my blog tomorrow. Come take a look if you get a sec.

Julie Thurgood Summerhays said...

Aren't tantrums a moms' right of passage?? Seriously, it IS so hard to try and be the "bigger" person all the time - but I love what Hallie wrote - that is SUCH a great reward!!

Nichole Giles said...

Beautiful thoughts. It's amazing what we see when we look through the eyes of our kids, huh. Great post.

Taffy and Tony said...

Thanks for sharing. I have had some awesome tantrums as well, including "running away" up the hill in our back yard once. Oh boy. I'm with you. I hope the positive things I'm trying to teach and display will eventually win out.

Abby said...

I'm sooo glad I'm not the only one who throws an occasional tantrum! You always have a way of putting things in perspective...