I have been away from my children these last few weeks and I would have thought I’d have very little to write about in the way of parenting this month- if it wasn’t for something my eldest son said yesterday over the phone that very much surprised me.
I was standing at the airport, ready to board the plane home from Phoenix, Arizona where I had been visiting my partner. My eldest son could hear that I was tired & emotional; and then suddenly out of the blue, he said, “I’m proud of you”.
I was so touched, but I didn’t quite know what he meant. So I asked him, “What for?” and he simply said- for the way you live your life.
It just struck me like a bolt of lighting to the gut. I had been feeling guilty about being away, but I had forgotten that well beyond all the conversations, all the lessons, all the cuddles, lunchboxes and excursions- the greatest impact we can have on our children is to show them an example of how to live. Not just ‘how to get by’, or exist- but to get out there and live.
After all, it’s not what we say, it’s what they see. Words are never louder than what you witness.
My life has not always been easy, but with gratitude I have to say- it’s always been rewarding. As I said to my partner this morning on leaving, I’ve never been afraid to trade the path that is convenient, for a path that promises to be extraordinary. I grew up in the middle of a civil war, at ten we travelled to Australia as refugees, I then left home at seventeen to go travelling, I got married young and took on step children at twenty-two. I survived a divorce, and we have somehow found a way to successfully co-parent our four sons. I’ve jostled up and down the corporate ladder. I’ve started businesses and had to close them. It’s sometimes been challenging, but heck, it’s definitely not been boring.
Student, traveller, step parent, mother, business woman, writer… we are all called to adapt and re-invent ourselves as we travel along our own personal adventure. I’ve been down, I’ve been up. I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. I’ve been right and I’ve been wrong. But of all the things I’ve been, there is one thing I’ve always refused to become: a victim.
For this, I’m grateful to my parents: a pair of the toughest, hardest working people, who always taught us that it isn’t what happens to you that matters, it’s how you handle it.
And yet to be honest, I don’t actually recall either of them saying this to us even once. They were just silent heroes, who through their dignity and determination- showed us how to live. Aware that every single day, we were watching; much like our own children are also watching. They are watching how we manage our fears. They are watching how we handle our enemies. They are watching how we bounce back after our disappointments.
What does it matter if we tell your children to be kind, but then show cruelty to others? Who cares if we encourage them to be brave, to reach for the stars and pursue their goals… if we ourselves live defeated, crippled by fear.
I believe that there is no such thing as a ‘good parent’, who sets a bad example.
Hypocrisy is one of my greatest gripes. I cringe at folk who sit in church pews on Sundays, but show total intolerance of others through the week. I can’t stand the flippant insincerity of someone who will smile to your face, but backstab you when you turn.
If you’re going to live, live truthfully. Because either way, the world will eventually reveal you. And when it comes to our children, there is no hiding at all. From the moment you wake up, the curtains are up, and the spotlight is on. Piece by piece, our behaviour will form the backbone of the standards they accept in their own lives.
When we chase our dreams, we teach our kids it’s ok to chase theirs. As I boarded the plane, I felt hopeful that my sons might see in me one day, an example that there is no compromise necessary for staying true to their own happiness too.
Our example will either leave a trail of inspiration, or a trail of destruction.
I am now on the last leg of my journey home. I can see the sun rising on the horizon as we start to sight the sleepy silhouette of Australian soil. I can imagine my boys curled up in the beds, still asleep. I can’t wait to hold them. And as I reflect on the month gone by – all the things we’ve done together and all the things we’ve done apart – it occurs to me that I’ve never been obsessed with what I can do FOR my boys, but more concerned that I teach them what they can do for THEMSELVES.
As counterintuitive as it may seem, we shouldn’t seek to be ‘needed’ by our children… we should hope to be admired.