When it comes to setting good and consistent examples for our children, the old adage, “Do as I say, not as I do,” often comes to mind. Not so much because we are intent on being hypocrites, but because while we so emphatically urge our kids to do, give and betheir best, we simultaneously can be struggling to do, give and be our best.
When displaying everything from healthy eating/exercise habits to healthy social skills, it is critical for parents to remember that young eyes are always watching. Always. For better, or for worse.
The years in which we find ourselves parenting younger, extremely impressionable children, are crazy enough. Add to that fact, our current society, which tends to over-schedule families’ lives with ball practices, music lessons, church activities, tutoring and civic obligations. All of these things can cause parents to slip into survival mode, rushing from work to school to practice, with a quick run through the fast food joint for dinner.
But, overscheduling is not the only culprit. Most of us have heard the term “adulting,” and the stress of “adulting”…being responsible for so many things, and other people (primarily our families), can cause us to justify “stress eating.” The stress-induced junk food binges and busyness-induced “no time to work out” excuses for simply crashing on the couch at the end of a long day take their places in our lives so quickly that we can easily fail to see how our kids are beginning to make their own excuses. While we may reach for the remote to see what is happening on ESPN, ESPN2, U…3…4, and so on, our sixth grader is most likely heading for the gaming system. Or, our teen is off to check in on social media.
And speaking of social media. Isn’t it ironic that in this “great age of social media,” the age that is to have us better connected with one another than ever before, we are realizing a generation of young people who painfully lack healthy social skills? Many are so accustomed to living and communicating from a cyber-world--one in which you can look and be any way and anything you wish to portray through a “filter app”-- it is even more difficult for our young people to be confident in who they truly are. This is especially so when face to face with another human being in the real world. As parents, we have to be increasingly mindful of our own “worlds,” whether that of work-related emails, or checking our Linkedln account. Are we modeling good, one-on-one communication skills--the kind that happen in the human flesh? No devices, no apps . . . just people?
Believe me, I still struggle with this, and I struggled as a young father of three boys. There were days the thought of bills, taxes and impending college tuition drove me to extra hours of work, which prompted an edge in my countenance that was anything but helpful and constructive. I am grateful for a wife who prodded me -- okay, poked and pushed me, to see that we were just in a season. A season that would be over all too quickly, and a season that would set the stage for our boys’ own life choices. I started taking time, when and wherever I could. We tried to have at least three family dinners a week at home with healthy food around our table. Three doesn’t sound like a lot, until you’ve had three boys in three different schools, in three different sports and playing three different instruments. We also started limiting the electronics. At first, it was as if we had ripped fingernails from young hands. But, we stuck to it, and we saw some pretty sweet results. Dinnertime conversations grew longer, while creativity sprang from internet-free rooms, filled with Legos and Lincoln Logs.
It wasn’t, and isn’t perfect. I’m not, neither are our boys, who are now young men, starting families of their own. We seem to always be learning and growing, but the commitment to healthy physical and social/communication habits in our home has paid off in spades. Even when “healthy” time was an electronic free conversation on the way to school with a seven-year-old, while eating a fast food breakfast sandwich. Everything in moderation. Well, everything except your love and intentionality in modeling not perfection, but you’re very best for your kids.