Supermodel

One of my running buddies is--how can I put this politely?--"exacting." Steve's house is immaculate; his business runs like an atomic clock; even his hair is perfect. In the 50-something years we've been friends, I have never known him to fail to fulfill a commitment. Even his employees at his architecture firm like him. You know the joke about why Chuck Norris's kids never cry? Because he told them not to. (My other favorite Chuck Norris jokes include "Chuck Norris didn't cheat death; he won fair and square" and "Chuck Norris is the reason Waldo is hiding.") Chuck Norris may not be afraid of Steve, but Chuck Norris wouldn't be late to an appointment with him either.
Steve is a great guy, don't get me wrong. He's generous to a fault, a loyal friend. The worst thing anybody could say about him is that he tends to see the world in black-and-white. His father before him was the same way. You were either "a good guy" or "a horse's ass." There has been no middle ground for generations. If you're on Steve's good side, he will do anything for you. If he feels you're dishonest, forget it.
Recently Steve's middle daughter was graduated from college with a degree in art. Her senior project was, by any objective standard, magnificent. Colors, typeface, margins--every detail on every page was perfect. Impressed and proud, Steve complimented his daughter. "I knew you had a good eye," he began, "but this is an extraordinary piece of work. Where did you learn how to do all this?"
"Have you ever done a science project with you?" she replied.
We give our children the gifts we have to impart. As long as the children are open to our input, we can teach them everything we have to impart: SCUBA diving, carpentry, baking, design, bike riding, a love of science: the possibilities are unlimited. If you know how to build a fire without matches, you can give your daughter a survival skill. If you know the quadratic formula, you can share your understanding. If your kids respect you and want to be like you, all your good habits will be transferred to them. Without your even noticing. If, on the other hand, your kids do not think you are an appropriate model, they will head in the other direction.
"Don't just do something, stand there!" is the motto of one of my favorite schools in New Hampshire. "Don't do things, BE things" is one of the many helpful mottos of my Families Anonymous (think Al-Anon) group. We kid ourselves when we think that our kids hear what we say. What they do is absorb who we are.
I have only two bit of sententious advice for how to help your kids want to internalize your values: stop telling them stuff. If you want them to be sober, give us your stash of pot. Don't talk about it, just throw it out. "Do as I say, not as I do" never works. Secondly, if you want to give your kids every chance to be successful students, allow them the opportunity to do so. Kids can make good decisions about how often to play violent video games as well as a person who has jumped off a thirty story building can determine when he wants to stop careening toward the sidewalk. Few kids would choose a healthy meal rather than chips and ice cream. Few kids will read books when "Shoot, Blood, Kill" is ubiquitous. A kid can't say, "just one more level" if there are no violent video games in the house to begin with. Thomas Jefferson was paraphrasing John Philpot Curran when he said, "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." I am paraphrasing Steve's dad when I say, "don't be a horse's ass." Do what's right for your kids. They will perceive what is best in you and model both their science fair projects and their lives around that exemplar.

3 thoughts on “Supermodel

  1. Amber Williams

    I agree to some extent, but you can’t expect them to know things they have no clue about and just expect them to know better. Children’s, teens, and young adults are like sponges. They take everything in. Communication is golden to them even when you feel it’s not.

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  2. Don Steen

    Thanks for this reminder. Having worked at a personal growth boarding school after my passion for for working in the architectural industry waned, I can tell you modeling behavior for my students was far more effective than talking about it.

    Now, I see how being a parent has made me a better person. Being engaged every day with my kids has definitely ‘paid off’. My 8 year old is an avid mountain biker often going on 8-10 mile trail rides with me (living in Vermont near some of the best trails in the country helps). Both my 8 year old and 5 year old daughter are ‘appreciators’ of nature and often remark, out of the blue, how beautiful it is where we live and how lucky they are to live in the woods.

    With that said, I am not perfect. I sometimes catch myself sharing (some not-so-positive) news of my day with my wife in a ‘code’ that was undetectable by my children a year or two ago. They have grown more perceptive and I realize that I need to focus on and speak more positively about everything so as to to raise complainers of my own.

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  3. Maria

    I have found this to be so with one out of two children. I was volunteered as single parent of two when my husband was murdered outside our home. Kids were 9.5 and 7 years old. My oldest, daddy’s little girl,has never really recovered her self esteem after the loss of her doting daddy. We never drank much , parties were few. After his death till now, I have not dated and concentrated on my kids and my job. Yet my daughter’s emotions override her reason and she did drugs, started sleeping with older boys and became pregnant at age 19. …So maybe I should have dated,drank, and enjoyed myself instead of being responsible? One size does not fit all and I’m still trying to find the right shoes….

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