Parents, you are your kids’ biggest role models. It’s hard to remember that in the daily grind of parenthood. I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of time as a parent wondering if my kids are listening to me. It feels like I say the same things 700 times a day. I don’t think anyone has ever put on a pair of shoes as a result of listening to my very first request. In the day-to-day of parenting, repeating myself feels like my full-time job.
But I also wonder if they are hearing me when I tell them the big things. Do they see what I do for them and appreciate that it all comes from love? Will they grow up to value the virtues I hold dear? Do they believe me when I tell them that they are incredible and can accomplish anything if they work hard? When they are adults and they think about people who inspire them, will I make the list?
According to a new poll by the University of Phoenix, I have a pretty good shot at making that list. When asked, 42% of respondents listed their mom as one of their role models. My husband has an even better shot: 47% of those questioned named dear old Dad.
Sure, your kids will go through phases where they are obsessed with the accomplishments of an athlete, YouTube sensation, actor, teacher, or even a friend, but at the end of the day, they’re looking at you.
It might be a lot of pressure, but it’s also great news. Your kids are likely to emulate your proudest choices. That college degree might actually inspire your own kids to seek higher education. Your choice to serve in the military or volunteer your time with charitable organizations could give your kids direction when they are deciding on their path. Your work might very well become their work. Has there ever been a better reason to do your very best?
Inspiring your kids’ future is a worthy goal, but there’s a more immediate reason to pay attention to the messages you are sending your kids. Highlights magazine polled 2,000 kids ages 6-12 to get their take on kindness, among other things. It proved that our babies are always watching: Almost 70% of the kids reported seeing their parents treat someone unkindly, and 93% of those kids said they felt something negative about the experience.
Our kids value kindness and want us to be kind, but only 23% of kids felt like their parents wanted them to be kind more than they wanted them to do well in school.
When our kids watch us interacting with our adult world, they’re not always seeing kindness, and I can only imagine how confusing that must be.
You and I understand that the world is ugly, people can be a lot to deal with, and we just can’t always walk around sprinkling gentleness like confetti. Real life just isn’t like that. Our kids will grow up and learn that, too.
But right now, they are still building the inner world they will live in forever. We are co-creators, helping them establish a sense of safety and self-worth. As they forge an understanding of social interaction and the world around them, we are the people they have to emulate.
We are their biggest role models.
It’s important for us to have conversations about the kind of people we want them to be. Our kids should have our voices in their heads pointing them toward kindness, inclusivity, justice, dedication and hard-work.
But it’s way, way more important for them to see us being the kind of people we want them to be.
If you want to raise a kind child, you have to be a kind person. Do your best to be gentle to them. Let them see you generously praising your spouse, welcoming all kinds of people into your home, and championing for the underdog. If you want a little inspiration, check out this guide from Harvard University about raising ethical, kind kids.
Raising a hard worker means being a hard worker. Your kids don’t have to wake up to a tidy home and a hot breakfast every morning. Let them see you working your tail off to scrub and cook. Work alongside them during chore time. Let them see you being the person you hope they will become.
If they ask you something you don’t know, let them see you study it. There’s just way more power in teaching them to value learning than there is in letting them think you already know everything.
Let them see you fail. They will learn the value in trying again and again, which is even more important than succeeding sometimes, isn’t it?
Give yourself some help along the way. Provide your kids with other amazing role models to support the work you’re doing every day. Give them plenty of chances to read about brave people who have changed the world. Show them videos of people doing what they do impeccably. Let them spend time with the people in your life who are doing things that feel important to you. Make sure they’re aware of kids who are making a difference even in their youth.
You don’t have to be everything to your kids. There are tons of incredible role models on this planet who can inspire them to go beyond anything you’ve ever imagined for your own life.
But remember that they’re looking up to you more than anyone else.
If you think about it all at once, it can feel overwhelming. You already have to give them everything they need every single day. Considering the lifelong way your actions influence who your kids will become can be daunting. It’s a lot to get right.
But it’s also such spectacular news. Every single good thing you do is helping your kids become better people in the long run. Our work as parents matters so much.