My husband and I have this conversation every now and then which can be loosely summed up in one phrase,
When did we become adults?
We’ll see NFL or NBA players on TV and comment to one another, incredulous, “We are significantly older than THAT GUY.”… it’s all a little strange. And then, at some point, someone handed us our babies and let us take them home. To take care of. Sole responsibility, here. I know I’m not the only one who is still a little baffled about this whole adulthood thing! When we were kids, didn’t our parents seem like they had it all under control at this point?
Regardless, I think most children, around the time they find themselves on the brink of maturity themselves, start to process their own upbringing. Whether it was happy, difficult, or possibly downright traumatic. What were the overarching emotions of their youth? What things do they most remember about their parents? What moments made a lasting impact on their lives?
It comes down to this: We get to be our kids’ first examples. We get to show them how… How to talk to each other. How to love. How to express hurt. How to set goals and achieve them. How to be married. How to disagree. How to steward their possessions. And the kicker is, so much of it is about showing, not just telling. Heavy, right? Maybe even a little bit scary.
For example, we get to teach our children basic social and relational principles, and they have been given front-row seats. The reason I use the word, scary is this: these moments don’t come with a prompt, or an appointment on your calendar. There’s no notification or alert that pops up moments before an opportunity presents itself. They happen when you’re having a rough day, are running late, and the checkout person at Costco is being painfully slow. They’re being taught. They’re watching. They’re learning. The even weightier part about it is that these instances, over time, can become so ingrained that it would take some serious dismantling to undo them in adulthood. A kid who only sees fingers in the air and hears curse words in traffic is being thrown headlong down the path to road rage themselves purely by example.
This should be cause for purposeful self-examination. What will our children say about us when they’re all grown up and reflecting on their own childhoods? My biggest fears, in my hardest and realest moments as a mom, sound a little like this:
I know my mom loved me, because she told me every day. But she was pretty busy, too. She was always saying, ‘Not right now, honey, I’m doing the dishes,’ and telling me to hurry up and move a little faster as we walked to the store. Many times she seemed distracted by other things when I had questions or something to tell her. Usually I just asked Dad to play with me because she seemed pretty tired and worn out. She often got visibly annoyed and would speak sharply to him, even in front of us.
It’s painful to write because I know that, some days, these instances are peppered into our narrative. I am imperfect. There’s no way that my children will ever fully grasp the love I have for them, or all of the things I wish I could help instill in their hearts. The beautiful part about it, though, is that I have some say in what our story, my kids’ stories, will be. Despite the unknowables that life will inevitably throw our way, I can heartily endeavor to leave imprints of kindness, compassion, grace, and strength instead.
So with that, I pray that my children’s memories of me, in all of my imperfection, are infused with statements like,
I know my mom loved me, because she told me and showed me every day. She would put down what she was doing to spend time with me and loved to hear my thoughts. She was a great listener. She would get down on the floor with us and wasn’t afraid to be silly to make us laugh. She and my dad were, at times, nauseatingly affectionate and we always knew, without a doubt, that they loved each other. My mom was compassionate to the people she crossed paths with and was proactive about reminding us that everyone deserves kindness. She prayed a lot and asked for our forgiveness when she wasn’t perfect.
May we all take seriously the unique privilege we have been given to show them how. There is no demand for perfection or flawlessness, just a call and a reminder that our tiny audiences will one day be unpacking their lives in introspection.
Rachel is a wife and mother living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s a fan of good coffee, wearer of gray t-shirts, and is constantly starting books she will never finish. Her family is her joy, and she loves to engage with other moms and dads on matters of parenting. Her blog posts have also been featured on the Today Show Parenting Blog and Scary Mommy.