Am I being a good example to my kids?
It's not that I've stopped trying to be a good example to my kids. It's that what I used to think that meant is changing a lot as my kids get older. I used to think being a good example meant showing my kids what it looked to pursue holiness. And by that I meant that I was kind and nice and gentle and didn't say curse words out loud when people cut me off in traffic or I dropped a heavy object on my feet. It meant I didn't let them see me fight with their dad or get mad at other people. It meant I always looked happy to go to church, didn't get distracted in Mass and never let them see me wasting time on the computer or my own pursuits. A good example equalled some imaginary perfect mom that my kids have never and will never have. Because of that, I spent an awful lot of time beating myself up and feeling like a bad mom.
I haven't given up on trying to be a good example to my kids. But my definition of what that means has changed quite a bit. I know that most of all my kids need me to be myself and be okay with who I am. And the truth is, I am not a naturally gentle person. Thoughtful, kind? Yes. Gentle, not so much. And I curse. And dance. And sometimes find getting ready for church to be my Waterloo. And get annoyed in church and I get distracted in Mass and sometimes it's too darn hard to pay attention in Spanish any more so I zone out. And their dad and me? We are passionate and verbal. And we have lots of heated discussions. And as an adult human person with her own needs and dreams and desires, I have things I enjoy pursuing outside of these kids. Some of them involve being on the computer. And I'm learning that none of that makes me wholly a good example or a bad mom. (Okay, I should probably curse way less. I admit it.) Because they are essentially the wrong questions to ask. Instead, when I think about being a good example to my boys, I am asking myself these things instead:
- Am I letting my kids see me maintain relationships? Do my kids know what it takes to stay connected to someone even as life transitions to a new phase? Do they see me articulate my needs and feelings to others? Do they see me respond to the needs of my friends? Do they see me disagree with people, get angry. and work through the mess? Do they see me get it wrong and apologize? Have they seen me work my way through the pain of losing a friend?
- Insert with their dad in the place of friends above. Add do they know what the sacrament of marriage means to me and their dad? Do they know that quitting is not an option for us? Do they see us share affection in front of them often? Do they see us work together as a team often? Do they see us pull away from them to spend time together often? Do they see me set aside my own pursuits when the needs or desires of their dad take priority?
- Do my kids see me doing the same with them? Connecting, finding joy, saying yes as often as I can to their messes and mess-ups and cray chaos? Do I apologize AND confess my sin to them when I have wronged them? Do I make reparation in some healthy way? Do they see me set aside all other things for them, collectively and individually, when duty or just the stuff of life demands it? And sometimes when it doesn't but I just want them to know that they are special and they are loved fiercely.
- Do my kids see me pursuing things I enjoy? Seizing opportunities to educate myself further, use my gifts, take on new challenges, step out of my comfort zone? Do my kids know that I have dreams and passions of my own?Could they identify them?
- And do they see me living out my relationship with God? Do they see me seeking out God throughout the day? Do they see me working my through spiritual struggles? Giving real, authentic thanks in all things? Expressing fears and doubts and seeking answers? Confessing my sins, being honest about my falls and getting up and starting over again?
- Am I showing my kids what it looks like to live as sinner who is redeemed by Christ? As a Catholic who relies on the grace of the sacraments? As human who loves imperfectly but keeps trying?
Now, I realize that's an awful lot of questions to replace just one. But I think that's the heart and the hard of this phase in life. The simple, surface question and answer will not serve me well with kids who see through the facade. I have to dig deep, ask big, hard questions and live the answers authentically in front of these growing people. If I had to, however, take all that stuff up there and create one new question for myself, I think this would sum it up:
Am I living a life in which my kids see me try to love God with all my heart, mind and soul and love my neighbor as myself? And do they know that I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am loved and redeemed no matter how many time I get that right or wrong?
P.S. I'll try to curse less too.