What Do Your Kids Bring Out in You?
I love my kids dearly, but they have the unique ability to occasionally bring out the worst in me. When this happens, I feel like the worst parent and lowest person on the face of the earth. I know it’s not the end of the world to scream at your kids from time to time, but that doesn’t make me feel any better after I have done it, particularly if they just caught me at a bad time. I used to dwell on these moments, using them to define my abilities as a parent, leaving me feeling inadequate to say the least.
Now, for the most part I have learned to view myself as a pretty good parent through the simple observation of the fact that my kids are actually really great people who are kind, caring, creative, smart, respectful and in general, a joy to be around. And they didn’t get this way through a sheer force of nature. Sure, some of their traits may be genetically predisposed, but I like to think that I bring out those traits.
In that vein, my friend Erin suggested I write an article about how our kids foster the best in us. It’s funny — though I have stopped most of the negative self talk when it comes to my own parenting, it shocked me when I first heard her suggestion because I never considered this possibility. And then she went on to clarify: “Our children inspire us to be our best selves, rising above our own insecurities so that we do not pass them on to our children. If we’re shy, we make ourselves be social in moms groups and play dates so our kids will have the social life we never had. If we’re naturally lazy, we invoke our inner athlete to model healthier behavior for them. If we are TV-addicts, we vow to read a new book a month. If we obsess about food and weight, we model healthy eating and food choices for our kids, etc. In so doing, we actually become the people we wish we had been all along and the parents we always wanted to be.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. (Which is why I didn’t try!)
So I reflected on the particular ways in which my kids do make me be my best. Not surprisingly, my friend’s particular examples resonated with me. As a young child, I was left to my own devices when it came to making friends. Of course, things were a lot different back then, when there weren’t waiting lists for play groups, but I led a pretty solitary childhood. When I had my own children, I was naturally inclined to enjoy the company of other mom’s anyway, but even now that my kids are older and play dates don’t include other moms, I am eager for my kids to socialize with other children and look for opportunities for them to do so outside of school.
I was also pretty lazy as a kid, preferring to spend most of my time in front of the TV, pigging out on bowls of cereal or ice cream. I didn’t play any sports or participate in any group activities. My kids on the other hand enjoy soccer, gymnastics, ice skating, swimming, riding bikes, going for long walks in the woods or just running around with no particular purpose. And while they would gladly plop down in front the TV, they would take any of those activities over their favorite TV show any time. My children also see the commitment I have to my own physical fitness through running, swimming, biking and going to they gym. Sure, there are times that I don’t feel like doing anything myself, but for the sake of getting them moving, we just do it.
I also was not a big reader as a kid. (See above reference to TV.) Although I’m sure my parents read to me from time to time, a love of books was never fostered. But from the time my kids were infants, I read to them virtually every night at bed time, as well as other times too. Now that my older daughter is 7, she is a voracious reader that completely lives up to the title of “book worm”. My younger daughter isn’t reading on her own yet but will happily sit down to have a book read to her or even look at a book on her own.
It goes without saying that throughout my life I have obsessed with food and weight issues. Having two daughters, I am particularly conscious about what messages I send to them in regards to their own appearance and the food choices that they make. I NEVER make comments about my own body (or anyone else’s including theirs) in front of them, and in fact have worked hard to come to terms with and love my body unconditionally in an effort to lead by example. I offer my kids a healthy diet and am proud that while they enjoy their share of junk food, they also gladly eat up things like spinach, asparagus, broccoli, artichokes, and even ask for a salad from time to time. We talk about the value of foods and the concept of moderation, and encourage them to listen to their own bodies. It’s a miracle to me at times to watch them dig into a piece of cake at a birthday party, only to take a few bites and realize that they are full, and don’t want any more.
I suppose it’s natural for us to identify what it was about our own upbringing that we didn’t like and swing the pendulum in the opposite direction, but whatever the underlying motivation, my friend has pointed out to me that, while my kids do from time to time bring out the worst in me, I am a better person for having them in my life, and will always strive to be the best I can be for them and for myself.