“Children are great imitators. So give them something great to imitate.”
I remember the first time the little one, now 9, turned on the vacuum and started cleaning the carpet in the family room. He was barely 4, and not too much bigger than our trusted Dyson. Overprotective mother that I am, I immediately worried he will hurt himself. But of course he didn’t, and actually managed to clean the carpet quite well. When I tried to stop him, he told me he was a big kid, and could take care of it, an expression surely borrowed from his older brother. And when I asked how he knew how to vacuum so well, he smiled and replied he’d seen me do it.
Children are great imitators indeed. And they’re also great listeners. I’ve always spent a great deal of time talking to my boys about different issues, but I have noticed that what I actually show them, good and bad, has had the greatest impact.
It seems to me they best understood about love and compassion not from my telling them to be gentle, affectionate and kind, but by witnessing the rescue of abandoned animals (we have plenty of those)…by seeing how one reaches to offer support and express affection, and very importantly, the way disagreements are not dangerous and can be resolved in a positive way. They learned to like certain foods not so much because I told them fruits and veggies are healthy, but because they saw me eat them. The list goes on an on.
When I think of my own childhood, I am grateful for all that my parents taught me…both through words and deeds. My greatest wish though was always for them to be happy in their own lives. But they were not very happy. I am one of those children who experienced great relief when my parents finally divorced…the heaviness was unbearably sad.
I had hoped at the time that each of them would go on to create new and successful partnerships. But, it was never a priority for either one. Work was, and to be fair, circumstances were challenging, they came to this country in their 40’s and had to start from scratch. Parenting was also a priority, and they did their best. But even though I am grateful for their care and their gifts, I would have traded all to see them truly smiling, and fulfilled. Ironically, by trying to give me more and ignoring their own happiness, they ended up giving me much less.
Overall, I sadly never witnessed connection, love, joy, humor and two people supporting each other with daily challenges in a balanced and positive way. What I did ‘learn’ is how selfishness, misplaced priorities and missed opportunities empty a life of purpose and light. I learned how to fear a man, because men don’t really care, or invest, or stay…instead, they use many words that don’t mean anything, and sometimes send flowers on special occasions that also don’t mean anything.
I learned that women have to constantly struggle to earn a man’s affection and approval. I learned that women are pretty much on their own, that they must show a paycheck and a clean house to be worthy of consideration, that children are their domain, and that a man is only looking for pleasure, for minimal commitment, and will spend time with kids on his terms and only for those fun Kodak moments.
I never learned how two people can make a life.
And so, I swore that I would always put my relationships first, fight for them, and give my all, regardless of the cost involved, towards learning how to become the best possible partner for the men I have loved. It was not only matter of temperament or meeting my own needs. I wanted more than anything to offer my children what I never had…show them how two people can make a life.
I write a lot about relationship issues…about people needing to overcome fear and make genuine commitments, invest, trust, build, love, connect. And these will always be the greatest priorities for me not only because I believe to connect and love is why we are here…but because as a mother, I want my boys to witness how two people can make mistakes and still laugh and trust…how they can be responsible yet also playful…how they can be cranky and argue yet always be gentle and forgiving.
I want my boys to see how true freedom works….that a commitment is not a burden, and a home not a prison. I want them to witness the joy of a partnership founded on connection…of two people who like and respect each other. I want them to see that the way to handle problems is not to run away or avoid arguments, and that a great life is a simple life, not defined by occasional grand gestures, but by small deeds of tenderness and grace.
Our children will come out of school and go on to live their lives knowing math and science and whatever else they focus on in their studies. They will know rules, loans, bills, and all about their duties. But how will they know about creating a meaningful, rewarding and lasting relationship in their own lives if nobody shows them how it’s done and the reasons why it can work? From books? From friends they wish they could trade places with?
If we can show them how, then we are giving them (and ourselves) the greatest gift.