- Family and Parenting
How A Parent Can Be a Role Model for a Child
The Pursuit of Right
Many people believe that to be a good parent, one must always be truthful, kind, and generous. This simply isn't human. No one is always right in every action; it's not possible to reach a standard that ethereal. Parenting doesn't require perfection on your part, despite what the media has been selling you for years. Perfection is a euphemism for stagnation: those who view themselves as perfect have no need to change. Perfection isn't truthful, kind, or generous. It's a fictional goal, created by those who want to control parents or by parents themselves who have ceased trying.
Rather than always being right, a good parent constantly finds herself in the pursuit of right. There should be a continual striving to find the good in ourselves and others, and this is what makes for meaningful parenting. More than almost anything else, our children frown on complacency. Children emulate and idolize parents who refuse to settle, because they understand unrest; it's a child's modus operandi to struggle against the grain. A true role model, not a Hollywood version, understands that "perfection" forever lies within a wonderful state of imperfection. Embracing this truth is key to becoming a role model for your child.
The Balance of Near and Far
Some of the best teachers I've seen share a quality with some of the best parents, which is the ability to balance connection with meaningful detachment. Too many parents believe that in order to evoke a child's awe or eternal respect, they must always be connected on a personal level. You see this in the mother at the soccer game who seems more upset at that pushy kid on the other team than her son does; you see it in the father who gladly allows his daughter to have a sleep-over every other night. Parents who lack a balance of near and far try to be friends with their children's friends, and they are too quick to side with their children over any other adults in disagreements. This attempt at personal pacification ultimately confuses and disappoints children; they have friends already, and need their parents to be parents first.
Understanding that a role model is always striving to be right, a role model also knows when to shut me-and-you-time down. Children need boundaries, and many times need their parents not to listen. If this seems counterintuitive, remember that a child isn't a small adult. You need to model for your child how to be on his own and how to define his own space, and the only way to do this is to withdraw at times. Don't turn away coldly; simply explain what you need to do and then do it. In the long-term, your child will respect your ability to know yourself, and the connected moments between the two of you will become meaningful rather than unending. This is a huge step towards becoming a role model for your child.
All that said, the glue that holds together the admired and the admirer is hope. Modeling a desire to be better and an ability to stand on your own two feet are both critical to becoming an inspiration for your child, but the true measure of a role model is his ability to believe that the world will be better, too. A child worships a parent who is willing to believe that things are always improving. Think about the people in your life, aside from your parents, whom you may have idolized. Chances are those individuals energized your aspirations and lifted your sense of expectancy. They made you feel better for knowing them.
Ultimately, if you want your child to view you as a role model, you need to view the world as if its your role model. Show your children what it means to have faith in fortune and the goodness of others; your children, in turn, will display their gratitude by elevating you in their eyes.