The other day, a friend on twitter posed the question: "What are the top three values that you are teaching your children? Post them so you can keep your goals in mind."
You may think, I don't think I've said anything about my values to my young child. But one way or another, you are. We show our children what we value by the things we say, our actions, and the way we relate to them and others. The statement 'actions speak louder than words' is very true in this case. Our children quickly learn what is a priority to us and absorb that into their developing value system.
I was just talking about this with my mother a few months ago, with a slightly different slant. I told her that I think willing or not, we inherit our neurosis from our parents. Her reaction was, gee, thanks, but I believe it is true. Her father gave her a neurotic tendency to check things, to see if they are locked especially. She passed on to me this neurosis...I tend to have an obsession as to whether the rugs in my kitchen are placed a certain way. If they aren't...watch out. My father passed me a slight paranoia of people in general, something I struggle with as a Christian. I have wonderful parents, and I personally think they did a fantastic job raising me, but here I am just speaking about neurotic behaviors. Sorry Mom and Dad.
I can see myself doing the same thing with my son. I feel bad when I see him getting irritated because something is not lined up the way he likes. Some of these behaviors must be genetic as well, because I see him acting just like my dad. I am deathly afraid that when my son starts kindergarten this fall, I will get a call because he tells a teacher that she is stupid! I am a teacher, so the very idea horrifies me, but with my son, if he doesn't feel you are worthy of his respect, he will let you know (see value #1).
So maybe I cringe a little to think about what I am teaching unintentionally...but after some reflection, I came up with the top three values I WANT to pass on to my son. (Maybe some of these count as more than one, but I grouped them into general categories of value.) These are not necessarily in order of importance.
1. It is important to be a well-mannered, responsible, hard-working citizen. I was taught by my parents that hard work is important. Also, living with a cop, and being a teacher, I value a system of rules. Sometimes my son doesn't have a break on his mouth (a genetic inheritance), so I am trying hard to teach him that while you may not agree with someone in authority...it is generally not appropriate to tell them to take a flying leap. I believe in honoring your commitments, and paying your dues. I believe that you should be respectful to others (unless you have a darn good reason to behave otherwise). I don't want him to be a mindless patsy. However, I think it is better to learn how to follow the rules first, and THEN learn when it can be okay to push certain limits. He is a creative, strong-willed personality, and I don't want to break that, but he has to make it through school without being expelled (or me killing him).
2. Being connected to the earth is important. Nature is beautiful and precious. Animals have value beyond their meat and pelts and have a right to a happy, natural life. There are few things more satisfying than growing your own food, and having dirt on your hands. My guy thinks I am totally nuts, but I love the smell of dirt and growing things. I think this is the value that I am doing an excellent job at teaching. We spend hours outside most days (not as much in the winter) and we are constantly digging, planting, harvesting, and foraging. I believe that we were given this earth to take care of, and it is our responsibility not only to take care of it, but to teach our kids how to take care of it.
3. Show love. Life is short, if you love someone, tell them. This applies to grown-ups too. Give hugs. Love Jesus and God. Show your love of them by being kind to others and praying. My parents were not particularly physical in their affections. I always knew they loved me, they just weren't the hug-and-kissy type. It wasn't until I was in my mid to late teens that I started hugging everybody. With my kids, I try to be as affectionate as possible. My guy and I hug constantly, hold hands, kiss, and say I love you. Especially love your family. They may not be perfect, but they are the family you have, and someday they may not be around. To receive love, we must first give love. I realized a few years ago that I needed to tell even my adult friends that I love them. That may freak some people out, but I decided that I would rather have them know how much I care. I get and give as many hugs and kisses to my son as he can stand. Love people and animals, not things.
So I think those are the things I would like my son to take away from his childhood. I am trying to teach the same things to my two stepchildren as well. Some days I feel like I am doing a crappy job at the above three and more sending a message that being clean is important, or being quiet. Then I feel bad about yelling so much and resolve to do better.
If you follow me on twitter, than look up CoachNancyP. She started the thought process that prompted this post, and she is definitely worth looking up. She made the point that if you know what values you want to teach, you can truly parent with a purpose. I would have to agree. Our children have their own personalities, that won't change to some degree no matter what we do. But we also know that children watch what we do and listen to what we say, and that also affects them. So consider, what do you want to teach?