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Caught, Not Taught

Nov09

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A few weeks ago I had to travel out of town. A dear friend of mine and her husband offered to watch my kids while I was gone. This is a huge thing. I have seven kids. She has four. Between us they span every grade from kindergarten to tenth grade. How do you take someone up on such an offer?

I feel like part of the path I have been on this past year has been asking for and allowing people to help me. Before this I was always stubbornly independent, to a fault.

The first day I was away I got a text message from her that said my oldest children were so precious and polite. What? Teenagers?

The next night her husband texted me that they were such great kids and how much he enjoyed the privilege of spending time with them. What? My kids?

I think they are pretty fabulous kids, but then again I am a little bit biased.

It started me thinking about the qualities that people most often comment about in my children and how they learned those things.

*****

There are things that you can’t teach your kids.

You can’t teach them to be kind by telling them to do so. Kindness is one of those things your children observe in you. If you exhibit kindness to everyone, not just people you know, they will notice. When you fill your children up with kindness, it can’t help but spill over onto those around them.

When I went to parent-teacher conferences my 9 yr old son’s teacher told me how nice and helpful he is to the special needs kids who sit at his table. How he always will explain to them what they need to do if they miss it. How he makes sure that they are okay. How he is kind. After that I really didn’t care (too much) about his missed spelling words or test questions answered incorrectly. Being kind, especially when you don’t have to be, when no one is looking, when there is no reward for doing so that is what makes a successful human being. That is what makes me the most proud as a mother. And I comfort myself with the knowledge that spellcheck exists.

Respect. You can’t teach your children to respect you by shouting at them, “RESPECT ME!” Respect is earned and it is earned proportionally to the amount that it is given. Respect and fear are two totally different things, but people often confuse them because what’s on the outside might appear to be the same.

Happiness. What does it mean to be happy? I don’t think that it means walking around with a perpetual smile on your face, nor does it mean acting like Pollyanna. Bluebirds are never going to land on my shoulder while I sing and dance around my yard. I think happiness is being content with what you have and acknowledging all the ways in which you are blessed.

I point out to my kids all the time the things about which we should be happy. I always tell them that we are a happy family, that they are happy kids. I strongly believe that happiness is a choice and our kids need to see us making that choice.

I live in an area where so many people seem dissatisfied and are constantly trying to keep up with the mythical Jones’s. So I have ample opportunity to talk with my kids about stuff, and how buying stuff doesn’t translate into buying happiness. Sometimes I even have to have the talk with myself. It’s hard not to fall into the misguided trap of thinking I will be happy if I get x,y, z. I will be happy when… It’s easier to just be happy now.

*****

My ninth grade son had to read the book The Alchemist. He had to write about a journey in his own life and what he learned from it. He chose to write about the obvious, our move from Connecticut to Texas, but what he wrote that he had learned from the trip surprised me. I had expected to read that he learned it was hot here or that the barbeque is really good.

The following is a quote from the essay he wrote on the book.

I have discovered something in these past two years. In spite of everything, all the changes and newness, the one constant in my life is my family. They are what make me happy. Even when I argue with my oldest brother and am annoyed by the youngest, at the end of the day, there are no people in this world that I care about more. My family is my treasure. Like Santiago, I had to travel away from my home and comfort zone to realize that my treasure was right here under my feet, just waiting for me to appreciate it.

Regardless of the grade he earns on the essay from his teacher, in my heart he earned an A. His essay felt like validation for all the years of work that went largely unacknowledged.

About the author

Chris Jordan

http://notesfromthetrenches.com
Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children.

Yes, they are all hers.

No she's not Catholic or Mormon. Though she wouldn’t mind having a sister-wife because holy hell the laundry never stops.

Yes, she finally figured out what causes it. That's why her youngest is almost 6.

Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

If you would like to submit a question for Chris to answer publicly, please do so to adviceforparentsoftweens[at]gmail[dot]com.


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7 Responses to “Caught, Not Taught”

  1. cagey Nov 09 at 2:25 pm Reply Reply

    Yes! I am not sure I can add more to that statement.

    YES.

  2. Light Nov 09 at 6:19 pm Reply Reply

    Good stuff from a seasoned parent! I especially like your remark about respect being given in proportion to the amount that is given. I also appreciate how you affirm happiness in you kids and as a family. Wise. You are really setting a great standard for the family. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Mama Bee Nov 09 at 6:22 pm Reply Reply

    So true! I look at stuff my sisters and I do (or would never do) when it comes to how we treat and regard the people around us and I do not remember my mother telling us to do any of it. I also remember when I was going through a really stressful time in my life and I started shouting a lot (I never shout) it was like I was literally unraveling and what snapped me out of it was my kids. They started mirroring my actions, although I have NEVER shouted at them. 
    But its so true, the best feeling in the world is when your kids do something kind or nice knowing they will not get rewarded for it. The you know you’re doing something right!

  4. suzie Nov 10 at 11:38 am Reply Reply

    Well, your son’s essay brought tears to my eyes.  That’s really cool.  

    I totally agree on both the kindness and the respect points.  I have been similarly pleased about my daughters’ kindness toward others.  At one point, I overheard my Freshman lecturing a friend of hers about being kind to a sibling who is struggling with serious issues.  

    But I hadn’t given much thought to the happiness point.  I wish I had.  Not that I think my girls are UNhappy, but I think it would be good to focus on the positive. 

  5. Sue @ Laundry for Six Nov 12 at 11:29 am Reply Reply

    Teary. I love the part about happiness.

  6. christie Nov 12 at 3:40 pm Reply Reply

    This is lovely, and I am sharing it with my husband. (Incidentally, your 9th-grader writes better than many of the HS seniors whose papers I proofread. Granted, I don’t see the final drafts, but still.)

  7. Deb Nov 12 at 5:51 pm Reply Reply

    Wonderful essay bit…you are truly blessed with wonderful children.

    I’m with you on the happiness thing. One of my son’s music teacher had a saying…”Unhappiness is inevitable, misery is a choice.” When something would make one of kids unhappy, I’d remind them to think about what Mrs. Miller said.

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