Caught, Not Taught
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.
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.
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 barbecue 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.Published November 9, 2010. Last updated June 24, 2018.