Everyone agrees that the best way to raise kids is to lead by example. But that is so much easier said than done. Often when I am in the middle of lecturing my kids I hear a little voice in my head saying, “Hmn, interesting. Remember when you were a kid you used to…” Or even worse, the little voice says, “Hmn. Remember this morning when you ….”
The sad fact of the matter is I rarely provide the example I want to offer to my kids. It's a bit depressing. I keep plugging away, but rarely hit the mark.
One of my favorite childhood stories is of my brother catching my uncle in one of those moments. My brother and I were young at the time. We were walking with my uncle, when my brother let a curse word slip. My uncle stopped dead in his tracks to tell my brother never to curse and in the process used a curse word!
My young, logical brother replied, “Why can't I? You just did.”
My uncle turned deep red and just sputtered for about ten seconds. Then he said, “Yeah, well, you are supposed to be better than me!”
I have carried my uncle's words with me for decades. That is the hope that all parenting rests on. We hope our kids will be better educated, more successful, more secure, happier, kinder and more generous than we are. We hope they will make fewer mistakes than we did. We hope they will learn faster from their mistakes than we did. They are supposed to be better than us.
As a young person, I loved this story of “catching” our uncle making a mistake. I could see many mistakes that the adults around me were making. What I did not fully understand then were some of the demons my relatives were fighting themselves. And what I could not fully appreciate then was that despite those problems, despite their mistakes, they loved us deeply and never quit trying to help us “be better” than them.
As I mess up myself, I will keep trying to help my kids be “better than me.” And when I need role models, I will look back on the adults in my young life who always kept trying, while wrestling with their own problems and mistakes, to help me be the best person I could be. I believe that good examples are important, but so are love, hope, and the willingness to keep at it even in our less than perfect moments.