This post is part of my compensated role as a #TalkEarly blogger, an initiative from Responsibility.org. Talking with your kids about alcohol is an important topic to me which is why I accepted this role. Please note that all opinions expressed here are my own.
As a child, our rooms were covered in motivational-type posters. I didn’t think much about them while growing up but staring at them every day somehow ingrained them into my way of thinking. But there was a wall hanging that I never quite understood: Children Learn What They Live. My mother still has it hanging up in her house.
If you’ve never read this poem, it was written in 1972 by Dorothy Law Nolte and was meant to empower children. Some of the lines include:
If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
I’m not sure if I never understood it as a child or if I never had reason to understand it. This poem is clearly meant for parents with one clear message: no matter what kind of parent you are, you LEAD by EXAMPLE.
This sentiment is echoed by parenting expert Meghan Leahy, who I had to chance to meet in January at the Talk Early Summit. Meghan took a new twist on this concept by telling us as parents, “We are condition setters every day.”
What that means is that I’m not a perfect parent but I set the groundwork for starting over every day and building on the positive. My son Evan knows that I have plenty of days where I snap at him, at my husband, at the dogs. And I simply explain that Mommy has had a bad day or Mommy is a little grumpy and I apologize if I take it out on him.
He hugs me and tells me that’s okay. Which is exactly what I do for him. And when we have good days and we laugh, he’s the first to tell me that he had a great day with me and had so much fun. Which is what I do for him. He’s the acorn, I’m the tree.
Just this morning, we had a nice breakfast together and then worked on a project. Out of nowhere, he says, “I’m having a really nice time with you.”
As wonderful as that sounds, I promise you there is no perfection in my parenting. The past few months have been an extraordinarily difficult time in my life and at 8 years old, I’m sure he senses it. That makes setting the conditions and leading by example even more important.
For me, that means a few really key aspects of parenting.
1. Moms and dads don’t always get along. Sometimes they fight and struggle but if they love each other, they can find their common ground. He needs to know that even families can be hurt and upset and still love each other.
2. No matter what stress or frustration is going on in the house, this is our safe place. He knows he’ll be going to sleep in his bed safe and sound every night with his mommy laying beside him until he falls asleep while we listen to the same lullabies that we’ve listened to since he was a baby.
3. Showing your children how you cope with your bad days is a skill that’s just as important as explaining away those bad days.
4. When there is emotional turmoil going on, alcohol is never a good option to turn to. Meghan emphasized that when your kids see you drinking out of stress, frustration, anger, or being tired in a way they feel relates to them, it makes them insecure.
5. Along the same lines, when alcohol is mixed with relaxation and calm, they feel that too. They feel the sense of control – in their life, their house, and their world.
As Meghan says, “Secure children grow (like an acorn) into the natural, beautiful children they are born to be.”
Back in 1972, I probably read a similar sentiment hanging on my wall, “If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.” Now that I’m a parent, I get it.
Next time you’re having a rough day, either from parenting or work or family or life in general, take a moment to stop, assess, and be in the moment with those around you. You might be surprised at how quickly your children will learn what they live.