Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Parenting Dilemma: Setting an Example

I have seen it so often in other families where the older children are coaxed into a certain behavior with the explanation: "You need to set a good example for your younger sibling." I've never been much of a fan of this type of coaxing, but I will tell you, when nothing else has worked, I've been tempted to use it!

It got me thinking, though, about the kind of example I'm setting. I had a great day the other day where two parenting moments where juxtaposed in such a way that I was forced to acknowledge my inconsistency. First, Sammi wasn't listening and not listening and finally I raised my voice and yelled, "Stop grabbing your sister's arm! Please!" Then, not 10 minutes later Sammi yelled "No!" at me and I heard myself say, "Please don't yell. We don't yell in our family." We don't? I forgot to tell myself that same thing just moments earlier!

While contemplating what type of example I was setting for my children, I attended an amazing lunch with Mom It Forward's Jyl and Carissa. We listened to women speak on finding balance in various aspects of our lives. Muffy Mead-Ferro spoke on Balance in Parenting based on her book Confessions of a Slacker Mom. She spoke of the example we set for our children and it completely changed my perspective!

As a writer, Muffy needs time to write. She blocks out time in her day to write and she tells her children that she needs to be left alone so she can write. As she explained this principle, she also shared some of the criticism she's received. Namely, people gasp and ask how she can ignore her children while she writes! Aside from it providing an opportunity for her kids to learn to entertain themselves, she explained the example she was setting for her children by following her passion. By setting aside time for her writing and by enforcing that she be left alone to work, she's showing her children a part of who she is and what's important to her. She's setting an example of how to succeed at something she wants to accomplish.

By focusing on the positive example I want to set for my children, I've found fewer instances of my own bad example. It takes more work, since I have such little ones, to plan how they will be occupied while I pursue interests and hobbies. We've had success, though!

For example, I really wanted to make a vision board which involves a lot of flipping through magazines, cutting and gluing. I knew that Sammi would be all over that and I would find it difficult to stay focused on what I wanted out of the project. First, I did all my flipping and cutting at night when she was sleeping. But once I finished the cutting, I was too excited to put it together to wait for another night. So, I cleared off the table, found three magazines just for Sammi, a pair of Sammi-safe scissors, and a glue stick. I taped a large strip of butcher paper to the table and sat her in her chair. I let her go to town on the cutting and gluing. These are usually heavily supervised activities so she was thrilled to cut and glue as much as she wanted. Then I put my large piece of paper on the other end of the table. I was able to lay out my whole vision board and get all the pictures glued down before Sammi lost interest in her own project!
We were able to work side by side, which is toddlers' favorite form of play (parallel play), and I was able to show her that Mommy does her own projects, too. So often the projects we work on are just for Sammi or she's the only one who has a finished picture or what ever at the end to show for our time. So, I will continue to monitor the example I am setting for my children and try to focus on setting positive examples that encourage independence and creativity.


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