I Am Not a Perfect Person

This disturbs me as a parent. How am I to model the best behavior to my children if I do not have the will power to do it myself?

I was thinking about the phrase “will power” the other day. Everyone, even babies, have will forces. We will ourselves to move, to do things, even to get out of bed in the morning (although this last often takes me a while).

But “will power” implies something else: the power to channel and use our will forces in a conscious way. We say we have no will power when we know we would be better off not eating that piece of cake but eat it anyway, because we allowed a craving to override our “higher” intentions.

I see my children struggling with this, as all children do. They would eat chocolate all day long if I let them (I admit, I have done some poor modeling in this particular area) because the health effects, of which they have some idea, do not matter as much as the overwhelmingly good feelings that food gives them.

They also cannot control their physical actions quite often. I have observed them hearing us say, “Don’t do X again please,” and still doing X in that next moment because they were already in the process of doing it. They can’t stop themselves.

Most of all, recently, I have noticed that they are struggling with the same things I struggle with. Their playroom is a complete disaster most of the time. What we as parents need to do is create a daily habit of tidying with them. But tidying is not my strong point. I do it in bursts instead of consistently. I was in the middle of admonishing my son to put his books away instead of leaving them strewn about the living room, when I looked around and noticed how many piles of MY books there were.

This is not to say I don’t like a clean and tidy home. I do. I am just still in the process of getting myself to form the habit of cleaning and tidying. Making something a habit helps us harness our will forces when we cannot call up the will power from the start.

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “I Am Not a Perfect Person

  1. I am so thrilled that you are blogging again. Please don’t give up. I could so relate to the problem of modelling behavior. I would like to share 2 experiences I have had with this:
    1. Being less than tidy myself I would feel that I could not demand tidyness of my children when I myself was unable to set an example. In retrospect I think we as parents probably should demand of our children the good behaviors we think they should have, even though we ourselves are not very successfull at modelling them.
    2. Things like respect I did model for them – and yet experienced that the children walked all over me. Why did they not imitate. Here too – I think I should have been more demanding in an overt way. Children don’t just automatically treat you with respect if you treat them with respect – at least mine didn’t.
    Any thoughts on this?

  2. Gudrun, the concept of “do as I say, not as I do” is a problem for me. I think that is antithetical to a healthy working with children, not to mention oneself. However, children also are very attuned, generally, to our strivings. It is a good lesson for them to see adults making efforts and even failing, yet trying once again.

    As for the issue of respect, you didn’t mention the ages when this lack of respect occurred in your children. I know there are times when, because of other developmental issues, children become rather snotty! Perhaps that is a time when word in addition to deed is necessary, telling them outright what is expected with firm and consistent consequences.

    What I am struggling with in general is, for lack of a better phrase, being the ego for my children. Mine are still young, 6 and 8, and I feel they need their parents to show them the way more often than not.

  3. Oh, how happy I was to see your little chipmunk in my comment queue today! I do hope you’re back to writing on your blog … I’ve missed you.

    This post gave me some interesting food for thought, as far as what’s worked for me and what didn’t work for me in childhood, with adult modeling.

    And you know … I think the key to modeling is to model the struggle, not necessarily the success. Because as you point out, who is fully successful? Nobody, or we’d all be perfect.

    But the virtue, I think, is in the fight, and I firmly believe that is the thing to model for kids. And I believe that means being actually pretty honest about the fact that good habits are hard to form and hard to stick to, and that you have to prioritize what’s really important, and figure out where your weak spots are, and where it’s necessary to wrestle with yourself, and where it’s okay to let it go.

    Persistence, not perfection, is what makes people successful in life. And I think anyone who models that honestly for a child is giving them a great gift.

  4. David… hi! Nice to hear from you as well.

    You touch on a whole ‘nother issue… perfectionism. So much easier to just nitpick and criticize and self-flagellate instead of getting anything constructive done.

    I have made a point of outright telling my son, in particular, that we are trying to help him change unwanted habits and establish wanted ones. Out with the nose picking and in with the tidiness! And with that I have also made a point of telling him, this is hard work. Amazing how easy it is to establish a (bad) habit and how difficult it is to jettison it.

  5. It is hard work — and I think you’re on exactly the right track, as far as modeling behavior. Kids sense hypocrisy pretty easily, and I think that most kids would rather that a parent give a consistent message than that they demand something they themselves can’t or won’t do. And if the message is “We’re all slogging through this together,” I think that’s a great foundation.

    • David – where were you when I was doing the slogging. This is the answer to what was my dilemma for more years than I care to mention.
      Anthromamma – I really noticed the respect problem after my separation from their father. Before that it was HIS lack of respekt that got most of my attention. I figured – how can the kids show me respect when he models contempt? Then we moved out, – by this time the kids were 3, 5, 7 and 8 – but the lack of respect problem hung on. Thinking about it the problem was greatest with the 7 and 8 year olds and as I say lasted into their early teens.

      • Gudrun, I think that is also just an age thing. I recall clearly around the age of 8 or so, thinking my dad was the stupidest human on earth. “Duh” was my favorite word at that time… and I was generally a very “good” kid!

  6. I’ve just discovered your blog this morning and am shaken to read a post that sounds SO MUCH like what is going on in my own head right now.

    I love what David says about modeling the struggle…I agree 100 percent. I am in the unique position of having such a wide age gap between my children (oldest 2 in their first year of college and youngest in kindergarten) that I can see the fruits of my labors (or lack thereof) with my older girls in time to learn from them before applying to my youngest child. It is a great motivation to see that those parenting issues with which I did struggle but stuck to it did pay off. And that bolsters me a bit when I think of how hard it is to model these important things for my youngest…housekeeping is one of my biggest challenges (it effects so much else in life…especially in our homeschool).
    I will keep the mantra running: “Be worthy of imitation. Be worthy of imitation.” But what a challenge it is!

  7. I misread Cypress’ last paragraph as “Be worthy of initiation.” Which works, too, and really gave me food for thought. I love the fact that my contact lenses never seem to have the right prescription … I see all kinds of unusual things that don’t exist!

    • Oooh worthy of initiation indeed…. because all of this struggling is a form of initiation, after all. Parenting or even just trying to progress as a human being is a trial by fire.

  8. Hi Henitsirk! I was rejoicing similarly when I saw your chipmunk on David’s place!

    Will power is one of those difficult things to exercise, although I find that the more I do it the better I get at it. I struggle with the “tidiness” thing myself, I call the tendency for things to pile up “Flat Surface Disorder”

    Good to see you back, hope you stick around. How does your garden grow?

    • Hello, Ellie =]

      My husband is mortally afraid of Flat Surface Disorder and resists owning a coffee table. I keep telling him that it merely creates the related Piles of Crap on the Floor Disorder, but he doesn’t listen.

      My garden groweth not, as it is winter in Idaho. We were lacking in mulch last summer and so the wee garden box did not progress well. Next year should be better. Now to see if we’re too late to prune the apple tree, which bore hardly anything last year also.

  9. “First we make our habits and then our habits make us.”

    Here is something to remember. Just because youre not good at something doesnt mean you cant teach it. Not all good coaches were good players.

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