There are so many messages out there about how to be a parent that sometimes we lose track of what are really important values to teach your kids. We seldom think about the things we teach them by example, but the truth is that children will watch everything you do and emulate those behaviors instead of listening to your words. Not only do you have to “talk the talk,” but you need to “walk the walk” as well.
If I want my kids to be good, responsible adults, feel loved and appreciated, and find something they love and can be passionate about it, I need to follow suit. It’s easy to give advice, but actually following it (and changing our behavior) is a completely different thing.
5 Important Values to Teach Your Kids
1. Unconditional Love
This might seem like a given. We all love our children and we show them so every day. But do they really know we love them? My oldest once asked me if I loved her when I’m upset with her. She thought love was just smiles and rainbows and happiness. But that’s not always how love is. Sometimes love is setting boundaries to keep them safe, even when they are not being very loving towards me. I want my girls to know that no matter what they do, I will always love them. No matter how angry I might be, no matter how far apart we end up to be, and no matter how they behave towards me, I love them. Because my love is not conditional to their behavior; it is always there. I’m more vocal about it now, because I’m making sure they understand that.
2. OK to Be Yourself
How many times do you cringe at some of your child’s odd behaviors? I know I have, more than I can count. We can teach them better ways to do things, but at the same time we need to honor who they are and their unique perspective on life. I have three children, and each one of them is completely different to the other. They all have a different insight on how things should be, and they all need to understand that this is normal and completely OK.
Some things are non-negotiable (like wearing clothes), while others are up to them to decide (like the length of their hair or the colors they like). I don’t want my children to be cookie cutter versions of myself; I want them to be their best selves. And that might not be what I would like for me, and I need to learn to live with that. They also need to see me accepting who I am, in all my weirdness. Humans are complex creatures, and that makes us unique and beautiful.
3. We All Cry Sometimes
My father died last year. I was tempted to hide my sorrow from my kids in a misguided attempt to protect them from the pain I was feeling. But even my youngest understood how sad I was, and tried to offer me comfort. That’s when I realized that they needed to see me grieve, for there is no shame in feeling deeply. We all need to cry sometimes. They need to learn that emotions are not to be suppressed, or hidden as if they were bad things. If we are sad, we cry and that makes us feel better. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
4. Mistakes Are Necessary
I am a perfectionist. I like things to be the way I want them to be, and often get frustrated when life doesn’t want to adapt to the ideas I’ve made in my head. I’ve learned that mistakes are necessary to grow and to better understand what needs to be done. There’s no shame in making mistakes. We can correct our mistakes, learn from them, and move on. Some mistakes will be bigger than others, but as we learn from them, we also learn how to avoid them and make better choices.
5. Success Looks Different for Everyone
We live in a culture where success is often defined just in one way: as an expression of outward wealth and ability to purchase whatever we want. The problem is that just seeing success as an accumulation of things doesn’t completely tell the story. My dad always said that success was feeling happy with what you’ve got. If you have the everything you want but you feel empty inside, you are not successful. A person whose wants to climb mountains and sleep in the woods might achieve success in a different way than the one whose dream is to be a dancer. There’s nothing wrong with either dream, but they will have different outcomes. I’ve met plenty of successful people, both in the traditional way and not so traditional. I’ve enjoyed spending time with all of them. I want my kids to find their own success and be happy, no matter what that looks like.
These 5 things are by no means the only values to teach your kids, but they’re a start. There’s plenty of other things, like body positivity, being involved in your community, and being part of a body of faith that I would consider important as well.
Once you think you’ve got the hang of this parenting thing, the rules change and you have to start over again. That’s why I try to be honest with my kids and try to do my best every day. I hope they learn from my example, and my words.
My greatest hope is to continue to be that good example for them, every day.