Do as I say, not as I do.
As a child, I heard this phrase a number of times from my parents. At the time I thought it was great advice. Now I recognize it for what it is — an admission that actions don’t always meet the high standards of the words we speak.
A coaching tool I use with clients is the ‘Values Assessment’. There is a list of words representing a variety of values or principles we hold dear (persistence, curiosity, honesty, compassion, creativity, cleanliness, good health, etc.). If you were doing this activity, you would rate them two ways, on a scale of 1-10:
1) How important is this principal to you?
2) How well are you living it? Do you walk the talk?
Some numbers match up, some don’t. And for the ones that don’t, it’s either a wake up call to take that value more seriously, or else it’s recognition that maybe that principle is not quite as important as you thought. Finally, you’d identify the five values you feel are most important for your children to have, and live by.
It’s a useful exercise. The assessment can identify areas where you’re not walking the talk, when what you say and what you do are not in sync. When it comes to parenting, it’s critical for these numbers to be as close as possible. One thing I know for sure: your kids can spot a double standard a mile away and will never take you seriously if you have a different (lower) expectation for yourself than you do for them.
Where are you on the scales? How about the cleanliness scale? I complain about my kids, but the truth is that ‘neat and tidy’ doesn’t come easily for me. While it’s okay for me to light a fire under them, I have to light it under me, too.
What about the ‘truth’ scale? That’s a tougher one. The truth seems to come in multiple shades of color, and things are rarely black or white. And it’s not as if you work towards being open and honest and voila! One day you are as truthful and honest as you’re ever going to be. This includes the big area of emotional honesty, something we all grapple with. The truth of a situation when you’re happy can feel very different from when you’re tired and overwhelmed.
Let’s face it: your kids are watching everything you do, noticing the good stuff and the inconsistencies. They learn things from you that you’re not even aware of. You are their most important teacher and, like it or not, aware or not, you’re always in teaching mode. Give your best, conscious effort to teaching what you really want them to know, and you’ll be high up on the integrity scale. (Yes, that word is most definitely on the values list!)