As a parent, the lessons we pass along to our children can be separated into two simple categories — what to do and what not to do.
Yes, we can cloud the discussion with various degrees of what we believe is important, but, in the end, it all comes down to understanding our children will first learn from the observation of how we behave in a wide variety of circumstances.
How did our parents handle difficult situations? Did they face them head-on, or look for ways to avoid making the hard decisions? What lessons did we, as children, learn from them during these windows? Did we learn what to do — or not do?
Even as my wife and I navigate life with adult children, I realize there is no timeline on this body of work. Even though our kids no longer live under our roof, I realize they will forever watch and learn from us as we face life’s coming challenges. Like it or not, our actions are still in their spotlight.
It might be easy to tell ourselves our kids stop watching us the day they pull out of the driveway with their worldly possessions packed in the trunk of the car — but this is just not so.
Even while they are dealing with the challenges of early adulthood, they also have an eye on us for clues on how we navigate our lives without them. Parenting is one big teaching lesson without an expiration date.
Some of us are luckier than others. Many of us come from homes where the lessons are positive and easy to follow.
Others, unfortunately, live a life filled with avoiding land mines of opportunities to derail an otherwise productive life. Truth versus lies, commitments without follow through, or maybe even retreating into outside influences to help get through the day. Life is hard — and for children desperately looking to their parents for clues, it can be especially challenging.
But lately I’ve come to realize I’ve still got a set of eyes on me even though our kids are nearly a thousand miles away. Even as our children work through the bumps of independence, I realize they are still watching the decisions my wife and I make. Not that they need to follow them at this time, but these very moments are being filed away under “one day.” How my wife and I treat each other, how we manage our finances and health, or how we plan for our future all send potentially long-term lessons to our kids. Like it or not, my wife and I are still in the teaching seat.
As our children travel the unpredictable road of life, my wife and I know we are still throwing off signals of how our children may very well act later in life.
I guess, as parents, we never really get a final report card — that is, one we’ll live to see.
But in the end, hopefully, the breadcrumbs we leave behind will help our children successfully navigate life when we are no longer around.