It is both for and because of my three daughters that I lost myself—for the good and the bad; but it is also because of them that I was alerted to the need to stand up for myself.
As I watched them grow up, I would occasionally see myself reflected in them: a facial expression, a gesture, a choice of clothing, but more importantly: an observation, an opinion, their choices and their plans for the future. I came to appreciate the enormity of our influence as parents and to realize that they will follow in my path, whether I like it or not. They will either mimic my behavior or go out of their way to do the exact opposite. Either way, unless they absorb the message that they must live their life in accordance with their inner drive and inclination, they will be deprived of this important birthright.
As they matured step by step and their personalities emerged, it struck me that it is my transformation that will serve us all; it is me who first needs to live a life in accordance with my inner drive. It started with the recognition that there are so many messages I want to convey to them and so many lessons in self-learning that I want them to master. I contemplated the responsibility of raising individuals and the influence that each of those individuals may have on their surroundings. It made me realize that the message conveyed is more important than concrete action. It is the set of tools that matter and not the end results, and these tools can best be taken in by personal experience or by modeling.
Accepting that the modeling technique is the best educational tool for parenting is a challenge! It requires us to take a good long look at ourselves, face our strengths and weaknesses, learn to accept and love what we cannot change, and find the will and courage to change what is possible. It is abundantly clear to me that:
- I cannot expect my children to eat healthily if I don't eat healthily.
- I cannot expect them to engage in physical exercise if I don't sweat and show self-discipline.
- I cannot expect them to study if I don’t appreciate the value of education and knowledge.
- I cannot preach about sharp thinking and brain training if I don’t challenge my own brain (Rush Hour, Chocolate Fix and chess are a great way to start).
- I cannot tell them not to drink and smoke if I myself don’t abstain.
- I cannot encourage them to chase their dreams if I don't lead by example the way!
It is not by preaching that we can convince our children to take the right paths. Although at times they may seem like "clay in the potter's hands,” we must not mistake "modeling," namely setting a personal example, with "molding.” The set of tools we convey needs to coincide with a mode of behavior they can adopt: for example, encouraging self-confidence in a way that helps them to achieve a certain goal rather than just praising their actions without justification. Or, expecting them to choose a certain career that isn’t necessarily within their grasp will only create frustration, dissatisfaction and unhappiness. It should be our goal to provide them with an environment which nurtures self-confidence, self-motivation, self-determination, self-discipline, self-education, and self-belief; many "selfs” but the kind which require self-awareness rather than a self-portrait or a selfie. By doing that I may be offering to push them to their limits but only by also doing it myself. By being exposed to an example and offered opportunities from a young age, they may become habits which later as adults they can choose to pursue or neglect. I am not asking them to do any of these things. I am doing them myself. I stand up for the right to spend most of my time doing what I like doing most, namely stimulating my mind rather than engaging in mundane chores. I stand up for the right to an equal relationship with my partner and to a fulfilling life. I don’t only lecture about living up to your dreams; I also do my best to get there myself. And in doing so, I make sure to involve my daughters if they are willing. I deny neither the good parts—the enjoyment, the positive feedback and the stimulation – nor the struggles, concerns, apprehensions and disappointments. I share them openly to also model these aspects and present a balanced and down-to-earth picture.
I believe raising kids and finding your purpose in life in many ways resemble running a marathon, or rather an ultra-marathon. It requires persistence and perseverance, and there is no room for mid-way recaps or semi-conclusions, especially not when it gets tough and all your efforts seem in vain. You need to enjoy the run and hope to pass the finishing line. And until that moment, anything might happen and you may find yourself pleasantly surprised.
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