Recently at a carnival style event at our church, my 7 year old son came running up to me with a prize he had won. He held up this little rubber ducky and said, “Look Dad, your worst enemy – a bath toy!” We laughed together over the silliness of a rubber ducky being my worst enemy, but the reality is that I’m really not a fan of bath toys. I think they’re unsanitary; not to mention they delay the bathing process that as a parent I just want them to finish with as quickly as possible. However, it isn’t actually my dislike for bath toys (as real as it may be) that is of interest in all of this. What I find fascinating is my son’s ability to conclude that bath toys are my worst enemy.
I’ve never set my children down and proclaimed the evils of bath toys or placed them on a list of sins to be avoided. I’ve never forbidden them or said that they were bad. And obviously I’ve never actually declared rubber duckies and the like to be my worst enemy. What I have done is complain about them, refuse to purchase them, make the kids wait until “next time” to play with them, and maybe on occasion throw them away. This behavior toward the toys led my son to conclude they were my enemy. While funny and totally harmless, this incident made me consider just how vital our every-day (every-moment for that matter) behavior is to the raising of our children.
There are virtues and behaviors that I instruct my children in on a regular basis with somewhat questionable results. I can lecture, talk, teach, preach, beg and plead but they can still forget what it was I wanted them to do or how I wanted them to behave. Yet, without any formal instruction on the matter, my son can conclude that I hate bath toys. The fact of the matter is that the behaviors I most often see in them are not the ones I teach them about, but the ones they see in me.
As a parent it is absolutely critical that you realize your most important and effective teaching tool is your own behavior. You can tell your kids about honesty, integrity, self-control, selflessness, kindness, respect, self-control, service, loyalty and other biblical virtues – and you should. But that teaching is only going to be a fraction as influential as your own behavior. You must consider what you are actually teaching and be intentional about your behavior. In our daily lives we must model honesty, integrity, self-control, selflessness, kindness, respect, self-control, service, loyalty and other biblical virtues if we want them to take root in our children’s lives.
Additionally, we must remember that they are always watching! In a moment of frustration or anger or stress we can unravel all of our intentional teaching behaviors with one thoughtless act. And for some reason that is still beyond me, those are the moments that never seem to slip past them. I don’t know why, but it always seems to happen that way. They seem oblivious to the times when you work hard, control yourself, use kindness or show love; but shout “You idiot!” at one driver that cuts you off and you will hear “You idiot” screamed for the next week every time someone is upset.
Children must come with a built in radar for the moments we least want them to see or hear and they are always there. Always listening and always watching. This can be terrifying, but we must use that fear to cause us to be even more intentional about modeling Christ-like behavior to our children. This includes modeling forgiveness. As we try to model the behavior we want them to learn, we will certainly mess up. We will sin and we will lose control. Though unfortunate, these moments also provide an opportunity to model good behavior. We want minimize the bad behaviors we model and we want to be intentional about good behaviors, but one of the most important things we can do for our children is to teach them that the journey of faith is an imperfect one and God is always waiting to forgive. Model repentance in front of your children. They see your mistakes, so let them also see the humility and brokenness that they need to learn for themselves.
For good or bad, they see you. For good or bad, your behavior as the parent is the most influential teaching tool you will ever have. This journey we call parenting is difficult enough on its own; don’t make it harder with careless actions and behaviors. As you look toward the people you want your children to become, begin by being that sort of person yourself. And remember – they’re always watching!