ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS
For many children, the most important role models are their parents and caregivers because they help shape how they behave in school, relationships, or when making difficult decisions. As single parents, we can easily discredit ourselves as our children’s role models. Your child does not see the flaws you see in yourself (well, not until they become adults) and even so, they will most often be gracious to you because of the sacrifices you would have made for them.
One of the deceptions is that your child(ren) would look up to you if you were with your spouse. While I am not encouraging single parenthood by choice, the truth is that a child’s love is often unconditional and impartial. Be prepared though that no matter how much you try or work hard to provide for your child, they might say something mean to you that can set you behind emotionally. Don’t fret about it, even in both parents homes, kids are likely to say such things.
One of our family friends came to visit us with their young kids. Their son was misbehaving so the mom corrected him but he did not listen. This prompted the husband to step in so he spanked the boy. After he finished crying, he came to the father and told him (in front of all of us), “Daddy you are not a good person, you don’t have Jesus in your heart.” Though it was so hilarious, those were mean words coming from a son to his father. It does not mean that the child is wicked, or the father was wrong or even that there was no love in that home. It means that there is folly in the child’s heart and it needed to be removed with a rod of correction.
This is to encourage you that if your child does say or do something mean to you, it’s not because you are a single parent. It will likely be because they are a child and are meant to be childish until they are corrected towards righteousness.
We should be the models for our children in speech and in deeds as well. Let them see first hand from us how life should be tackled – making sure that we walk the talk. The single most important aspect of being our children’s role models is to always say what we mean and mean what we say. We should back up our words with visible and concrete action and be people of integrity and value because actions speak volumes.
INCORPORATE A LIFE OF PRAYER AND READING THE WORD
We should also incorporate prayer life and reading the Word of God together with our children so that we can ground them in the right foundation. If we are struggling to do this by ourselves, we should find a group that has a structure that can hold us accountable.
There are many benefits of praying together with your children:
- A close knit family is possible through relationship with God and with each other. Praying together as a family offers an intentional time of connectivity by inviting God into the situations where your family needs Him most. It gives you an opportunity to find out what’s happening in each other’s lives, discover one another’s needs and dreams, opens up communication and give each family member the opportunity to show that you care about each other.
- Praying together enables you and the children to deal with stress, focus on shared beliefs and hopes for the future, and allows your family to deal constructively with challenges and problems in your lives.
- As you share with God what things worry you and tempt you, or what you need to figure out, you encourage your children to join in faith with you. You would not only be talking and listening to Him but also recognizing that He knows all things and controls all things. This is a source of comfort to your children knowing that someone else is in control even when life makes no sense due to your circumstances.
- Spending time talking and praying together about issues and concerns helps your family see life in a better light. Praying will help you and the children to focus on each other’s requests and needs. If you pray in the morning for God to help you for a particular business to go through so that you can pay piano lessons for your son, he will take note that you desire to pay right away but lack the financial means. And when you finally manage to pay for the lessons, your son will be grateful to God and you for the provision.
INVOLVE YOUR CHILDREN IN CHARITY AND COMMUNITY WORK
One of the things that helped me be a role model to my daughter was a regular habit to get out in our community with her and volunteering our time and talents. It helped us to build family unity, teamwork skills, and most of all, generous and serving hearts. Volunteering in various ventures helped me teach my daughter to meet the needs of others – a trait she holds dear to date as a young adult.
Volunteering has many benefits for you and your child(ren). All my life, I have been involved in charity work in one way or another – some were significant and others not too significant. However, for both categories, I got a wider perspective of the world we live in. When my daughter was about eight years, we visited a children’s home near our area. At that time, we were at a very low point financially such that I hadn’t paid my rent for a year – yes, that bad! God bless my then landlord John for not kicking us out of the house. He even paid my water and electricity while he was waiting for things to open up for me (I digressed!). But when the next season arrived and the favour of God lifted to the next phase, he did ask us to leave (this is a story for another day).
After visiting the home, my daughter and I were so grateful that even if we did not have the luxuries of life, we had love from each other – something many of the children were longing for. And even in our poverty, we had something to give – love to others and our skills and manpower which did not cost money. This has shaped how my daughter and I live life to date – we give not because we have to spare, some times we give our last like the Macedonian church in 2 Corinthians 8:2-4.
That kind of love for others can only be modelled through actions not teaching our children. This led my then 13 year old daughter to volunteer (on her own) as a part time arts teacher in a school in Kibera for 2 years. On the first day, I dropped and picked her, then showed her where to pick a bodaboda (motor bike) to the school and back home. I connected her to a rider for about 2 weeks and then showed her how to find one by herself. And I moved on with my life – yet she managed just fine for two years. She developed a good perspective of life, not taking the little or much we had for granted. We have continued with charity work for many years – finding places where we can lend ourselves for the benefit of others.
As you volunteer with your child(ren), you also get an opportunity to correct wrong habits and encourage good habits in them. Because you are “doing” together, communication clarity levels are heightened. And your child is in a better space to listen to you.
“Sweetheart, look at that child sitting alone, can you go play with her to show her love” is something that is easily doable in a children’s home than speaking to your child at home on how they should be good to other children.
“Sweetheart, it looks like we will spend more hours here today cleaning this river. Look at all the plastic papers accumulated in the water” is a better place to teach your children not to litter than teaching them about environment pollution while at home. And then you lead them in these things to model a good example for them.
EMBRACE VULNERABILITY AS A STRENGTH
Let us also learn to be open to our children and not hide who we are as a person. We should share our past experiences when it is age appropriate: mistakes and victories all included. While we might not explain all the intricate details of our life, we should share enough to show them that vulnerability is a virtue that comes from a position of strength. These will be some of the virtues they will carry on to their adult life.
Vulnerability is our willingness to take risks and expose ourselves emotionally to others. If this is the definition, how can it be a strength? According to Brené Brown, “If we want greater clarity in our purpose or more meaningful lives, vulnerability is the path.”
- Vulnerability Builds Trust
Vulnerability and trust go hand in hand in a relationship. While it can be tricky to decide which comes first, both qualities build off of each other to deepen a connection. When you open up to your children, you model to them what life is like and you prepare them for the future. We get disappointed and pleased, fatigued and rejuvenated, heartbroken and delighted, discouraged and encouraged etc. As you also share about your failures and successes, you open the door for your child to come to you when they face a failure and when they succeed. If you are a supermom or superdad, it can become difficult for your children to come to you in their moments of weaknesses.
2. Vulnerability Helps Us Get Help To Face Challenges
You do not have to go at challenges alone, trying to solve our problems without our children’s help. If you are open to your children, you can work together to overcome your family’s challenges.
When my daughter was younger, our vacations were on Sundays after church at Central Park. My younger sister and I would buy her one ice cream cup and spend a few hours at the park playing together and allowing her to roll on the carpet grass and climb the monkey bars there. The entrance was free. That’s all we could offer. Before leaving home, I would let my daughter know that I had saved Kes 100 for the ice cream and that is all I could offer at the moment since I had been out of work for over a year. She was 6 years but she understood what that meant. We would agree that though there would be balloons for sale, and sweets and all other ‘fun’ stuff, I did not have the funds for that. By being vulnerable to her, she helped me in a big way as we did not have any melt downs – well, once!
Now looking at it, it makes sense – though I did not have a word for it back then. Vulnerability helped my daughter and I in facing our life’s situations. Wouldn’t you rather try to work through something, whether it’s emotional or situational, with your children onboard? Being vulnerable opens up a world of possibilities in terms of support and teamwork.
3. Vulnerability Makes You Accountable As A Role Model
By sharing your emotions and mistakes with your children, you will improve your self awareness and accountability to your children. I have noted that fellowshipping can help you process your emotions and you can agree with your children on actions needed for your family. This can boost your personal growth as kids can be very good accountability partners. And as they see you try to fulfill your promises to yourself and to them, you provide a great model for them to embrace life.
** Always filter information to the age appropriateness of your children. They need to know the truth but it should be filtered to what they can comprehend.
** Vulnerability to your children is not an invitation to turn them to your psychologists/psychiatrists. Too much emotional imbalance on your children can damage their childhood. You should have other accountability partners for processing deeper and adult emotions so you can be lighter to your children.
For instance, the most common case I have witnessed is when single moms coming through separation or divorce, paint the ex-husband as a devil and all male species as a bad nut all together. “Men are like animals” “Men are unfaithful” “Marriage is terrible. It can kill you with emotional abuse.” Such thoughts should be processed with the help of a counsellor or sound friend. It is no conversation for a child. Remember your daughter will need a man to marry her and your son will be a man needing to marry a woman. The fact that you had a bad experience (and I feel for all the broken marriages) does not mean that it’s like that in all marriages and it does not mean that you can’t get into a good marriage yourself.
In what ways can you be vulnerable to your children to improve your role modelling to them?