Discussions about motherhood so often focus on the concrete challenges. The million and one daily decisions. The sleepless nights. The never-ending housework. The work-life balance trade-offs. The cost of childcare. The cost of everything.
These are real challenges, and certainly worthy topics of discussion. In no way do I wish to minimize them. Particularly since I am in the incredibly privileged position of not worrying so much about whether my children have a bed to sleep in and food to eat and decent schools to attend.
But to me, the biggest challenge is how to teach these little beings character.
To instill values that they can rely on in the future, no matter what job they have, how much money they make, or where they live.
To teach them to be honest and loyal. To speak the truth even when it is hard. To stand up for themselves and their friends.
To have integrity and grit.
To be accountable. To be able to look clearly at oneself, find the discrepancy between your values and your actions, and say “I was wrong.”
To be compassionate. To be grateful.
To know the world can be a hard and unforgiving place, but to not let that destroy the ability to see the beauty in it.
To be present.
And in order for me to be able to teach them these things — to teach them to be not just a thinker, but a feeling, living human being who lives with purpose and authenticity — I have to live it myself.
It’s not enough to say “do what I say, not what I do.”
My kids are watching me, constantly observing and absorbing, deriving unconscious messages from all my actions that they will use to build their framework of the world and their place in it.
They are watching me when I tell a little lie because it’s easier than getting into the messy truth.
They are watching me when I say something unkind about someone.
They are watching me when I throw my hands up and give up on something because it’s too frustrating or too much work.
They are watching me when I make a mistake, and instead of owning it, I make excuses.
They are watching me when I say I’m too busy to come look at the butterfly or find shapes in the clouds.
The knowledge that all the lectures in the world will not mean much if I can’t live it myself forces me to become a better version of myself.
A more authentic version.
A kinder version.
A more accountable version.
I don’t have a choice.
So I continue to strive to be present for them. To be loving for them. To be the model they deserve.
I won’t always get it right, obviously. I am human, full of flaws. I will make bad decisions sometimes. I will yell sometimes. I will get frustrated. I will be distracted and not present sometimes. I will be petty, or unkind, or selfish sometimes.
But when I do, I’ll take accountability for it. I will say those words that we all find so very hard to say: “I was wrong.” Without making excuses.
And then I’ll put my computer away and go find shapes in the clouds with them.