You think they’re not watching, but of course they are. What else do they have going on? You’re the most entertaining and strange show in their lives.
They watch what you eat… and how you eat. They watch how you treat your partner. They watch how you drive. They watch how you treat people. They see your habits. They live in your lifestyle. They feel what you value and what you don’t.
If any of those things are disordered? If they are dysfunctional? If they need some work? You can find out—just watch your kids the way they’ve been watching you. Maybe you already have and you didn’t even realize it.
Ever take a step back in the moment after your kid has done something confounding and wonder “where they get it?” Ever wonder about their habits? Why they don’t listen? Ha! Do you listen? “Do not expect to enjoin right doing upon men who are conscious of your own wrongdoing,” the great Stoic philosopher Musonius Rufus would remind the leaders he mentored.
As we’ve talked about, your kids were not only watching as you sped (without a seatbelt), but they heard you lie to the police officer about it. They see that your room is a mess, they see you throw your towels on the floor. They know you snuck a snack before dinner. And then you expect them to listen to you? Sure, maybe out of fear, they will… but their heart won’t be in it. As James Baldwin famously said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”
If you want your kids to do right, you have to do right. If you want them to believe something, you have to believe it. If you want them to be a certain way, they have to see you endorse it with the most meaningful endorsement there is: Your own actions.
There is no way around this. It is just a fact of life. Your life.