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Why raising children means showing them, not telling them

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‘What’s she doing?’ my partner asked. Our baby daughter opened her mouth wide, kept it open for a while, and then shut her mouth again. 

‘I think she’s imitating us,’ I smiled, and I reminded me of how we had been playing with her that morning, after a night out, and how we both yawned every five minutes. Our daughter had been looking at us, fascinatedly. And now she was doing it, too. That day, her imitation yawns sometimes changed into a real yawn, and then we laughed. 

The situation made me realize something big and very scary: my child would imitate everything (everything!) we did. In fact, she was already doing it. If we were eating, then she wanted to eat; if we laughed about a joke, she laughed along with us; if daddy watched his phone, she wanted to take a look and if I was reading the newspaper, she wanted to have it (in order to eat the paper). I realized the following years would mainly be shaped by what we did, when we were with her, more than what we actually said. And that might be quite a confrontation. 

Focus on you 

I think raising children well, might be about focusing as much on your child as on yourself. I failed marvelously, that first year. I knew exactly when and how much she had eaten, prepared the most nutritive meals for her, but I needed my stomach to start rumbling to wonder: how about me, did I even have lunch? And then I’d quickly prepare a cheese sandwich and stuff it in my mouth, standing at the kitchen counter. Oh so wrong. 

I knew: for the following eighteen years, I will have to be as strict and as kind to myself as I am to her. It meant filling in the tax forms as if it was homework, getting to bed early, never being unreasonable, not eating too much candy. It also meant, that if I motivated her to go for her dreams and ideals, I could focus on my passions. And it meant that if I told her to believe in herself, I couldn’t do anything else. 

Showing them how to live 

Seven years later, it’s still number one in my ‘mission statement’ as a mom: I will not tell my children how to live, I will show them. 

Text: Susan Smit - Photo: Tanja Heffner