Growing up in my home was fun. I had two parents who loved us and were involved in our lives and activities. We took vacations in the family station wagon (it even had wood paneling) and smaller road trips to historical landmarks. We had Friday pizza and movie nights. I remember walking in the local movie store trying to pick from the hundreds of titles. I could hop on my bike, ride to my friend’s house and be gone for hours without having to worry about anything.
I had a fun childhood. I never got into a lot of trouble. But when I did, I did. And my parents were strict but fair.
Everything was fair except for one sentence, "Because I said so."
I hated that sentence. It seemed so unfair to me. That was no kind of reasonable response. It didn’t answer my questions in any sort of manner. It just blew me off.
That was until I had children of my own. And now it seems to me a perfectly fair and reasonable response. What other reason could you possibly need other than "I just said so"? That’s it. End of discussion.
But is it?
Parenting, like life, is not so much about the black and white as it is about the gray. Teaching our kids to share, be polite, eat the right foods, etc. is comparatively easy when we start talking about the gray areas. That’s because sometimes there may be no complete right or wrong response to a given situation. It might be so complicated that a normal response might actually be the wrong one. It’s in those times that our morals and beliefs come into play. Our world view will shape our responses to the gray.
So if this is the case, and I maintain it is, then how in the world are we to show our children to navigate through this murkiness that awaits them? I believe the answer is found in a word: integrity.
Integrity is a word tossed about far too often and lived out far too little. Politicians sling this word around to let you know you can trust them with your vote, tycoons use it to make you feel better that they have your money, and people of power use it to stay in power.
But real integrity takes place when no one is watching. It happens in those moments where a choice reveals your inner character. Integrity is the sum total of all of these things lived out over a lifetime.
How do you teach that to your children?
Oh, you can try and explain it to them. Maybe make a flow chart to help them see how integrity works or how it can better their lives. But you can’t just simply teach this.
You, the parent, must live it out in front of them every single day.
You cannot teach your children integrity, but you can show it to them.
I have seen too many parents to count shocked at the behavior of their students, when in reality they are embarrassed that their children are just mimicking behavior seen throughout the years. And I have seen parents that just throw it all out the window because of some idealized notion that their own happiness should come before everything, including the well-being of their children.
Watching my children play provides a moment of peace for me. In a world that pushes them to grow much too fast, just seeing the innocence of kids running without a care in the world brought me back to that place. I love watching my daughter’s hair fly as she raced her friends back and forth. The sound of my son’s laughter watching his “sissy” causes my heart to beat a little faster.
I cherish it because I knew that in that moment all was right. Decisions that others have made wouldn’t affect them just yet.
I am sick and tired of adults that say one thing and live another. Practice what you preach comes to mind. So how do we parents, in a postmodern culture, live out integrity so that our children can grow into honest adults? Here are just a few tips that I’ve seen lived out in other parents.
Do as I say and as I do
The phrase “Do as I say, not as I do” is the height of hypocrisy. To think that a child will only hear the words we speak and ignore the behavior is asinine. It is ridiculous to believe that this is any way to teach a child honesty. We must teach our children right from wrong and then live it out in front of them.
You wouldn’t tell your children about the dangers of smoking while blowing cigarette smoke in their faces. So why do we think it’s OK to do this with other behaviors? It’s not. Kids will see right through it and determine that our behavior far outweights our words.
Sounds easy, but stop and think about it. We tell our children not to lie, but then when the phone rings and little Johnny answers it we might say, "Oh tell them I’m not here." Maybe that’s a harmless example, but instead of taking the call, we had our child lie for us.
Showing our kids real honesty takes time and courage. There are instances where being dishonest will be the easiest and sometimes nicer choice. But if we want our children to see that honesty is important in our lives, we have to be willing to live it out.
And if you tell your children something, then it is imperative that you do that . Whether it’s a promise to help with homework, to play together, or a trip, it must be done. Your word is your bond, and if they see it can’t be trusted, then nothing you say will make any difference in their lives.
I have dealt with my share of parents that treat their children unfairly. I can tell you from experience that unfair rules or expectations lead to nowhere but heartache for the entire family.
If your children have broken a rule, then there should be punishment. But the discipline should fit the infraction. Don’t punish them to the point of trying to break them just because you’re angry. That will accomplish nothing.
Give them the ability to earn your trust back and communicate what that clearly.
Don’t treat one sibling better than the other. Notice I didn’t say differently. Of course you’re going to treat each child differently. Each child is different. To treat them all the exact same would be unfair. But to treat one child better than the others will cause division and can create lifelong pain that could keep families apart.
Your integrity is vital
Don’t ever believe that your character isn’t important to your children. Your integrity is far more important to your child’s sense of self than theirs is. If they live in a home where character is a priority, then they will grow up with a strong belief system and understand what it takes to live that way.
But if character and virtue are nonexistent in the home a child will find value in whatever will give it to them.
You are a daily lesson on living a life of integrity. You are not only that lesson to your own kids but also to the children of those around you. Never forget that your decisions, good and bad, have ripple effects that you may never see. Something you do or don’t do may stick with a young person for the length of their lives.
As I look back on childhood and the many memories that came from it, I am forever grateful to my parents. They weren’t perfect, but they lived these principles out in front of us kids. We knew that we were loved and safe. We never worried about our parents because we didn’t have to.
And now that I’m a dad it is my calling to pass that to my children. It is my responsibility to show them what I was taught years ago. It is my privilege to live out these ideals so that one day my children will begin to make a difference by the way that they live.
You want to know how to help your child navigate through the gray? There it is. Integrity.