The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Modeling Behavior

Is it easier to see your bad qualities in your children or your good?

Does your answer to that question say something about your personality?

Does seeing your bad qualities in them make you a better person?

If it makes you a better person, is it worth it?

These are some of the questions I’ve been pondering lately.  And for the record, as I’m sure you’ll see in this post, my answer to the first is that it’s easier for me to see my bad qualities in them than my good.  The stuff I admire in them almost always reminds me of their dad.  And, yes, I think that says a lot about my personality.  I’m without a doubt my harshest critic.  So keep that in mind as I talk about all the bad stuff here.

Anyway… onto my observations… My family is kind of explosive and quick to react.  The kids immediately assume when something bad happens that someone did it to them on purpose.  They yell.  And when they disagree with each other, it ratchets up at an alarmingly rapid pace, with each getting more indignant.  The are hard on each other when one makes a mistake or is slow to figure something out or says something stupid.  They have no patience with each other.  They hold grudges.  They over-analyze each other.

It’s exhausting.

It’s me.

I’ve become increasingly tired of all the negative energy.  Especially as I’ve watched it blossom in the youngest.  I’ve been asking myself: Why are they like this?  Where did they learn it?  Is it me?  Am I a terrible mother?  Have we failed them?

Children model what they see.  So while I’m willing to accept that I am not actually a terrible mother, I do know where they learned it.  Yes, they learned it from their parents.  From us.  They’ve learned plenty of good things from us too, but it’s the bad traits that I’m talking about today.

I’ve been watching them.  I’ve been saddened by them.  I’ve been learning from them.

I’m reading a book called The Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter L. Scazzero.  In one chapter, he talks about the importance of understanding how our family background impacts who we are now and how we interact with others.  He encourages his readers to constantly look back at their childhood and family to see what positive and negative reactions they have that are automatic because of their upbringing.  He believes this will help inform you about the hidden motivations behind your decisions and thus allow you to make changes.

I’m applying something similar as I watch my kids.  When I see them react, I look at how I might have modeled that behavior for them.  I think about times I’ve behaved the same way toward them.  I face the fact that they can only repeat what they know.  I try to find compassion for the poor children who don’t even understand why they are acting the way they are.  But I know.  It’s how I’ve shown them to act.

I think I’ve passed through the grief stage of this analysis.  I’ve tried to deny it.  I’ve gone through despair.  I’m moving through acceptance and into a place where I can attempt to model different behavior.

And this.  This decision to behave differently for the sake of my children.  This decision is the silver lining on this dark cloud.  It’s the bright spot in my disappointment in self.  I’m slowly becoming a better person – a better wife – a better mother.  I’m doing it for my children.  I don’t want them to be 40 with impatient, volatile children, slowly figuring out what they are doing wrong.  Or, worse, not figuring it out.  I want to get it right.  And I want it to rub off on them.  So when they are 40, they can work on the problems on the next tier down.

I hope I’m not too late.  But then that gets me to that last question.  Even if it’s too late to modify them, if it makes me a better person to have seen it in them, was it worth it?  If I’m better than I was and they are no worse than I was… did the world still get better?

I don’t know the answer.  All I do know is that I am doing the best I can.  And that best is getting just a little bit better every day.  And if I’ve modeled a boatload of bad behavior over the years, at least they are seeing me model the ability to change.  Or, at least, I hope they are seeing it – because it’s certainly there.

5 thoughts on “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Modeling Behavior

  1. It’s definitely an interesting topic. Funny but when I see bad habits in my children, I immediately think it’s my husbands side…ha! That being said, I do look at my behavior and see how it impacts them and try to change. Another interesting point, I’ve seen a lot of children who seem to have great mothers and families but just act like total brats!

    • Very, very true! And I don’t think my kids are brats. They really are good kids. It’s just the interpersonal relationships among us that seem too quick to devolve.

      I also see bad habits that I attribute to my husband. And I think many of the things like impatience actually come from both of us. But I can’t change him so there’s not much value in me focusing on those.

  2. It’s not too late for you and your family. I was a very stressed out mom when my kids were little. I was divorced, working at a job that I didn’t love and doing everything on my own with no family nearby– and the family that I had left rather dysfunctional. (my mother passed away when I was 20) I also grew up in a household with lots of bickering, fighting, and an abusive father.
    I knew better than to go down the abuse route, but I did find myself irritable most of the time and I know the pressure that I placed on my kids to be “perfect” was stressing them out, too.
    I made a conscious effort to be more relaxed and to enjoy my children, and their only childhood. As a result, everyone was happier. I eventually remarried. My husband and I get along extremely well and never bicker or fight. My daughters are grown and have ended up with men similar to their step-father’s temperament and have peaceful relationships.
    It was really hard to change, but it made such a difference. I tend to see the good in my kids more than the parts of them that I wanted to be perfect. My own parents were perfectionistic and I know, from experience, that the only thing being raised that way does is make you feel like you never measure up. It’s sounds like the book you’re reading has some excellent advice. 🙂

    • I thought I might hear from you on this one. You are always good at providing an encouraging word – I really appreciate that! 🙂

      My kids certainly have a more stable situation than what you are describing so if you could pull everyone through, I have solid hopes that I can too!

      It’s interesting that you mentioned perfectionism. I didn’t say anything about it directly in my post but I think it is one of the strongest roots in our problems. If I can let go of that, I suspect an awful lot of the rest of it will simply fall into place.

      • Perfectionism haunted me for many years. It was a trait noticed by a professor of mine in a grad school class.. He told me that it was best to strive for excellence (in terms of doing your best), but to throw perfectionism out the window because no one ever measures up to the ideal performance that they have in their head. Just the fact that he recognized where I was coming from helped me to relax for some reason–which made the whole course seem easier.
        My parents expected perfection from my brother and I, because we were a direct reflection of them. If we were the perfect children, the perfect students, and the perfect citizens, then they felt like they would be perceived as doing everything right.
        Childhood is a learning process and it’s a stressful task to be expected to do everything right the first time.
        Thank you for your kind words. My kids and I did pull through and they’re very happy, kind-hearted, productive adults. Your children have been given an excellent foundation. One thing I learned as my children get older is that I grew in knowledge with them and always found a way to handle each new stage or situation as it arose–you will too! 🙂

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