I remember when I was a little child, hearing the popular phrase “Don’t do what I do, do what I say.” The parents thought that their instruction of their children would be more powerful than their own actions. However, one need only to examine their lives and just how much they replicate their own parents’ behaviors to realize just how powerful their example is.

How did you teach Ella to walk?

While talking to my son-in-law, Russell, I asked him what program he used to teach Ella (my granddaughter) how to walk. With an expected “Dad, are you nuts?” look on his face, he asked what I meant. I asked him how he generated the desire for Ella to walk so that she would try to stand up and eventually walk? After several other questions that only added to the confusion, Russell finally understood the point.

Ella desired to, and eventually learned, how to walk because she witnessed her parents doing it. She saw them walk over to her every time she cried. She witnessed how fast they could go on those two things she later learned were called legs. Once she desired to stand, her parents could help her to do so and eventually walk.

The same is true with the rest of the ways we live our lives. Our children watch what we do in life and learn from it. They navigate life issues by watching how their parents did it, and simply do what they saw to be effective. Parents can say that something is important or right or wrong, but the truth is that children will quickly see past the words and look at what parents DEPEND on to manage problems.

This reality was immortalized in the Harry Chapin song “Cat’s in the Cradle”.  We see in the end of the song he concludes:

He’d grown up just like me

My boy was just like me

The Power to Heal or Destroy

When parents take an honest look at themselves and the way they have chosen to live their lives, they soberingly realize that their children have grown up just like them. This can bring about wonderfully good benefits or horrifically bad consequences depending on the behaviors they have modeled.

When we talk about passing faith in God on to our children, the Church clearly declares that parents are the primary teachers of their children, not Catholic schools or religious education programs. For example, a father can say that God is first, but only give God the token hour a week and make work and attaining money their main goal in life. The child will soon see the real truth that God is to be tolerated, and money is the real goal for attaining happiness.

Below are just a few questions to ponder about what your children have grown up witnessing of your life:

  • How do you express love?
  • How do you express forgiveness?
  • How do you deal with conflict?
  • What would your children/spouse/closest friend say you are most passionate about?
  • You get most excited and animated when you talk about?
  • Does your life reflect what you say is most important?

By the way they live their lives, parents will either set their children up for a healthy faith-filled life with God, or will train their children to cope through pain by living life based on lies and avoidance. For those who have raised their kids and see the truth of their actions, know that you are not done yet. You still have more modeling to do and God is counting on that.