“Do as I Say, Not as I Do”
Abigail Steinhart, Director of Development
‘Do as I say, not as I do!’ The classic retort of a parent to a child when found wanting. There is surely no parent who doesn’t take advantage of this to some degree, even if it’s only eating emergency chocolate before dinner when their child is not looking.
Parents as Role Models
So how do we square this with the important task of being a role model to our children? What does it even mean to be a role model? And what about when we mess up, right in front of our children?
Nowadays, it seems harder than ever to find good role models. Sporting heroes and celebrities are caught up in lurid scandals, revered teachers turn out to be leading morally indefensible double lives, and even running for the Presidency of the United States doesn’t require having so much as a passably clean image any more.
Yet role models are just as important as they ever were. Children look at the people around them, and if the values they espouse are not holding up, they will eventually reject everything that those people represent. When talking to people who give up on religious observance, time and time again they say the same thing. “My rabbi did this, my ‘religious’ friend did that, and suddenly, I didn’t want to stay part of that community any more”. Or conversely, those who find themselves drawn to Judaism, in so many cases, attribute their attraction to an individual who inspired them.
In the face of the many negative influences, all that parents can do is try to live their lives modeling the positive values they want their children to emulate and to be honest with them when they fail. Everyone has flaws to overcome and stresses to process, and working on these challenges is itself something to model to impressionable young people.
Imprinting our values on our children
Being a role model is not about being perfect. There is still room for the emergency chocolate. But when the child grows up, they must be able to say, “my parent believes in these things so much that this is the way they live their life, and it’s a life to be proud of.” The child may go on to forge their own very different path nonetheless, but regardless of which direction they choose, those values will be imprinted on them forever. It’s a great responsibility, but it’s also perhaps the greatest opportunity a parent will ever have.