I’ve got to get something off my chest.
For as long as there have been parents, we’ve been told that the best way to teach our children is to set a good example. I’m here to say — without fear of contradiction — that “teaching by example” is B. S., plain and simple. I speak, of course, only from my own experience. Perhaps yours is different. I pray it is.
You could not find a sharper contrast between parent and child than we have here in our own home. As one instance: my wife, Evelyn, and I make our bed every morning. Our daughter hasn’t made her bed in, literally, years. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that we launder her linens when it dawns on us how long it’s been, they would never be freshened. (For the record, Wednesday is when Evelyn and I regularly launder our linens and towels.)
After laundering our clothing, Evelyn folds them and we each put them in our bureaus or in the sacks for ironing. Our daughter, on the other hand (when she deems it necessary to launder her clothes at all) will stuff the washer with as many diverse clothes as happen to come out of the hamper, toss a “color catcher” in, and walk away, satisfied that she is washing as many clothes at once as possible so she has to do only one load. After the clothes are dried, and after we politely ask her to remove them from the dryer (it might be two or three days from the time she put the clothes in the dryer), she will take the entire load and leave them either in a laundry basket — or on a chair — in her bedroom where they will eventually end up on the floor. How she can tell what’s clean and what’s dirty continues to escape Evelyn and me. Just seeing all those clothes that had been so carefully selected and paid for piled on the floor where daughter and her friends step on them breaks our hearts.
Another instance: we as parents have tried to set the example of punctuality. Nothing could be further from our daughter’s concern. Before she got her car and, simultaneously, the responsibility of getting herself to school, I would prod her, often to her frustration, to get moving so we could leave by 7:00 and get her to school by the starting time of 7:30. It’s Tuesday morning as I write. The time is 8:00. She’s still in bed. To her, being “on time” is “whenever I show up.” She may well still be there until after 9:00, which she has done before. She’s got it all figured out: she knows that, as long as she’s in school for four hours, it doesn’t count as an absence. Since school lets out at 2:30, she’s calculated that she doesn’t have to be there until 10:30. Classes? Meh.
It drives Evelyn up the wall, and her frustration sometimes comes to the surface. Thank the good Lord I’ve been able to relegate all of this to the fact that our daughter is now 18, legal age, and an adult woman who is now responsible for her own choices. Her choices happen to make my stomach churn, but if I remember that those choices are no longer anything I have to answer for, then I can move on with my own life.
One of two things will happen: either 1) she will be fine; people will fall in line to make things work out for her and she can blithely move on with her life, or 2) the consequences will catch up with her and she’ll finally wake up to the fact that the examples her parents were trying to set had some merit.
Examples of the failures of the “teaching by example” approach continue, but I think you get the idea. If anything, the examples that we as parents have tried to set over the years have done nothing more than become clear targets for her to rebel against. We can only pray that she’ll remember what we tried to do and perhaps eventually find some value in them.
If not, then — oh, well.