Friday, June 15, 2012

Choosing What We Pass On to Our Children

There are some things we parents have no control over whether or not we pass on to our children. 

Given the choice, I wouldn't have passed on my health problems to my oldest son. I wouldn't have chosen to give my youngest son those genes that make weight a lifelong struggle. I wouldn't have passed on my natural shyness to any of them.

But while I don't have a choice in any of this, there is still a huge legacy I'm daily passing on to the next generation. 

At times, it's overwhelming, knowing that everything I say and do leaves an impact on their hearts and minds, affects their attitudes about everything from food to the state of the world, and determines how they relate with others.

Things I said and did before, I now must watch carefully.

As someone with a more-often-than-not unhealthy body image, I must try valiantly to teach my daughter otherwise.  The words "diet" and "fat" are no longer in my vocabulary.  There is no losing weight, only making "healthy" and "unhealthy" choices to help us grow strong and give us "long" instead of "short energy," of daily exercise as a way to stay healthy.

While I still hate plenty about my post-twin body, I make it a point to never say "I look fat in this dress" or anything else negative about my appearance.  She'll all too soon get enough of that from the world. I want her to believe she is beautiful as God made her.

Then comes the natural shyness both husband and I suffer from.  Whereas I would be comfortable sitting quietly alone, I now must go out of my way to be more social than ever before, solely to show through action rather than mere words how to interact with others.

Finally, there are the deep-seated fears husband and I both have, those that must be tempered so as not to be all-consuming, incapacitating rather than those that are healthy, a respect for what should be feared--poisonous snakes, ill-meaning strangers, and God. 

The children see this mommy scream over a mouse and a hornet's nest.  But they also see her kill them both.

The children hear this mommy's voice rise in panic to "stay away" from the unknown snake they've just found.  But they also hear her calm voice telling them to leave it alone because it's a good snake that will kill mice.

This summer, I'm working daily to stop one fear in particular from becoming their fear.

A few weeks ago, we installed an above-ground pool in the backyard, our "vacation."  I am frightened when in water where my toes can't touch the bottom, a fear I inherited from my mother's fear.

While she encouraged my brother and me to swim, her tense fear was palpable each of the few times she entered our pool, and I learned it well.  At a teenage summer camp, I never went past the shallow end line dividing the pool in half.  Later, when husband and I snorkeled over a coral reef at Hawaii's Hanauma Bay, I was scared but doing ok until I reached the reef's edge and saw the drop off into blackness.  I remember suddenly flailing about like one who couldn't swim, literally choking and gasping for breath as a cold panic consumed me. 

I don't want this for my children.

And so I schedule daily, timed swimming practice.  I glibly say "sure" when Wyatt wants to try again swimming without floaties.  I act nonchalant each time he ducks his head under water and comes up gasping for breath or when he leaves his mouth open and makes that gagging sound. I push down the panic when all three cling to me, their weight threatening to drag me under.
After a few days, I force them to take off their rings that lift them high out of the water and swim, chin up, with just their floaties.  I encourage them to do cannonballs with their daddy, to become comfortable putting their head underwater without a mask.  I splash them, and they splash me. I force myself to give tough love, refusing to listen to any whining.

In one week, all three of my darlings will take swimming lessons.

Honestly? I'm scared to death.  But knowing how to swim is for their own safety, and so I embark upon this path to overcome my own fear so that they won't inherit it.

It's simple.

If I say not to fear but show fear, they will fear.

If I say family is important but spend all my time on the computer or in front of the TV, they will learn family is not worth their attention.

If I say God is my life's devotion but show no regard for Him in my daily living, they will learn apathy and hollow verbal devotion is acceptable.

If I say to love others but growl at the cashier for her mistake, they will learn intolerance.

Six little eyes watch each move I make more than six little ears listen to each word I say.
Each day, I must ask, "What do I choose to pass on today?"

1 comment:

  1. Hello Jennifer, I'm back...

    The children have grown, and it feels good to have a little idea of how you have been.

    Catching up on my blog neighbors...