If there’s one thing I’ve learned from more than a decade of being a father, it’s this—I’m being watched every single day. Not only am I being watched, but my children are also listening to the words I say. They are studying me for cues. Every decision I make, every word I speak, every action step I take, is under observation. My children are learning life-cues from me. That’s a huge responsibility.
Several weeks ago I was reminded of this. We were staying at a vacation house in Florida and it was late in the evening. My wife and I were sitting in one of the bedrooms, where one of our children lay sound asleep (or so we thought). As we vented about a frustration we were having with one of our other children we suddenly heard a still small voice repeat one of the comments I made. It sounded eerily convicting when spoken by a six-year old.
My children are studying me. It’s just a fact. And they will copy my behavior, whether it’s positive or negative, filled with integrity, or marked by sketchy character.
Here are 7 behaviors your children, and mine, will learn from us.
1. How you treat their mother.
If you are kind, sharing, giving, supportive, caring, and treat your wife with respect and dignity, your children will treat your wife with respect and dignity. But if you’re degrading, belligerent, frustrated, or rude to her, you can bet your children will treat her the same way.
2. How you manage your money.
If you are in debt up to your ears, or spend money frivolously, your children will spend money frivolously, and they will carry that trait into their adult years. They will copy the same lack of responsibility they saw in you. They too will live in debt. But if you exercise wisdom, stick to a budget, save and plan, they will do the same.
3. How you treat other people.
If you are always using people for your own gains, or constantly belittling or mistreating people you come into contact with, so will your children. If you treat the waitress or the bank teller like dirt, they will devalue people the same way. But if your approach to other people, especially those who are performing a service like waitressing, is kind and respectful, your children will follow suit.
4. The amount of respect you give to authority.
If you are rude to a police officer who pulls you over, or always rant and rave about how awful your boss is, your children will grow up with a lack of respect for the authority figures in their life. That includes you! But to hear you talking about your boss with kindness and respect, even when they might not deserve it, shapes their tiny view of authority in a very positive way.
5. The depth of character and integrity you display.
They know if you cheat. They know if you say one thing and then do another. They are listening to the way you talk about people you encounter in public, or the frustrating neighbor who gets under your skin. When you face a crisis or unfair accusations they are taking note of how you respond. The level of character or integrity you choose to live by, or not live by, goes a long way in determining how your children will choose to live.
6. The measure of discipline you live your life by.
If you overeat, overspend, sleep too much, get behind on your bills, drink too much, let the house go, always take short-cuts, or make excuses for poor choices, guess what? So will your children! However, if you choose to live a disciplined life, your children will make better (and healthier) choices with their lives!
7. How generous you are.
If tithing to your church, giving to a charity, or supporting a cause isn’t high on your list, it won’t be on your children’s either. If you choose not to serve, your children will too. If you sign up for a good cause and then slack off when you’re participating and choose not to give a strong effort, they will see that, and do the same. But if they witness a person who lives with a giving spirit, always reaches out to those with the least, and gives from a full heart, they will emulate that behavior and become people who give, love, and serve with full hearts!
This is a convicting list to write. If you’re cringing at some of these, you’re not alone. I’m cringing at a few as well. It’s time to get to work. My heart’s desire is to raise children who become healthy, productive, people of strong character and integrity. I will not end up at that result by happenstance. I have to be proactive and move that direction with my own behavior, as an adult, before I can expect my children to move in that direction with theirs. How about you?