I have a minor skin irritation on my back and need to apply cream to it nightly. It’s a tricky spot to reach, so I ask one of my kids to help me. The teen rolls her eyes – but that’s par for the course. It’s the 7 year old’s reaction that triggered this post.
“Sure dad,” says my son when I ask him to put the cream on my back. “I’ll be Dr. Palter,” he says proudly.
Most of us want our kids to grow up to be caring and compassionate people, to be able to sympathize and empathize, to think of others’ well-being and not just their own.
This is easier said than done. Literally.
As a primary parenting dad, I try my best to model caring and compassion for my kids. Most of what I learned about parenting came from my mother. Not that my father wasn’t a positive influence, but during my early years he was usually away working as was the norm for fathers back then.
So, how do I teach my kids what my mother taught me? As I said, this can be hard to do if you are a man. You see, as men we can often develop coping skills that are informed by precisely the opposite approach. We learn to protect ourselves by not showing our true emotions. We can feel vulnerable, but try not to let anyone know about it. If we are struggling, we don’t break down and cry – we get angry. And we don’t easily ask for help – whether its for driving directions or cleaning the house.
Here’s my point. If you want your kids to grow up to be caring people, don’t tell them – show them how to care. Just be human. Try to share your emotions and show vulnerability. Try not to hide when you are having trouble coping – and do your best to avoid showing it with short-fuse anger. And, perhaps most importantly, ask for help.
When your children are little, they need you to be a reliable, consistent caregiver. But as they grow up, you need to show them that you are a person – a person who also happens to be their parent.
For instance, if I am sick or feeling under the weather, I don’t hide it. I ask the kids for their help with some of the tasks I usually do for them. As I said at the top of the post, I asked one of my kids to help me with medication. They relish the opportunity to be helpful. They feel rewarded by helping me feel better. They feel useful and engaged in the life of those around them. And they begin to see me as a human being.
Kids learn from what you do – not what you say. If you want to raise caring kids, then let them take care of you sometimes. And show them that you need it.