As parents, whether we like it or not we are role models for our children. They mimic what we say. Their values and beliefs are informed by ours. They take in everything we do and learn from the examples we set, both good and bad.
I’m a good role model for my kids in some ways. In others, not so much.
Sometimes being a bad role model is about what the kids see. When I’m stressed or tired – with three kids, that’s pretty much all the time – I get angry too quickly. I flop down on the sofa and fall asleep in front of the TV too often. The list goes on and on.
Sometimes it’s about what they don’t see. We are all keen readers – although I’ve lapsed badly in recent years – but reading is mostly something Heather and I do after the kids have gone to bed, so they don’t see us doing it. What they do see is me staring at my phone a lot; they don’t see me reading books.
One of my goals for 2019 is to set a better example for our kids. So one of the things we want to do is have a ‘reading hour’, when we all sit and read. It’s the sort of thing that would be lovely to do on a cold, wintry afternoon. You know, with steaming mugs of hot chocolate and some twee music lilting in the background. Probably Coldplay. It’s always Coldplay when you see this kind of saccharine stuff on TV, isn’t it?
I’m trying to make exercise, health and fitness a more visible thing too. The kids have already seen the visible results of my switch to a low-carb diet. I’ve lost a load of weight and developed better eating habits. They know I like to walk already but now they’re also seeing me heading out for runs. (Well, I say ‘run’. Actually it’s ‘shuffling marginally more quickly than I walk’.)
This led to a lovely moment last week when Isaac – who isn’t fat but equally isn’t the fittest or sportiest kid in the world either – said to me that he wanted to be a bit fitter too and could he join me on one of my runs?
I can’t begin to express how much this delighted me. Without having pushed him, he had taken note of what I was doing and decided to follow my new example.
And so that’s exactly what we did. I came home from work on Thursday evening. Isaac had already played basketball twice and done PE at school, so he could have been forgiven for crying off tired. But no. He put down his Xbox controller and together we went out for one of my Couch to 5K sessions.
I learned two important lessons. Firstly, going out for a run with Isaac gave us some valuable one-on-one time to catch up and chat. And secondly, it’s embarrassing to run with even a relatively non-sporty 11-year-old who is doing his fourth lot of exercise for the day. Every time I started running, he would be 20 metres down the road before I had even cranked myself up to running speed. He would lope on ahead – I don’t lope, I shuffle like a beginner on an ice rink – and then double back so I could catch up. In essence, he ran rings round me – quite literally on one or two occasions.
I was mortified. But I loved it anyway. If I can set a good example by running like an arthritic elephant, I can also be a positive role model for my kids in other ways. Hopefully less humiliating ones.
Time to put my thinking cap on. Which, let’s face it, is less embarrassing and results in fewer aches and pains than putting my running shoes on …