As we raise our children, there are many things to do and to consider as we walk out our busy days. We have to feed them, clothe them, keep them safe, and provide recreation and education for them; how and when do we instill character? What is character, and how do we get it? Is character taught or caught?
Character could be defined as what we do or who we are when we think that no one is watching! Are we the same then as when we have an audience? Why, or why not?
I read recently this frightening statement, “It doesn’t matter what you tell your kids, they’ll turn out just like you.” I know that there are exceptions, but as a general rule, children really do what we do, rather than what we say. We all want to be better than we are, especially in the eyes of our children! Children have the ability to see through to the truth of who we are, especially when it comes to our values and priorities. I have had the great joy recently of visiting through Face book with the grown-up children of our former neighbor, Rita Marks. Rita and I had the joy of watching our children (6 in all) play so happily together for several years. Rita was one of the kindest and most sympathetic people I’ve ever known, and I can see this beautiful quality in her children, even across the miles.
When I was a child, my mother and older sister were avid readers, and one of her greatest desires for me was that I would love books. As a child, I loved the creek, playing with anyone outside, riding my bike, watching the grown-ups from underneath the counters at Mr. Bick’s grocery store two doors down, exploring the hens’ nests, playing with my cat, ANYTHING better than books. I’m afraid a bit of rebellion on my part was mixed in because I never read a book that was not required until I finished college! But you guessed it, books and reading and learning through reading are now right at the top of my “favorite things to do” list, not because my mother told me to read but because she read! I also share many of the values and principles that my parents lived before me.
I think it is Max Lucado who lists the following as the 6 most common defects of character: 1) Pride 2) Insecurity 3) Moodiness 4) Perfectionism 5) Over-sensitivity and 6) Negativity. My goodness, I thought some of those were personality traits! When we identify them as character defects, we bear more responsibility for them. The Bible has a hard thing to say about pride. In Philippians, these words appear “With humility…regard one another as more important than yourselves.” OUCH! We seem to come into the world fighting for our rights. Giving unchecked pride to our children will lead them down unhappy paths.
When we face insecurity in our lives, we realize that insecurity keeps us from taking risks and brings a lot of pain to us and to those around us. Children need to know that they are unique and need to see us secure in who we are.
Moody people can’t be depended upon; you, actually, don’t know which mood will be walking through the door. Moodiness and self-absorption go hand-in-hand. If we give into our “moods” while raising children, we are certainly doing them no favor.
Probably the most distasteful flaw listed is perfectionism. “Perfectionism is the obsessive need to perform flawlessly. It stifles your creativity, and turns others off. Perfectionists can’t affirm themselves, therefore it’s difficult for them to affirm anybody else.” (The Word for you Today, Bethel Assembly, Cape Girardeau, MO) Think about it for a minute; if we are living in a perfectionist way before our children, we are stifling their creativity and not giving them the encouragement and praise that they need from us. There is probably a fine line between doing things well and being a perfectionist.
Over-sensitivity causes us to look inward too much and therefore not to be very aware of the needs of others; this brings loneliness. Feeling sorry for ourselves is not a very attractive trait to give to the children. We need to work at letting some things roll off our backs and work at not taking everything personally.
The most contagious of these defects of character probably is the last, negativity. Negative people are shunned, usually, for no one likes to be around the rain cloud of negativism. It can affect a whole group of people in a very short while. We can learn to think more positively, but it takes effort and sacrifice at times. The Good Book has much to say about being thankful.
It was usually during summer vacation trips that we assessed how we were doing as a family group; when we were all in the same car or same motel room, disobedience, disrespect, selfishness, self absorption, and unkindness showed up, as though as under a spotlight, in adult and child. We adults need to think about these things, realizing that our attitudes, values and character are being observed and emulated.
The old saying, “Do what I say, not what I do” doesn’t work, unfortunately. (You can reach Pat Bryson at firstname.lastname@example.org)