We recently celebrated father's day here where I live, and I feel like this year it happened to coincide well with some of my personal development.
Like many parents do, I told myself that I was going to give my child a better life than I had when I was growing up. I think a lot of people immediately go to the money portion of that statement, which is totally fair. Being able to provide for your child monetarily is certainly something to strive for, and there is no question that being in a position to do that can improve your child's life. Providing a better life for your child financially is only one part though, what about life skills and emotional support?
Looking back at what started me on this journey a few months ago, one thing that I kept asking myself was “what am I showing my child?”. Am I “walking-the-walk”? Am I clearly demonstrating to my child all of these things I am always preaching? Discipline? Responsibility? Love?
There is a phrase that has stuck with me that I reference a lot which is: “love is a verb”. Love is not just hugs and kisses, there is more to it than that. Love is demonstrating a healthy (mental and physical health) lifestyle so that your child can see firsthand what it takes, but also so that they can learn the skills needed so that they can grow up healthy as well. Love is holding your loved ones accountable because you want them to be the best they can be. You want them to be what you know they can be. Love is sacrificing yourself for the good of those around you.
I did not grow up with parents who were able to help me with this, so I am learning these things as I go. My father was absent physically most of my childhood, and for those few years when he was physically present, he wasn't present mentally. He was a weak man who preferred drinking and drugs over his family. The final few years he was around (he died when his liver finally gave up), he spent most of his time on the couch wasted. He couldn't be bothered to play with his young child, or to teach life lessons. Even when he knew that his time was fading, his first thought was of himself and what he wanted. The exact opposite of what love is. My mother wasn't an alcoholic or junkie, but the results were nearly the same. Many times a new “love” interest was prioritized over her child. The few activities we did were organized around her interests (or the newest companion's interests). I still remember her telling me when I was older that the main reason she worked extra hours was to “get time away from you” where “you” in this statement was me, her only child. Selfishness.
It wasn't until recently that I realized just how much being exposed to behavior like that has impacted me. Sure, I learned a lot of life skills around taking care of myself, but that is the thing, everything I learned was for me. I didn't learn about giving yourself to others. I didn't learn about showing love with actions. I didn't learn about “love is a verb”. This is something that has taken me a long time to identify, and now that I have, I am in a constant state of re-learning. I am to the point where on a daily basis I am having to analyze and evaluate my decisions, because most of my life I was doing it wrong. That doesn't mean I've been a bad person most of my life. I think that in the grand scheme of things, I have been ok (hopefully others agree), but I can be better. Just as love is holding others accountable because you want them to be the best person they can be, love starts with holding yourself accountable.
It all starts with you.
Am I going to pout and get depressed when something doesn't go my way, or am I going to recognize that it isn't always about me and that I am being presented with a learning opportunity?
Am I going to do that unhealthy action that keeps me overweight, or am I going to make a conscious decision to NOT do it so that my child can learn-by-example?
Am I going to get worked up over dirty dishes sitting on the counter and pout about “I'm the only one that puts my dishes away, blah blah blah”, or am I going to take it in stride and clean those dishes without a single complaint as an act of selflessness?
These are all simple things to physically do, I mean it takes less than five minutes to clean some plates, but for me the difficulty comes from the mental aspect. Re-training my mind to not go negative right off the bat. Taking the time to pause and reflect on the situation so that I can really understand what my brain is doing.
None of my examples involved my child directly, but they don't need to. How I carry myself and the actions I take on a daily basis are things my child is going to see. They will see how I react to situations. They will see what I do and what I don't do.
This is currently something that I struggle with every.single.day. It isn't something you can just change overnight. Just like diet and exercise, it requires commitment and dedication. A day hasn't gone by since I started this process that I haven't though to myself “wow, you handled that situation horribly and in exactly the opposite way you should have”, but I am taking notes and learning each time. There is a lot of work ahead of me, but it is work that I am ready for. The changes are to me, but I am making those changes for the people around me, for my loved ones, but most importantly, for my child.
“Love is a verb”