Like many parents, Beth and I sometimes worry that influences from outside our home will infect our kids. A friend of ours, whom we both respect as one of the holiest people we know, recently assured us that her kids have picked up on her values - even those she hasn't explicitly taught them. This had the ring of something true and got me to thinking.
If kids will pick up on who we are, is there any sense in talking about how to parent well independent of talking about how to live well? Isn't the best advice to parents to get their own lives in order? to rid themselves of unhealthy behaviors and thinking? to be holy?
And then I came across a similar idea in a Barbara Kingsolver short-story, called Quality Time. Miriam, a single mother, is reflecting on a conversation she had with her sister-in-law Janice back when she was pregnant.
According to Janice, parenting was three percent conscious effort and ninety-seven percent automatic pilot. "It doesn't matter what you think you're going to tell them. What matters is they're right there watching you every minute, while you let the lady with just two items go ahead of you in line, or when you lay on your horn and swear at the guy that cuts you off in traffic. There's no sense kidding yourself. What you see is what you get."
Miriam had argued that people could consciously change themselves if they tried, though in truth she'd been thinking more of (her ex-husband) then herself. She remembers saying a great many things about choices and value systems and so forth, a lot of first pregnancy high-mindedness it seems to her now. Now she understands. Parenting is something that happens mostly while you're thinking of something else.
And here's a picture of my boys picking up on their mother's delight in creation, and my girl watching her mother mother.