Worthy of Imitation

"It was not my finest parenting moment…" 

I hear this a lot. I say this a lot. An admission of guilt for not having handled a situation as we might have wanted to, for not having reacted with the grace and wisdom that we are trying to impart to our children. In the Waldorf world, there is a lot of talk about "being worthy of imitation." Given that children are great imitators, we should strive to model the behavior we want to see in our children. I interpret this to include everything from basic table manners to values such as tolerance and kindness. It is a huge responsibility, being worthy of imitation, and it is challenging. I don't have trouble chewing with my mouth closed or modeling respect for others, but I do struggle to maintain a calm, collected demeanor throughout the day while taking care of three small children. I admire Katherine and Clara's teachers who achieve this grace with such ease, but I question the feasibility and desirability of parents modeling ideal behavior all of the time. 

In an ideal world, no one yells in anger, or uses exaggerated sarcasm to display irritation, or stomps about to express dissatisfaction. In an ideal world, impatience would be suppressed when a child dawdles while getting ready for school. But in my reality, after telling my kids to help me clean up the playroom for the third time, I sometimes snap at them in a tone filled with irritation. When my six-year-old interrupts me repeatedly to ask me to help her with something right now, even though I am in the middle of doing something else and have asked her kindly to wait, I might burst out, full of exasperation, "Katherine, stop! I said I will help you when I am done." When I can't take one more squabble over something as inconsequential as who gets to wear the pink slippers, I threaten to take the slippers away and never ever give them back. Not my finest parenting moments. I certainly don't want to hear my kids use that exasperated, irritated tone with me or with each other, or with anyone else for that matter. But to be fair, their behavior can be really annoying, and in life, really annoying behavior has social consequences.

Functioning in society requires gauging others' communicative cues, such as tone used to express irritation and exasperation, and then perhaps adjusting one's behavior accordingly. Part of raising children means preparing them to function in society. Therefore, it would be unnatural for a parent to strive to hide or suppress a natural reaction to annoying behavior.

I do not mean to simply excuse or justify less than ideal behavior. Nor am I proposing that because my children will encounter poor behavior in the world, I'd better prepare them for it my behaving poorly myself from time to time. I firmly believe it is important to treat children with kindness, warmth, and dignity, and I believe parents are role models for children and that responsibility should be taken very seriously. But holding ourselves to the standard of always being worthy of imitation is not realistic, and unwavering calm and control - to the point of masking natural human emotions - may not serve our children well. And therein lies the balance between striving to be worthy of imitation and allowing ourselves to be real.

There will be many "not my finest parenting" moments. But instead of reliving them through admissions of guilt to our friends at the end of the day, we should accept them as part of the learning process for ourselves as parents, and for our children who are learning how to behave and how to process others' behavior.