I had a strong memory of one of my many parenting mistakes rekindled this week while driving my grandchildren to the local store to shop. I’m sure my children also have strong memories of this particular mistake because it was the one and only time I was ever stopped by the police while driving with them in the car.
The car was actually a little pickup truck with a tiny back seat for a club cab. By today’s standards, they probably weren’t even properly buckled up but that wasn’t my mistake. I had approached the train tracks that divided our little community in half and with the train a long way away, decided this barrier was a false alarm and proceeded to drive around it, against flashing lights and ringing bells. The next lights I saw were the flashing lights of a patrol car who, of course, witnessed the whole thing.
This week I was driving in our neighborhood where traffic is very light and cars coming the opposite direction are rare. I came to a stop sign and realized halfway through the intersection that I had rolled through it, barely tapping my brakes. Two things occurred immediately. The first was my old memory of being stopped with my own children in the car. The second was the reality that my grandson who just turned fifteen will be getting a driving permit this year. Sobering.
I’m not his dad, I get that. But as I have stated many times through my years of writing about parenting, we parent by our example. What’s worse is that we rarely speak about our driving habits which leaves only our example to provide the instruction. How do you teach a five-year-old to drive? Take him somewhere in the car with you! He is watching your habits as surely as he learned how to speak and walk and play. Fifteen-year-olds are actively watching and learning.
I’m not a big advocate of overtly parenting your grandchildren. They have parents who have rules and consequences enough. If you find yourself disagreeing with your children about how the grandkids are raised. it is best to keep that to yourself. Parenting is their responsibility. But that doesn’t prevent your example from taking over even when the words are few and far between.
Literally everything we do is observed and recorded by our grandchildren. They have impressions of respect or disgust with a whole array of incidents. Every grandparent gives mixed signals from their values because like parents, grandparents are human and prone to mistakes. The vast majority of our interactions with our grandchildren need to be positive, law-abiding and moral. That’s how the world improves from generation to generation. Our mistakes will be frequent enough without adding thoughtless words and actions to muddy the water.
Pray that your actions are worthy of recommendation. Think and reflect on how your words and actions are seen by the next generation. As you make mistakes, highlight what should have been done and let them know that correcting a mistake is at least as important as doing things right the first time.
Holiday times are a perfect opportunity for concrete, positive attitudes and behaviors to be observed. Being able to provide the right example without thinking too much about it requires that we are reflective and careful when the grandkids aren’t in the car as well as when they are with us. We do them no favors by living one way in private and then trying to clean it up for them when we are together.
Enjoy your grandchildren! What a legacy we leave!! Why not take pains to make it a worthwhile legacy while we are at it?