August 25, 2014 —

If I’ve learned anything in my 42 years as a parent, family counselor and facilitator of parent workshops, it is this:  Above all else, we need to strive to be a source of inspiration to our children. 

This was the theme of a group parenting workshop our family was involved in when our son was a freshman at the Hyde School in Bath, Maine. 

The session started with a question: “What do you think your kids most want from you?” When it was my turn, I said, “He wants to be left alone, wants me to buy him the latest Nike sneaker every time there’s a new version, and there should never be a curfew.”  Other parents answered similarly, one woman adding “Maid service!”

And so it went, as each parent spoke, the teenagers listened or pretended not to.

Then the facilitator asked the kids, “And what do you most want from your parents?” 

My son surprised me by answering first. He turned to his dad, and said, “Dad, what I most want from you is to know what you’re afraid of, and what struggles you’ve had in your life; I know what you’ve achieved, that’s obvious. We’ve had great vacations, and my friends think you’re cool, but…” and here he struggled to go on – “What do you stand for? You might have had courage when you flew jets off the Navy carrier, but you’re afraid to discipline me when I fight with my brother; you turn away from confrontation, you duck family issues --- you’re afraid to say no to me.” 

My husband was stunned; with tears appearing on his cheeks, he apologized to our son saying, “How selfish of me to put my own comfort ahead of your well-being. I’ve not been a very good example to you as a man – I’m so sorry.”

This changed our family immeasurably. My husband went on to forge a new relationship with our son, and I, too, had to look at where I lacked the courage to say no and where I kept my struggles hidden from our boys. 

He learned, as I did that day, that our children are most inspired when they see us struggle, when we take risks to improve ourselves as human beings (not just to add to the accomplishments), and when we practice what we preach and demonstrate our values even in little acts of daily character. 

As the author James Baldwin said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” 

Pam Hardy, MSW, is the director of programs and training for The Biggest Job®, the parenting and community-building program for Hyde Schools and for communities throughout the country. Pam’s approach to the biggest job parents face in life offers a no-nonsense slant to understanding the common pitfalls of parenting—what works, what doesn’t, and how shifting focus from the child to the child’s attitude, character and full potential can result in a win-win for the entire family. Pam’s humor and no-nonsense approach to recounting her own parenting “blunders” gives her workshops a burst of inspiration and leaves her audiences wanting more. Pam also serves as a consultant to school and community groups throughout the country. Pam is the mother of two grown sons, and a grandmother of three, she lives in Denver, CO, where she resides with her husband, Tom.