You’re a natural sponge. This isn’t a process you have to learn, or something you can force. Don’t have a sit-down meeting with your friends and discuss the ways they should help you grow. That would be crazy. This is a natural process. – Yoder, J D. “Stop Goal Setting-Do the Work that Matters Most”
This is even more true in the case of children. This absorbing mechanism, “sponging,” is all they have to learn life. They absorb everything incessantly, then process everything in their pretty little heads and then develop their sense of self and personal philosophy. That’s how they will throw your words at you when you are least expecting it.
Several years ago, I habitually (and only half-jokingly) complained every time my wife asked me to do some household chores. Then, I had a “sponge” moment with my daughter. At the time, she was just four years old. We had some animated discussion going, and I said to her:
“Don’t discuss! I’m the head of this household. I rule here.”
And she answered triumphantly, thereby winning the argument:
“You don’t rule. Mommy rules. You are a slave.”
You must be very careful what you speak around your kids.
An Example of My Father
I remember when I was in a primary school, and I got a bad mark after which my dad preached to me the importance of preparation and hard work. He did it in a few short sentences.
I could (and did) dismiss his words. I thought it’s just a parent talk. I had plenty of other inputs—TV and social environment that promoted the ‘take it easy’ approach. I grew up in a communist country where the prevailing work philosophy was “Whether you stand or whether you sit the salary is your prerogative.”
I couldn’t, however, dismiss his example. When the communist regime fell, and new opportunities arose, my dad started a solopreneur business. He also worked full time in the factory. He woke up 5 am and was back at home about a quarter past 2 pm. He ate lunch, and he was off to work on his business. Rarely was he back before dusk.
When I was 13, he started taking me to help him. My dad is an electrician. Installing wiring in a new building is a hard physical job. I was exhausted. My dad was tireless. I was helping him with his business for about six years.
I have been in the regular workforce for over 11 years. I worked for half a dozen companies, with a couple dozen of cooperators, and I met a lot of hard-working people. I met workaholics dedicated to their employers who were available to call for 24/7. I met people starting careers and trying to impress their bosses. And I met only one person whose dedication could be compared to my father.
And His Example’s Fruits
He had a profound influence on my work ethic. Dad built the foundation for me. For about eight years of my career, I was all but diligence, but when the circumstances got favorable the right values blossomed.
I’ve spent last three years of my life in the frantic activity, working full time, commuting four hours a day and building an author’s career on the side. My friends are often in awe how much I can compress into a single day. It is a lesson I absorbed in my teens, not by preaching, but by mimicry.
Your Job Is to Emanate the Right Values
“Your actions speak so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Sponging” isn’t limited to words. In fact, words are much less important than your deeds. Your job is not preaching and teaching. If your deeds don’t match your words, all you will teach your kid will be hypocrisy. They will notice, register and remember that it’s perfectly all right to say one thing and do another.
Your job is doing the right things and occasionally talking about them with your kid. You need to emanate the values you live by, so they can absorb them.
Save your breath and be a good role model for your kids. In the end, it’s the only thing you can really do. Cross your fingers and keep hoping that this is enough. You are not the only influence in your kid’s life. They absorb from their peers, from their teachers, from TV. You can’t prevent that.
I know a decent woman—faithful, hard working, honest—whose daughter landed in the jail for murder and later committed a suicide in a prison. Unfortunately, you can’t prevent your kids from making mistakes, even the grave mistakes. Sometimes the bad influence prevails in the life of your child and you are helpless. The forming of character took place years ago and now you are just a bystander.
Do the Groundwork
You can only make sure that you do everything with all of your might to generate a positive influence. When my son was 10, I discovered he had troubles at school. I took the responsibility for schooling him. I hit upon his aversion to reading. He hated it. I taught him reading on a higher level. He doubled his reading speed. He still doesn’t enjoy reading, but at least he reads something. During the last three years, he read about 25 books. He can see me reading all the time.
I don’t know which influence will prevail in his life—the hunger for knowledge or the easiness of passivity. There is a hope that one day he will have a similar switch with reading that I did with my work commitment. I instilled the foundation and I hope and pray that it was enough.
Your integrity is a serious matter. It affects everything in your life, but its most important influence is on the youngsters who don’t just listen to you. They observe you around the clock and absorb everything they register. Be a good preacher. Teach by your deeds, not by your words.
Photo: Flickr/ Thomas Hawk