I was driving down the highway the other day when I saw a billboard that practically stopped me in my tracks. “Children are like mirrors,” it said. “They reflect the image of their parents.” That billboard got me thinking.
I know a mom who loves to shop for salvaged dinnerware at Salvation Army stores. For years, her two daughters thought she was crazy, until they both grew up and moved out on their own. Now, when the girls have a Saturday free, they call up their mom to see if she wants to go shop for used plates.
Children are like mirrors.
A friend of mine has been serving on a local police force for years. When he was a young officer just starting out, he arrested a man for domestic abuse. The man’s son, still a little boy, stood in a corner of the house and watched as his daddy was taken away.
Years later, that same officer went to another house and arrested another man—that little boy from the corner, all grown up. The charge? Domestic abuse. Like father, like son. “It was as if I was looking at a replica,” the officer told me.
Children are like mirrors.
Sometimes when I’m mad, I use the word frickin’. Even though I don’t like the word much, even though my wife strongly advises against it, and even though some readers will probably write me seething e-mails this afternoon because of it, I admit that I let the word slide sometimes.
I’ve always known that it’s not the best habit or the nicest choice of words, but I figured it wasn’t a big deal. Not a big deal, that is, until the word got reflected back at me off the vocal chords of my nine-year-old daughter.
The first time I heard her say it, I think my eyes nearly bulged out of my head. My muscles tensed up and my thoughts sputtered: What in the world makes her think using that word is appropriate?
That’s the thing about mirrors. Even when something feels OK on you, sometimes when you get a smudge-free glimpse of its reflection, the reality is downright ugly. You see your behavior in a whole new light when you see it in your child.
Mirror, mirror, on the wall—how’s my parenting?
Whether we try to or not, we all project certain images, habits, and behaviors. And whether we like it or not, kids tend to reproduce them. Children become what they see, not what we tell them to be. In parenting, far more is caught than is taught.
So the question for parents is simple: are we projecting the kind of images that we want our kids to duplicate? Think about it. If, by some fluke, your child transformed overnight into a carbon-copy version of yourself, would they be better for it?
If they used precisely the same tone of voice, precisely the same anger management techniques, precisely the same discipline methods as you do, would it be something to be proud of?
If they suddenly became your Mini-Me, would that be a good thing? Would they be wiser, kinder, more respectful, more compassionate, if they were more like you?
If you’re dissatisfied with some of the behaviors and qualities you’ve seen in your children, could it be possible that the problem begins somewhere other than those reflections? After all, if you want to change the person you see in the mirror, you have to change the person being reflected.