Becoming the Model Parent

Dear Mr. Dad: People are constantly talking about how parents should be good role models for their kids, and that makes good sense to me. But everywhere I look, I see parents behaving in horrible ways. Maybe I’m confused about what “good role model” really means. What are good role models supposed to do?

A: We all know that our kids are watching our every move (even when they’re ignoring us). And most of us have banished the phrase “do as I say, not as I do” from our vocabulary. So there’s no question that what we do is important and that our behavior can have a big influence on how our children will turn out as adults. But for me, setting a good example is much more about the being than the doing.

If you want your child to be an ethical person, treat others (and themselves) with respect, and make the right choices even if they’re not the easy ones, you’ll have to do more than demonstrate behavior. You’ll have to talk about the issues and point out examples of good—and bad—behavior around you, and in movies, TV shows, and books. And you’ll need to discuss with your child why people make the choices they do and what your child would have done instead. The goal is to lead your child to a point where he or she will make good choices even when you’re not there.

That said, being a role model isn’t all in your head, and how you behave is still important. Here are a few ideas:
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Who’s going to provide and protect the provider protector?

We men play a lot of roles: father, son, brother, husband, friend, coach, mentor, guide. But the one role that’s at most men’s core—especially those with families—is provider-protector. It’s the way we tend to see ourselves, and the way women see us too. Part of being a good provider protector (which should be only a single element of what makes a man a man) involves having contingency plans for how the family will be taken care of if something unexpected happens.

That’s why the results of the 2012 Aflac Workforces Report should really be a wakeup call for us and our families. Here’s some of the findings about America’s workers:
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Want your kids to lose weight? Dieting may not be the answer.

No big surprise that parents play a big role in their children’s diets. But that doesn’t necessarily mean what you might think The natural tendency for a parent of an overweight or obese child is to put the child on a diet or getting them up at 5am to run a few miles. A recent study at UC San Diego found that the most inspiring and motivational way to help kids drop weight is to start losing weight yourself—“more than making changes to the home food environment or enrolling kids in physical activities,” researchers said.

This really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Whether they admit it or not, our kids look to us for how to behave, what to do, what not to do. A great example of this happened a few years ago when Joe Girardi, manager of the NY Yankees got braces. He didn’t need them—and for a guy who spends a lot of time on television, they certainly didn’t do much of his looks. So why did he get them? Because his then 5-year old daughter was getting braces and she was scared. So he promised that if she got them, he would too. As a dad (or mom), you just gotta love that story.

Who’s Your Daddy?

Dear Mr. Dad: My husband is 42 but often hangs out with our 13-year-old son and his friends, acting like a kid himself. Am I wrong to want my husband to act his age instead of trying to be our boy’s buddy?

A: There’s nothing wrong with expecting your husband to be a good role model–a mature, responsible, and trustworthy individual your son can look up to, respect, and admire.

But the fact that your husband spends time with your son and his friends doesn’t necessarily mean he’s not good role model material or that he’s shirking his responsibilities. There are a lot of factors to consider here. For example, what is he doing with the boys? If they’re occasionally hanging out in the garage and building a train set, or playing ball in the backyard, those are perfectly good bonding activities and your son can only benefit from this quality time he’s spending with his dad (and Dad will benefit too).

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Keeping memories alive

Dear Mr. Dad: My father died when I was a teenager and now that I’m a dad myself, I find myself missing him more and more. Of course, my children never met him, but is there a way to include him in their lives, to keep his memory and the wonderful lessons he taught me, even though he’s not here anymore?

A: For many of us, our own parents can be a constant source of advice, and without that sounding board—even if we swore we’d never be the kind of parents they were—it’s easy to feel lost.

Your dad may be physically gone, but there are lots of ways to keep his memory alive. The best is to talk about him often with your children. If you have an important memento, display it in your house and tell your kids why it was special to Grandpa.
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Fighting in front of the kids

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife and I have a good marriage, but once in a while we get into a yelling match that makes me glad we don’t live in an apartment! There’s never any physical contact, neither of us misses the chance to slam a door or kick the furniture to make a point. We know we’re just venting and we always make up just fine afterwards, but it’s the kids I worry about. Is it doing them any harm to see their parents fight? If so, how can we break the habit?

A: The short answer is, yes, living in a high-conflict home may be doing some short- or long-term damage to your children. According to a recent joint study by the Universities of Rochester and Notre Dame, children who see their parents in angry conflict on a regular basis are more likely to feel negative emotions and stress and to develop long-lasting, negative impressions of marriage and family life. Rather than becoming accustomed to the hostility, children actually become more sensitive to it and less resilient as time goes by.
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