For well over a decade I worked with high risk youth within a three county radius of my home town. It provided invaluable insight into the lives of others. I witnessed tragedy and success among many of the families that I worked with on a daily basis for close to 12 years.
My small town has one very sad statistic. Nearly 70% of our children are in single parent households and the responsibility overwhelming falls on the shoulders of young single women. I was one of those children and to put it mildly my family was extremely dysfunctional. That was my catalyst. That was the foundation that pushed me into working with high risk youth. Somehow through all the bad decisions I had made I had arrived on the other side in one piece and wanted to reach out to kids who may be going through difficult circumstances themselves.
Ironically I had no idea at the time that this career path would be one of the early influences in my familys decision to homeschool. The role of the parent was evident to both my wife and myself.
I have often wondered how one can be a successful role model when one is constantly evolving as a human being themselves? We may argue that it is the choices we make and promote but as we all know there are a number of roads that lead to enlightenment.
I was around twelve when my parents separated so there was some opportunity for a male influence in my life but for the most part being a father, better yet being a good father, has required a lot of on the job training. I now know that proudly declaring a new tradition such as one night a year we will be eating cake and ice cream for supper is a bad idea. Truth be told I knew it was a bad idea after the third mouthful of sugar made their pupils dilate to the size of quarters and they went into a blood lust sugar frenzy. I have also learned that when you have three children under the age of seven that if things get really quiet chances are something really bad is happening. I have found that when you are changing a diaper whose contents have migrated up the back of your child that your cat and dog will simultaneously vomit on different areas of the carpet. (True story).
My biggest goal as a parent has been to show my children that I love them. Some just take that as par for the course but it is a rare gem these days. Take it from someone who has worked with troubled youth and their parents directly. I have this notion that if I provide them with enough encouragement and hugs that they will have the confidence to accomplish their hearts desire. That is the key, what they desire, not what I desire.
I am far from perfect. I raise my voice when it is unnecessary at times. I debate meaningless subjects with full conviction when I could just walk away. I am talking in particular about the great “M&M for breakfast debate” of 2011. But I am aware of my faults and yearn to be the best parent I can. I have a personal motto that I try to remember while weathering a storm of tears and permanent marker wall art, “I am the example.”
I try to remember that the way I react to a situation is going to leave a lasting impression. Whether that means turning the other cheek while I roll around in pain after stepping on a lego or complimenting the dedication involved in not changing ones underwear for days on end. Maybe this means pretending I don’t notice there seemed to be a mass exodus of jelly beans in the cupboard since the last time I looked, five minutes ago.
I’m careful not to take too much credit for my childrens behavior. I tend to think part of it is that they are just genuinely nice people. Another part of me realizes they have an amazing mother who leads by example in the home and in the community. There is a part of me that feels my own self realization is blooming simply from parenthood. Maybe at the end of the day they are the ones setting the example and I am open enough to listen to their monumental lectures delivered with the unrestrained passion of youth.
Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .