I think that every parent has certain phrases that they repeat over and over. I've mentioned before that two of mine are "Watch out for people!" and "You don't get what you want by whining." But there is another—one that I learned several years ago, when my oldest son took karate.
When my now 10-year-old, Sam, was in kindergarten, he took karate. He learned a lot during his year of classes, but the thing I learned was something the instructor told the kids early on: "Lead by example."
Those three words have stuck with me in the many years since I heard them. My kids have been stuck with them as well, as I tend to yell, "Lead by example!" whenever I want one of my kids to lead the way for his brothers or act appropriately with his peers.
I also like to use "lead by example" in terms of accepting others, standing up for kids if they're being teased or bullied, and just being all-around good people. I truly believe that people can be good and ethical, especially if someone else is willing to stand with them.
In terms of being a parent, I think it is also important to lead by example ourselves. Sometimes these lessons and moments happen without our even thinking about them.
For instance, this weekend I ran the Kensington 8k, my first running race since Sam was six months old. I've been running on and off since the spring, but have really increased my mileage in the past month. Running the 8k was really just barely within my ability, but I decided I was going to do it.
I ran all 8k's of that race. If you were there and stuck around until the end, you probably saw me. I was the lady moving at a steady 4 mph pace who finished in the last group of runners. I wasn't last, but I was close. Even if I had been last though, that race was a personal best for me. It was longer than I'd run in a decade. I pushed myself—no one else had to. I am proud of myself.
For a race described by the website as, "a challenging race combining long hills and flats" and as "a touchstone race for the intermediate and weekly runner," I think I really kicked that race's butt.
Sure, I placed 621st out of 627, but I finished.
Yes, you heard me right. I came in 621st.
I came home from the race, all sweaty and disheveled, and the first person I ran into was Sam. He asked me how my race went, and I told him it was great. Then he asked me if I won.
I laughed and said, "No. In fact, I came in almost last. But I did it." He didn't say anything in response, so I followed up with, "Sometimes when you're not very good at something, you have to keep trying so you can get better. Every time I run, I get faster."
I could actually see Sam taking in my words. I talk all the time about keeping at things and practicing to get better and working hard even if you don't see a reward, but this was different. I was standing in front of him, leading by example.
He looked at me, paused for a few seconds longer, then flicked his thumb up, said, "Good job," and walked out of the room.
That thumbs up and "good job" was so truly thoughtful and sincere. It was the best compliment I've gotten in months. It reminded me how important it is to live what we teach our kids and that actions are so much more important that words.
We have to show our kids that sometimes coming in last is really winning—by actually coming in last. I think our kids have to see us place 621st, so they know that everyone has to work hard at what they want to do.
Later Saturday morning, I watched Sam play soccer with the team he's been a part of for three years. Sam has heart and he loves to be on a team, but he has to work hard at it. He doesn't have the natural instincts for soccer, so he really has to intentionally work at each movement he makes on the field. It doesn't come easy for him.
This is his third year of doing this.
He has gone to two practices and one game every week for two plus years of soccer seasons. Every week he becomes a little bit more invested in the game. He has come a long way, and he has stuck with it, which I think speaks a lot to his character. He is cheerful and friendly and supportive at every practice and game.
He hasn't given up.
Maybe sometimes our kids lead us by example too.
Jean, a.k.a. Stimey, writes a personal blog at Stimeyland; an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont; and a column called Autism Unexpected in the Washington Times Communities. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey.