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Actions Speak Louder than Words

One of the fun perks of having teen clients is getting to hear their unfiltered perspective. Teens and pre-teens can be some of the most scathingly honest individuals, and one of the things that they unfailingly bring up in session is any apparent hypocrisy in the behavior of their caregivers. By the teenage years, our kids have spent over a decade studying us. They know our habits, our values, and our moods. They know what sets us off and can even sometimes tell what our mood is from the sound of our footsteps down the hallway. And they are quick to call their parents out whenever they tell teens to do something that they themselves don’t do.

And every once in a while, I hear a really cringy phrase that they tell me their parents said: Do what I say, not what I do.

But, does that ever work? Does it work to try to teach our kids to the ‘right’ thing rather than to do what we do? I think most of us have known for a long time – since we ourselves were pre-teens – that this kind of parenting isn’t sustainable, and yet we still try to do it in subtle ways all of the time.

@diaryofanhonestmom has a fantastic Instagram reel for “ex-crunchy moms” that highlights the way we sometimes try to do this as parents. Here’s what she says:

“I just want to start this by saying that I have nothing against crunchy moms. In fact, I really respect you and think that it’s great that you put energy into your lifestyle in that way.

But this is for all of the non-crunchy moms who, when you had your first-born, for some reason you thought that was going to happen for you.

Like, you started out with the organic food and the organic diapers and the organic everything and you wore your baby and then you did all the things and were like, “Yeah, we’re doing this, we’re healthy,” even though you still ate big macs all the time and you didn’t live that lifestyle but thought that your baby would live that lifestyle.

Was I the only one who tried to have the organic lifestyle for my baby, but didn’t live it? And how long did it take you to realize…no…this isn’t us?”

If you aren’t doing something for yourself, it’s not realistic to expect that your kids will be different. If you really want to see change in your kids, you have to be willing to invest in that change yourself.  This is true for boundaries, lifestyle, values, and the kinds of relationships you have. You cannot make your kids do what you do or believe what you believe. But you cannot expect them to behave much differently than you behave.

Here are few things to remember when you are trying to create change in your family:

Take the time to do the work. Change takes time and a lot of hard, consistent effort. You may need help, even professional help. Take all of the help you can get.

Be willing to be humble with your kids. Admit when you didn’t live up to the standards you set and demonstrate both the self-compassion to be gentle with yourself and the grit to get up and try again.

Be prepared to fail. Neither change nor growth are linear processes; there will always be setbacks, mistakes, and old patterns that sneak up and sidetrack you. Keep going – you will see the change over time.

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