What is a Role Model?
Let’s begin with a basic understanding of what a role model is. According to some dictionary definitions, a role model is “a person looked to by others as an example to be imitated”. We certainly see this all the time, with children and adults imitating various significant individuals like celebrities, politicians and family members. Unfortunately we may see a lot of poor behaviour being imitated. We don’t often see a lot of the good, positive behaviour being imitated these days, which is possibly a sign of the times. The world we live in has developed a far greater focus outwards and on image rather than on self development and the solid values that were esteemed more by past generations. The materialistic and superficial world we live in plays a role - but is not solely to blame.
What Role do you Model?
Those of you who have heard me speak, or have had a meeting with me before, will know that I push personal responsibility, in all contexts. We all need to take ownership of the things that are within our control as an individual. When we break it all down, there is not a great deal that is truly in our own control, but there are some very critical elements of our life that are.
We choose our own behaviour - that is our choice.
We choose how to respond to situations and people.
Considering this, how we are as a person, how we live our life, is significantly within our control. So take a moment to reflect on the person that we feel we are? How do you feel about how you live your life, engage with people and handle situations?
Me, Us and Them
Through my career as a psychologist, I have worked with many individuals and families across many contexts, within the school context as well as privately. Through these experiences, I have been able to conceptualise two theories that I make use of on a daily basis when I engage with clients.
Firstly, and probably most importantly is a concept that I apply to all situations and cases. This is my theory that all dynamics and relationships (irrespective of context) can be broken down into three components; ME, US and THEM. For now, we will focus on the family context.
THEM - refers to the broader family context which includes your children - this is the last “stage / level”. Generally speaking, if things are going smoothly in the other domains, this area will functions relatively well with little need for intervention.
US - refers to the “parental unit”, the family managers, the core of the family. The relationship between you and your partner, wife, ex-wife etc. This needs to be ideally in a state of balance, equilibrium and stable. If this is not, it will impact the THEM. This includes parenting styles, values, interests etc.
ME - The “parental care” is comprised of individuals, and so we get to the first and fundamentally most critical component, you. You have a past, a history and baggage. Strengths and weaknesses, insecurities, we all do, we are only human. This being said, we need to acknowledge this and grow and develop who we are at our very core.
Why is this so fundamental to being a dad? Well, being a dad means being a role model 24/7, meaning that you as a person are being watched, imitated and criticised on your behaviour by your children every day. To be a solid role model, you need to be a solid individual. This leads me to my second theory…
One Way Glass Parenting
Being a parent is like living on shiny side of a one way mirror. Being a parent means that what we do is constantly being watch, analysed, monitored and remembered by our children. Being a parent is a whole lot less about the actual interactions with your children (although still critical), but it is so much more about how we are as an individual (ME) and very importantly as a couple/unit (US).
As we consider this, let’s shift our focus completely off your children for now and onto a few fundamental details.
Where last did you have a date night with your partner, that was all about the two of you, and did not involve conversation that focused on your children? How much affection do you demonstrate to your partner, and do your children see this? How do you and your partner function as a unit, and engage with each other both when the children are around and when they are not. Generally, how close are the two of you. Obviously each family is different and there are many separated, divorced and blended families, but the general principles still apply, even if this is in relation to you and your ex since you both are still the parents of your child/children.
How do you talk to your partner, and what do you talk about? Considering how you function and interact as a couple is very important as this sets the tone for the foundation of relationships that your children will develop and either seek or avoid later on in life. Do you prioritise your time with your partner, and do you demonstrate a sense of value and appreciation for them? Remember your kids are watching everything you do, and they are going to imitate you because you are their role model.
Me as a person
Finally, we need to consider how we are as ourselves. How do we live our life when we feel no one is watching. How do you children see you just being yourself, and is this different to how you are with them or their mother? As you consider this point, consider how you do just be yourself, and whether you actually know or do this. The behaviours that your children see you living naturally are some of the behaviours that they are going to internalise and most likely adopt as their own. Remember, monkey see, monkey do.
See the short advert by napkin.org.au demonstrating the impact of the behaviour we model for our children.
Children are far more perceptive than we give them credit for, don’t underestimate what they see.
A starting point
Focus and invest time on the critical areas discussed above, yourself and your relationship. Learn to become more genuine with yourself and in your behaviour, and your children will begin to absorb what they see. This may take time, and yes a lot of effort, but you have to DO in order for your children to learn, you cannot just tell them how to be.
What is beneficial about this approach is that it has three potentially significant impacts:
We improve ourselves and strive towards being a better version of who we are
We improve our relationship
We improve our understanding of ourselves in relation to our children and so we enhance our relationships, interactions and impact where it really matters, with our children.
Time invested in yourself and your relationship is not wasted or selfish time, but rather a significant investment that will yield a return greater than what you were expecting.