I spend considerable amounts of time around my nieces and nephew. Partly because they are home with my folks. Partly because COVID-19 has restricted my movements. Partly because they are the most adorable beings I have come across. They are nine (eldest niece) and twenty months (twins) respectively.
Bar sickness, once they are fed, bathed and their diapers changed, they are the most stress-free children. Ergo, a lot of my baby sitting duty involves just sitting and observing. I have observed that when my eldest niece is dealing with her siblings she shadows a lot of the things we do.
For example, when my nephew tries his hand at being spider man, she’ll simply get him off the couch and onto her shoulders for a spin. That’s what my Dad does. I have also heard her sing the same lullaby songs to her sister that my Mum sung to her when she was their age. When she commandeers the TV and condemns her cats to endless hours of SpongeBob, I see her pull out a stool and put her feet on it. That’s what I do when I am watching TV.
Interestingly, I have also seen the twins, at just twenty months, shadow us. Whenever one of them is crying (the sound of rain on the roof scares them), the other dashes off to where they are and gives them a gentle rub on the back. It’s what we have been doing to them all along.
Which brings me to the reason for this post. The environment in which children grow in significantly influences their general disposition in life. The things we do, the words we use, our routine. Children internalize all these things and accept them as the norm.
More often than not, we simply pass on to the children around us the same values that were passed on to us whether deliberately or fortuitously. If you had unavailable parents, chances are that you are not one for commitment. Almost instinctively, you will shadow that unavailability. It could take the form of parental remiss or you could find yourself with emotionally unavailable romantic partners.
In her book All About Love, bell hooks writes of her childhood and growing up in a dysfunctional family:
“Had I been given a clear definition of love earlier in my life it would not have taken me so long to become a more loving person.”
As most parts of the world learn to adapt to the new normal occasioned by the Corona virus, we find ourselves spending more time around children. Whether biological, nieces and nephews, cousins, siblings or neighbors.
There are two ways we can emerge from this pandemic. Either having raised a generation of kinder, more empathetic, more loving children. Or having midwifed a generation of senseless, selfish and meaner children. The one thing that will make the difference is the power of our example.
As bell hooks writes in the aforementioned book:
“We learn about love in childhood. Whether our homes are happy or troubled, our families functional and dysfunctional, it’s the original school of love.”
What (values/routines/ traditions etc), in retrospect, did you pick from your childhood environment?
Which of those do you see the children around you picking up?
What would you like to pass forward by the power of your example?