Sunday, March 20, 2011

Weekly Column: Actions Speak Louder

This particular trip to the grocery store was going perfectly, and it was almost over.  No toddler had dashed away to pillage the bakery cart, no preschooler had pulled the center can of fruit out of a tall display, and no mother had lost her temper.  At least not among our small group.  My own children were following directions with relative ease, and I was calm. 
As I reached for a large tub of yogurt, my confidence must have caused the temporary false assurance of invincibility.  For surely it couldn’t have been a mere lack of grace and coordination that caused me to fumble the yogurt.  In slow motion, as most hideous moments unfold, I watched the plastic tub float away from my fingertips and come to a messy landing on the floor.  Yogurt exploded at my feet, and I stared in fascination. 
When the slow motion ended, I was left in the middle of a sea of shoppers gawking in wonder at my accident.  In fact, I thought to myself for a split-second that if there hadn’t been quite so many witnesses, I might have been able to slink away blamelessly.  But that wouldn’t have solved the problem of the now-oozing yogurt.  And, more pressingly, there was the issue of the two most impressionable witnesses being hauled in my very own shopping cart. 
My daughters gawked as well as the other onlookers, only with less verbal reserve.  They peppered me with questions; never had they seen such a messy accident, and caused by their own mother, no less!
Sheepishly, I searched out the nearest employee and explained the problem.  I expected irritation or worse, but to my surprise, she was positively gushing with thanks – happy to know of the mess first hand rather than to have discovered it only after customers had tripped and tracked their way through it. 
And my children heard the whole exchange.
How often do we wish to teach our kids the importance of telling us when they’ve had a problem?  How many times do we stress the value of truth-telling, even in uncomfortable situations?  They need to hear those messages, without a doubt, but imagine the impact if they see their own parents actually living that advice rather than merely preaching it. 
Children see everything and understand more than we give them credit for at young ages.  They notice if we knock a shirt off a store display without replacing it.  They notice when we run a red light.  They hear the judgment in our voices when we condemn a stranger out of earshot.  And then they parrot our own words and actions back to us as they grow older. 
If, at the scene of the accidental yogurt spill, I’d ignored my mistake and wandered away, my children would have absorbed my lack of responsibility.  They would have understood that a mess – accidental or otherwise – could be ignored and denied.  That to face a bit of embarrassment in confession wasn’t worth the risk of punishment.  Those are lessons they’ll have to encounter for themselves in order to have the chance to choose correctly, but visual proof in the form of a parent’s intentional choice is bound to have an impact. 
I believe that in order to raise children into responsible adults, those children need role models of the same quality.  And knowing how much they see of our actions can be a little intimidating to admit.  But isn’t it nice to hope that the act of raising children intentionally can also boost our own integrity as we strive to be worthy role models?


  1. Oh, I really love this one! You set such a good example to them. We should all be so good!!

  2. i know your embarrassment, i too have had issues with spills of dairy products in public. let me just say that cottage cheese is really kinda hard to clean up.

  3. Amen sista!! This makes me want to recreate this scenario on purpose the next time we're out ha ha. Seriously though, I admire your honesty and responsibility. You are a great model to your children (and others)!

  4. Great column, Sarah! And I couldn't agree more! I often find myself starting to speak negatively of someone and then stop short when I remember the little ears hanging on every word I say. Such a great reminder to be the people we want our kids to be.


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