I grew up in a neighbourhood surrounded by beloved “Aunties and Uncles”. Aunty Jan lived across the road, a single mum raising 4 kids working to keep food on the table. Aunty Maureen and Uncle Ken lived next door they both worked and again raising 4 kids. There was Aunty Elsie and we knew all the people who lived in our street and round the corner. We were in and out of each other’s homes for all our growing up years. I was one of the youngest in the street so experienced equal parts teasing and protection.
Everyone in our neighbourhood smoked cigarettes and swore like troopers, we all lived in public housing, but we were working class. Our home was a little different, my mum was the only of the women in the street who drove so on Fridays she would take the others to do a butcher run to buy the weekly meat supplies. Everyone followed the East Footy Club and we followed South. Although we were far from wealthy, we often had a little more to go around and my parents didn’t smoke or swear. My parents loved music, so we were taken to live bands from when we were kids, in pubs, at footy clubs, in theatres, wherever there was someone worth seeing. It is something that has been shared through our generations.
I grew up surrounded by love and witnessed a mixed bag of parenting, but in our home, our parents set the tone. There was no judgement on others and it didn’t feel different, I adored Aunty Jan and Aunty Maureen. Aunty Jan made the best pasties, smoked “Craven A’s” and had a nasty cat aptly named Tiger…and she had the biggest heart. She was my mum’s best friend, despite being a bit older.
I was often sent in to wake Uncle Ken from his hangover singing Yellow Submarine, it was a bit of an ongoing Sunday morning joke and I loved being part of it. When Aunty Maureen had enough of dad’s electric tools messing with her TV reception, she would throw rocks on his shed roof as his sign it was time to go inside for the night. It seems idyllic thinking back.
My brothers and I all went to public schools and I realise now, grew up alongside children who were experiencing some serious neglect, but as a child I had no concept that their life wasn’t as good as mine.
I was surrounded by people who loved me and would do anything for me…and that was all I saw. I didn’t take on anything that I didn’t want to. I didn’t swear and I didn’t smoke because it didn’t matter what I saw others doing, they were not the ones who ultimately set my course, my parents were.
Parents can try the “do as I say not as I do” thing and they might get away with it, for a little while, but eventually children see through it and recognise the hypocrisy. Modelling isn’t telling, it’s showing, it is leading the way.
Many parents hope their children will be more, do more, achieve more than they have. To do that give them a high starting point, be the example of where they can begin their journey, let them see from your behaviour what you expect.
Of course, none of us are perfect and we can often change to suit our environment, your child may still drop the odd swear word around their peers to fit in even if one has never left your mouth (in front of them) and many kids try a cigarette. Allow them some room to move and grow.
Of course, this is not just about swearing or smoking, for many families, they not issues, we each choose the values that are important to us. I am not telling you, that this should be a value of yours, but I do challenge you to think about what are important values you want to instill in your children and model what they are.
I know I have been able to pull out the “Have I ever spoken to you like that?” phrase when faced with a raging teenager to illustrate what my expectation of respectful communication is. It has saved me more than once and calmed a wild beast.
We all learn best through practice and experience, so show your children, demonstrate and get them to practice what you expect to see, hear and feel in your home.
And be forgiving of the mistakes, your and theirs.