What has integrity got to do with parenting? A lot, you will see as you read on. But, before that, let us see what we mean by ‘integrity’. Everyone’s life is guided by certain core principles and values which form the conscience. This conscience serves as our guiding light and tells us what is right and wrong, and differentiates between the good and the bad (of course, it allows a few pardonable exceptions here and there!) Guided by the dictates of our conscience, we try hard to be true to ourselves and to those around us and that’s what integrity is all about.
It refers to how consistently and genuinely we demonstrate those values we profess and exhort our children to imbibe and follow the same. While speaking of values, we should bear in mind that there are wide variations in culture-based values; however, certain universal values do prevail.
An example of Parenting Integrity
A video on a social media site features a young child throwing a tantrum at the supermarket. She has accidentally hurt her older sister, and refuses to apologise, saying that it’s not her fault because she didn’t mean to do it. Embarrassed and helpless, the sister asks her dad to let go. But, the dad insists. After a bit of firm handling and patient explanations, he gets the girl to apologise. The next moment, a young lady engrossed in speaking on her cell phone, bumps hard into the little girl and walks away, uncaring and indifferent. “That’s not fair. She should apologise to me,” the little girl protests immediately. This is the moment of truth for the dad. His integrity is being put to the test. Emotionally drained by the event of the past few minutes, his hesitation to intervene with a stranger gives way to resolve. His girls are watching with expectation. He walks up to the lady and politely seeks an apology for his daughter. The dad’s persistence, along with stern support from the store staff, gradually transforms the indignant lady’s aggressive responses into a heartfelt apology. The dad’s integrity wins the day as he teaches a valuable lesson to his little girls.
‘Values are not taught, they are caught’, goes a saying. There are numerous occasions when, unknown to us, our children are keenly watching and learning from our behaviours, even the subtlest ones. How we consciously teach values determines how our children imbibe them. Human behaviourists emphasise that value lessons are best inculcated through patient explanations and never through punishment. For example, a child who is punished for telling a lie will only learn to dodge and cover up lies in future. On the other hand, a child who has pleasant learning experiences will feel motivated to practise a value genuinely.
So, let us make sure we use the right approaches in teaching values to our children. And, let us remember the adage - ‘Practice what you preach’. Otherwise, we will be guilty of double standards and our Parenting Integrity will be at stake!
What’s your Parenting Integrity Quotient?
Now, it’s time for a reality check. What’s your Parenting Integrity Quotient? Take the test; it will help you be aware of yourself and stay on track. (It’s a self-reflection questionnaire and, therefore, doesn’t have concrete scores.)
- When I make a promise, do I make lame excuses or do I fulfil it to the best of my ability?
- Do I honour my work commitments or do I neglect them and then do a last-minute hurried job of them?
- Am I truthful to those around me or do I keep uttering blatant lies?
- Am I punctual and respectful of others’ time or do I invariably rush and arrive late for an appointment?
- Am I honest with my children or do I deceive them often to get my way with them?
- Do I work hard at a task or am I mostly satisfied with putting in the least effort?
- Do I throw waste and garbage into the bin or do I throw them anywhere that is convenient?
- Do I express my anger in extreme ways or am I able to regulate my emotions?
- Do I manage my time comfortably or am I running helter-skelter to keep up with my routine?
- Do I keep my things in order or do I leave them around and find it difficult to locate them when needed?
- Do I pay for my child’s entrance ticket to places such as shows and theme parks or do I bluff her age to get her in free?
- Do I treat my home-helpers with respect or do I order them around rudely because I am the boss?
- Do I indulge in idle gossip about someone or do I refrain from it?
- Do I insist on the kids being neat and tidy, while I say it’s alright for me to be messy and untidy because I am busy all day?
- Am I careless about my own food habits but insist that the family eats healthy?
- Do I show empathy for people who are less privileged or do I discriminate and ask the kids to stay away from them?
- Do I judge someone according to their status or looks, or am I willing to first get to know the person better?
- Do I extend a helping hand to someone in need or do I expect others to help them?
- Do I listen patiently to what someone is saying or do I interrupt before they can finish speaking?
- Do I feel confident in the presence of smart people and appreciate them or do I envy them?
- When upset about something, do I wait to calm down first or do I yell and shout to get things done?
- Do I take responsibility for what I do or do I blame others when things go wrong?
- Do I return extra money given to me by mistake or do I keep it because it was given to me anyway?
- Do I accept money or other gifts for favours that I do for others?
A few imperfections are acceptable; for, no one is perfect. Sometimes, we cannot help but tweak a value for a larger good or purpose, to protect someone or to accommodate an unusual situation. But, if we do cross the line frequently, how will our children learn the meaning of integrity and practise it? Remember, they watch and learn from us.
Arundhati Swamy is a counsellor and the Head of Parent Engagement Programs at ParentCircle.