We all have those moments, those choices in our teens or early 20s that we wish we could take back. Some of us were lucky and the consequences weren’t so severe. Others were less fortunate. We thought we were immortal. We thought that nothing matter but the here and now. We thought we were rebels and that our tastes and values would never change. We believed our parents were old and over-protective. The future seemed so far way.
I thought of our younger selves the other day when I came across a quote from the famous 22-year-old singer, Taylor Swift. While the details of her (heretofore unsuccessful) love life seem to constantly grace the covers of the tabloids and celebrity magazines, she seems to have avoided some of the excesses of her peers. What’s her secret? “I want to be a mom someday, which governs my decisions…I ask myself: What will my kids think when they read about what I did at this age?"
Brilliant. What a great tool. It can apply to anything – and it really gives perspective. Even if our children won’t actually be reading about us, even if we won’t be front page news, the example still holds. They will ask about our lives. They will be curious about our choices.
What will my kids think? This question could be asked at any phase of life.
What will my kids think? This is a question that could be asked at any phase of life. We can ask it, as Ms. Swift did, in anticipation of the future. We can ask it when our children are young, (especially) when they are teens, and even when they are adults who have left home. They are still watching. It helps us gauge the appropriateness of our behavior, it keeps us in line (and yes we need it).
Now, of course, the ultimate check on our actions should be the knowledge that the Almighty sees and knows everything. As it says in the Talmud: “Reflect upon three things and you will not come into the clutches of sin. Know what is above you: an eye that sees, an ear that hears, and a book in which all your deeds are recorded.” (Avot 2:1)
But sometimes that’s too difficult, too abstract. Thinking about our children is more tangible. It keeps us real. It keeps us grounded.
Would I want my daughter to see me yelling at the sales clerk for her incompetence? Do I want my son to witness me lying about our ages to get cheaper tickets? Do I want my daughter to emulate my bad eating habits and obsession with physical appearance? Do I want my son to “floor it” the way I do when the streets seem empty? Would I like to see my daughter order her husband around the way I do mine? (These are sample questions, not personal disclosures!) Do I want my son to bully his subordinates the way his father does at the office? Do I want my daughter to wear those short tight skirts I favor? You get the picture.
The examples can range from the trivial to the extreme. Do I want my children to help around the house? Do I want them to treat the waitress with courtesy, the cleaning lady with kindness? Do I want them to give of their time and financial resources to others? Do I want them to refrain from using vulgar language? Do I wish them to have a sense of their potential and a drive and desire to achieve it?
I can’t force anything upon them. I can’t make them be good. I can’t manipulate their behavior. But I can guard my own. I can try to model the qualities I’d like them to emulate. I can encourage them to exercise self-control, to stop and think before they act. And I can suggest they follow another dictum in Ethics of Our Fathers: a wise man is one who foresees the consequences of his actions. A wise person recognizes that the tattoos of a 21-year-old (fill in the blank for other behaviors) will be not be befitting a 40-year-old mom and businesswoman. A wise person thinks about how their actions will affect not only their own future but that of those they love – their current family and their anticipated future one where appropriate.
A wise person stops to say, what will my children think?