I love winding people up, especially my kids. I know in Colossians 3 vs 21 it says “Fathers, do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged”, but sometimes I can’t help but annoy them.
For example, if there’s a Disney tune on Spotify we’re listening to in the car that one of my kids really hates, I usually find myself turning the volume up, singing along, and then periodically singing the song again at opportune moments throughout the day, just to get a good reaction out of them.
However, I have recently noticed that my daughter, Alice, has picked-up on this and is now doing the same thing to annoy her brother, Samuel. She has learnt that one song particularly irritates him, and has really applied herself to memorising the lyrics in order to get the best, most sustained reaction out of him.
While part of me is slightly proud of her dedication to her craft, my wife Kate has reminded me, in the midst of the shouting and chaos, that this is all my fault. As usual, Kate is absolutely right.
It’s a sobering reality that as a parent, your children are always watching you and being influenced by your behaviour. They are monitoring how you behave in all situations, and are adjusting their behaviour accordingly.
Whether good or bad, every word, action, reaction and inaction is being assessed and copied to some degree. Every time I show affection to my wife, or get cross about something, or work hard at something, or fail at something, my kids are taking note.
I’m a bad loser, and I avoid playing my wife at certain card games because she always beats me and I don’t take it very well. Samuel has acquired my wife’s card playing skills over lockdown, and he beats me regularly at cards too. I’ve noticed that when I react badly to losing, that he starts to adopt those traits. On the rare occasions when I lose graciously, he learns to follow those good traits.
I’m becoming more aware of the importance of displaying good, Godly character traits (even if inside I’m dying from losing again at cards), because there is a limited amount of time when my children will try and copy me. At the moment, we spend a lot of time together and my opportunities to shape their behaviours, values and character are frequent. My daily interactions with my kids present regular opportunities for me to help develop them. However, I’m aware that as they grow up, they will become exposed to external influences (school, friends etc.), and that my own influence will diminish. Time is short, and every opportunity to teach them is precious.
In the same way that children imitate their parents, we also become imitators of the things/people we spend time with. We take on characteristics of others just through spending time with them. I remember speaking to James Wigmore years ago, when his children were young, and he said to me that he is the best father he can be when he is drawing close to God. As we spend more time in God’s presence, whether it’s reading and meditating on his Word, talking and listening to Him through prayer and reflection, times of worship or having fellowship with other believers etc., God is using this to shape our values and behaviours to bring them into line with His own. The more of God’s presence that we allow into our lives, the more we become transformed into His likeness.
When I am more like Jesus, I am a better role model for my children, my friends, my work colleagues and any other people I come into contact. As our lives imitates Jesus better, it provides a more authentic and powerful demonstration of His attributes, which hopefully will lead other people to discover Him and the grace and mercy that can only be found in Him.
This is the ultimate goal.
I can usually test whether my life is bearing the fruit of someone that is imitating God, by assessing whether the fruits of the Holy Spirit are on display in my life. Galatians 5 vs 22 says that “the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”. I know that where my life isn’t reflecting these fruits, that I’m not spending the time with God that I should be, in order to allow His presence to be reflected in me.
So, as I sit here and wrestle with the conviction of being a bad influence on my children, let me encourage you with the following words from Romans 12 verse 2:
“Don’t copy the behaviours and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”