Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Being a Good Bad Role Model

In the shower this morning, for unknown reasons, I started to wonder if I am a good role model to the people I come across on a daily basis. As a parent of four and, as much as it pains me to say, a senior military spouse (“senior” in that Mike’s been in the Army for a while, and we’ve been together a lot of years), sometimes I think that I should be “setting the example,” whatever that means. Not necessarily for my kids, mind you…I think they know me well enough at this point to look to their dad when needing a role model. But, in our neighborhood, which is also a military community, I’ve been around the block a few more times than most of my peers, simply due to my ‘advanced’ age, and I got to thinking about how others might view me.

Almost immediately, I started to laugh. The idea of “role model” quickly fell away, as I thought perhaps the correct description of knowing me was really more akin to something out of a scared-straight program. “Look, kids! THIS is what YOU could become if you don’t clean up your acts!” Imagine tiny faces with wide, horrified eyes and terrified expressions. I don’t know why I found this so funny, but I laughed and laughed, and then I laughed some more.

A few examples quickly popped into my head…examples that, I am fairly sure, indicate I am NOT a role model, or at least not a good one. Recently, my mother-in-law sent me a book review. Its title? Moms Who Drink and Swear: Loving Your Kids While Losing Your Mind.  So, when my MIL saw the words “moms,” “drink,” “swear,” and “losing your mind,” her first thought was of me. I can’t even take offense because it’s all true. I drink, I swear, and often I do both at the same time. Frequently, I am confident I am losing my mind. And, apparently, I don’t even try to hide this.  Score one in the NOT a Role Model column.

Then, a few days ago, Nadia said to me in the car, “Mom, slow down. You’re going even faster than the school bus. You’re going to get pulled over AGAIN.” Of utmost concern to me in this sentence is the implication of the speed at which the bus driver hauls my kids around. Of course, if I had a bus full of kids, you can safely bet I would also be traveling at a high rate of speed, to get those kids OFF my bus. Of other concern: the fact that my daughter thinks I get pulled over a lot. I don’t know what qualifies as being pulled over “a lot,” but, regardless, she thinks I have a lot of police encounters, which sounds like another tally mark on the side of NOT a Role Model.

One day a year or so ago, while Mike was deployed, I realized I hadn’t seen my new neighbor in forever. I knew that her husband was also deployed and she had three small kids, of which the youngest was a newborn. I began to worry about her, thinking that maybe she was having trouble coping with the deployment and/or single-parenthood.  I decided I would soon go over, offer some guidance and “take her under my wing,” so to speak. Later the same day, as I had a complete and total crazy-woman meltdown over my role as single parent, Army-spouse, parent-of-four, I decided that perhaps the kindest thing I could do would be to NOT go over. What, I thought, could I possibly offer in terms of advice to anyone? More likely, seeing me in my beaten-down, sarcastic, grizzled-Army-spouse status might actually cause her to lose any hope she might have, as opposed to me being the shining example of well-adjusted wonder-woman I want to think I am.  For her benefit, I steered clear of her, thinking denying her my influence was the kindest thing I could do for her. Score one more in the NOT a Role Model column.

A favorite example happened a couple years ago. I was describing to a friend an incident that had occurred in my house. As I recounted the story that ended with a giant stain in my bedroom that looked like a Jackson Pollock painting, with cat vomit as the medium, and my subsequent unraveling into near-madness laden with an incredible slew of expletives, my friend looked at me soberly and actually said, “Sometimes I think I’m the worst parent in the world, but now I know I’m not.” I figure you could take this two ways: either I let her know that we all share the same struggles and we’re all, in fact, sort-of-normal as we deal (sometimes badly) with the crazy situations we frequently face as parents. Or…she’s not the worst parent in the world because I deserve the title. I think she probably meant the former, so we will score this one on the side of Role Model, since I haven’t been able to score anything on that side yet.

Plenty more incidents flashed in my mind…incidents in which I perhaps didn’t come off positively. I did a quick tally and simple math confirmed it’s much more likely that I probably am NOT the paragon of virtue I wish I were, or that I wish others saw me as. But, because I love silver linings, I decided it’s good to be true to oneself, even with all one’s imperfections. And then there’s this…being a bad role model can also be good (along the lines of “Scared Straight”), if it affects positive change. If I don’t always model good behavior directly, maybe people can learn something good from all my bad examples.  

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