Freedom & Responsibility: Being a Role Model to Your Children

Victor Frankl wrote in his book Man’s Search For Meaning “freedom is the only part of the story and half the truth…that is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the east coast be supplemented by the Statue of Responsibility on the west coast.” Frankl, who lived in concentration camps during WW11, believed people determined, regardless of their environment, what they become and how they choose to live their lives. People make choices daily about how they lead their lives. With that freedom to choose comes responsibility. Freedom and responsibility are the pillars of our society that support the foundation of personal choice. These choices become the templates in which children view their worlds. With intent or not, adults are the role models children use to make sense of their developing realities.

“Be a good role model” is a phrase we hear throughout our lifetimes. As parents, our children actively witness us as role models in order for them to imagine who and what type of person they might become. We are the yardsticks for children to measure their perceived reality of acceptable and unacceptable human interactions.

It is important to differentiate between a parent role model and all other role models for children. The parent role model is primary, other role models are considered secondary. The distinction between primary and secondary role models is not one of importance but rather one of quality. The parent role model is primary because of three distinctive characteristics. One, the parent-child relationship begins in the child’s infancy when memories are stored but not remembered. Two, the parent-child relationship lasts a lifetime and is closely monitored by the child throughout critical developmental stages when a child’s identity formation is the task at hand. Moreover, this process occurs in a sequential and successive fashion. Three, being your child’s role model endures time and because of the nature of the relationship there are many opportunities for success. By contrast, secondary role models tend to have a starting point that is clear in the child’s mind. They are often short lived and phase specific. Secondary role models may be imagined and do not necessarily have a real relationship with the child. Both primary and secondary role models are important and distinctive factors in the child’s psychological development.

How do we nurture the parent-child relationship so that we enable them to navigate the road, in Frankl’s words, between “the Statue of Liberty and the Statue of Responsibility?” The key ingredients for parents are listed below:

  • Understand your own values and be consistent with them. Take the freedom to know who you are.
  • Explore your psychological side and face your issues. Be personally responsible to your needs, do not blame, and do not allow unfinished business to rule your interactions with others.
  • Nurture yourself. Enjoy life. Laugh!
  • Allow your spiritual side self-expression.
  • Be truly available to your child’s place in life and validate the positive and negative feelings he or she experiences.
  • The bottom line is that when we best know ourselves, and further, take care of ourselves, we provide our children a role model with integrity.

Being a role model to our children comes as a job detail under parenting. We have the freedom to choose how we live our lives. With that freedom, we take on the responsibility to be our children’s role model. There is a slogan “if you walk the walk you can talk the talk.” When our children experience our “talk is equal to our walk,” we teach them the invaluable lesson of being true to ourselves.