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Leading by the Power of Our Example

When President Biden gave his victory speech on November 7, 2020 and again when he addressed the nation at his Inauguration last week, he said “We will lead not merely by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.”

The power of our example. Wow.

It’s a powerful statement for the leader of the free world, but as he was speaking, all I could think was “what a powerful statement for a parent.”

Do you lead your family and parent your children using the power of your example?  Or do you rely on the example of your power?

Culturally, I think we are conditioned to think we have to overpower our children—to win over them rather than to win them over.  We are told that we need to be the boss, that we need to make them behave, and that they will only respect us if we demand it.

But stop for a minute and think about that.

Is that really how we want our kids to live?

Is that really how we want to parent?

Is that really cementing the type of relationship we want to have with them?

Imagine for a moment that you had a boss like that (as some of you may).  A boss who was constantly looking to prove that they were more than you. A boss who was committed to being right and proving you wrong.  A boss who demanded respect but didn’t give it.  A boss who who took credit for the good things you did. A boss for whom you did work not because you were empowered and committed to the cause, but because you were fearful of the consequences.  And a boss who did not make space for mistakes and the growth that stems from them.

I wouldn’t want to work for that boss.

And your kids don’t either.

So how can we parent using the power of our example rather than the example of our power?

Here are some thoughts from the trenches:

  1. We can learn to regulate our emotions.  Problems and behavior issues don’t always need to be addressed in the moment.  There is a lot of power in waiting until everyone is calm so that we can decide how to respond rather than react. If we are yellers, we can teach ourselves to be more mindful in the moment so that yelling doesn’t become our go-to strategy for being heard or gaining compliance.  Learning techniques to regulate our own emotions puts us in a better position to teach those skills to our children.

  2. We can learn to make good, heartful repairs.  Few things are as useful in relationships as knowing how to say “I’m sorry,” and few things are as powerful in our parenting as letting our children hear us admit we screwed up.  A meaningful repair has three key components:  we have to RECOGNIZE the mistake we made and take responsibility, we must RECONCILE by apologizing from the heart, and we RESOLVE the problem by working together on a respectful solution.

  3. We can build a culture of mutual respect and appreciation.  What if rather than demanding respect simply because we are their parent, we flipped the script and decided that our children are deserving of respect and kindness simply by virtue of the fact that they are human.  Families that regularly cultivate mutual respect for one another routinely see fewer behavior issues in need of correcting; after all, it we tend to be kind and respectful to those who are kind and respectful of us.

  4. We can give credit where credit is due. Too many of us have our egos wrapped up in our parenting: when they fail at something, we feel as if we have failed.  And when they succeed, we love to take the credit.  But leading by the power of our example means giving credit where credit is due and letting them celebrate their own successes.

  5. We can provide encouragement and empowerment.  When we allow children to make mistakes in a variety of contexts, and allow those mistakes to be opportunities for learning, we open the door to some really cool stuff!  By praising effort rather than outcome, we empower our children to solve their own problems. And when we connect with them before correcting them, we invite them into constructive self-evaluation rather than destructive self-judgment.  Unburdened by shame, children can use a mistake to launch them to their next success.

The skills that serve us well as stand-out leaders in the workplace, and exemplify what President Biden was referring to when he suggested the U.S. should lead by the power of its example, are really not that different from the strategies that allow our families to thrive with love, joy, and connection.

Are you relying on a show of power with your children?  Are you leading with fear?  Or are you traveling on a different road?

In the words of our president, “without unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury.”

We all have the power to choose each day how we want to show up for our children.

Are you choosing unity?  Are you showing up as the example your children deserve?

As we embark as a country under new leadership, I wonder…maybe it’s time we do the same at home?

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Christy Keating fun headshot

Christy Keating is a certified parent coach,  positive discipline educator, and motivational speaker. She is the founder and CEO of The Heartful Parent Collective, which includes Heartful Parent Coaching, Savvy Parents Safe Kids, and Heartful Parent Academy.

The mother of two amazing daughters, Christy strives to build a happier, healthier world - one child, one parent, and one family at a time.