What is the hardest part of parenting? Sometimes, it’s the pressure to be as good a role model as possible — in all situations.
Let’s face it, our kids are always watching us. That often brings out the best in us. But sometimes my inner Charles Barkley just wants to say, “I’m tired of the role model pressure.”
At those times, it can help to be inspired by a fellow parent. Recently, that parent was my own father, Ed. Ed is a retired English professor who moved with my stepmother to Asheville, N.C., many years ago. He had children later in life, and I’m the youngest of his six kids.
Last year, Ed turned 90. He also started self-publishing an environmental newsletter that he sends to dozens of family members, friends and former colleagues. Each issue contains summaries of news stories related to climate change — anything from methane to mosquitoes, floods to fires.
When I received my first copy, I was stunned. How does he have the energy to be an environmental activist at age 90? Doesn’t he just want to relax? My father always had passion for progressive causes, beginning with his participation in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. But to continue churning out information and trying to improve the world in his 10th decade on Earth truly impressed me.
Change is in the air, literally
His power as a role model came at an especially good time given all the discouragement the pandemic has caused, especially for children. My two daughters are part of a teen-and-young-adult generation living through a torrent of depressing news cycles. The pandemic itself. Climate change catastrophes. Civil unrest. Political rancor. It can all get a bit overwhelming.
So I made sure to show my daughters the example of their grandfather’s newsletters. His inspiring example at age 90 is worth much more than any lecture I could give them about not getting discouraged by the state of the world.
Sadly, the urgency of the environmental problems in my father’s newsletters became palpable a few weeks ago in his own town during one of our visits. As we made the long drive to Asheville, I noticed the sky seemed especially hazy, with sunlight partially obstructed. Upon arriving, we learned it was because of all the smoke created by wildfires on the West coast.
The air quality was so bad, my father had to stay inside for several days since his advanced age has impacted his breathing. Other health issues have made it hard for him to speak, unfortunately. But that only makes what he states in his newsletters even more poignant.
Leading by example the best way to lead
No role model is perfect, of course. And certainly our family had its share of problems as I grew up. Overall, however, I see my father is more than a grandparent. He’s a grand role model, and I’m thankful my children get to see the way he lives his life.
I like to think of my father’s example as a reminder for all parents to keep trying to model inspiring behavior. Whether contributing to your home, neighborhood or community, keep showing children that they have the ability to improve their surroundings. Try to involve them in family volunteering or charitable giving. In a sense, a parent is a huge part of a child’s environment, and we are all environmental activists, just in different ways.
There’s one more reason to continue trying to be a role model: you never know when a fellow parent is watching and getting re-inspired by you. That’s what happened to me when I read my father’s initial e-mail introducing his environmental newsletter: “This service is free; it is a service of love. I believe that the only chance we have is to build up interest at all levels in the problem, since the solution involves all of us taking long-range action.”