How Do They Know?



We teach our kids values, either on purpose or by default. Sometimes it’s a case of “Do as I say, not as I do!”

It’s not always serious moral values we want to impart. Maybe it’s the love of watching the Stanley Cup Play Offs or knowing that Star Trek is better than Star Wars (or vice versa!)

It goes beyond kids, too. By example – positive or negative – we also model behaviours and values to adults, whether it’s our co-workers, friends, spouse, or even our parents.

Some of the things we did together when my child was young (starting around age 1) were putting things away and cleaning up, sitting down together at a table for meals, visiting grandparents regularly and attending family reunions, and trying to recover quickly from little spills and upsets.

We often did things that were time-consuming and messy, just for the experience: baking, playing with bubbles, running under the sprinklers, planting seeds, painting.

Over the years, I did a lot of things very deliberately when I knew my child was watching: sorting the recycling, using ladders and tools, washing the car, mending clothes, making gifts.

Much later, I gave more thought to what I didn’t want to do: complain about all the candidates and refuse to vote, swear at drivers who cut me off, put things we couldn’t afford on credit cards.



I always put a very high priority on reading aloud, listening to music, going to free local festivals, and, of course, building things with LEGO.

Over the years I have trained a number of people in my standards for house cleanliness, balanced meals and keeping costs down. It’s not only kids who need some guidance in these matters!

In the past year, I realized I was showing up for work late, and I nipped that in the bud because, as a supervisor, I need to set a good example.

Over the past five years, I have spoken to my parents about LGBTQ issues every time they came up on the news or in conversation – paving the way, as it were, for future news about their grandchild!

As a parent, you know you have to set a good example – well, maybe 80% of the time! Now I am finding it doesn’t end. As a spouse, a child, a friend and a co-worker, I still find lots of opportunities to gently demonstrate what I believe, what I value, and what I like. I can show it by how I spend my money, abilities, and especially my time and attention.

I think my loved ones can feel my love, time and attention. They know I care about books, reading, music, art, food, family traditions, toy robots and Lisa Simpson. They also know I am an irritating neatnik and I overthink everything and they had better not leave any candy lying around and expect to find it when they get back!

What have you taught your loved ones on purpose and what did they learn from you despite your best efforts?


  1. I have so much to catch up on! One thing I ‘learnt’ from a past partner was this aversion to putting clothing (particularly) on the floor. Previously, I didn’t mind. Now, unless it’s destined for the washing basket, I abhor it. The BF knows 😉

    Alas, other things, I’m more and more mindful recently as a ‘manager’ to model what I want to see. In past years, staff training days were often half days, and people went home afterwards. I recently clearly recalled someone to work (not maliciously, there was time sensitive work to be sorted). Alas, a few weeks later, I had to make the most of the same situation. Sadly, usually this involves changing/commuting between depots, which also seems wasteful to me. But in my week’s absence, my stand in (usually my staff) demonstrated the same level of expectations and commitment. I was proud the bar had been raised, even in my little group of 6. I’m also amending my language, positivity and cussing, to be more polite and asking my staff to do the same (I’m not super serious, but it’s enough they know I care). It’s one thing to ‘blend in’ on site, but another in the office. And the positivity is SORELY needed in the current climate. I also make sure I can and do do anything I would ask staff to do. Lead from behind style. It’s like being a manager/leader is making sure I’m beyond reproach!

  2. Juhli

    I have been thinking about the learning from example vs teaching on purpose a lot since my Mom died. It is interesting to me that the most important lessons of life were not verbalized by my parents and thus were harder to learn. My Mom was great at being a friend and remaining lifelong friends but never talked about that and it wasn’t very visible to a child. I have realized this is a real skill/knowledge gap in my life. On the other had she verbalized and enforced so many rules about the less important parts of life – how to clean for example – that I rebelled against them but became proficient anyway. I’m afraid I did some of the same with my own children.

    • I feel the same. I grew up in an era in which my parents felt obliged to enforce a lot of religious tradition (I would say dogma) and so much of it seemed based on form rather than substance. I don’t completely reject what they taught me, but oh, the guilt! There is always a risk of becoming the opposite of your parents which is usually not healthy either. For example, they value community and (to some degree) conformity – what they would call keeping valued traditions. I don’t rebel across the board, but I am more selective about what I carry on.

      Meanwhile, as a single parent, I never had much time for friendships outside of work, and Link certainly noticed and thinks it is a great flaw!

  3. Gam Kau

    I really so admire how deliberate and mindful you are. I’m not sure if I could go back and parent my children again if I would do so in the same way I did. One of the funny things about parenting is different methods work for different kids/parents and you really don’t know until they reach adulthood if the method worked.
    I’d say my purposeful aims that worked were: frugalness (for the most part, they aren’t as frugal as I would like!), no religion, no tv, challenging assumptions/status quo

  4. Great questions. Saying “treating others like you want to be treated” is not as valuable as the children seeing you do this. It is simple as holding a door, asking how your day is going, being kind to a cashier or sales clerk or doing volunteer work. We don’t always succeed in our efforts to do this every time, but the kids have picked up the actions. We have also been blessed by letting our kids be different. We are an eclectic bunch and have some of the most interesting conversations. Finally, we wanted a home that our kids felt comfortable bringing their friends home. It is chaotic, but we would have it no other way. We, of course, have regrets on what we could have done better, but the list is too long. Thanks, BTG

    • I have always thought you can judge a person by how they treat service workers. Sooner or later, that is how they will treat you! I like your emphasis on having the kids’ friends at your house. It works on so many levels.

  5. Fiona

    Your values come through in your time and attention with blog comments (and also the positivity in your blog posts!)

    On purpose, we’ve tried to teach a love of books, reading and history; eating together at the table, hospitality with family and friends. Knowing all the neighbours. Resilience / adaptability. And connecting to country (the land itself.)

    Sadly, the thing I didn’t mean to demonstrate was swearing! Definitely in the ‘do as I say, not as I do!’ category.

    • My replies are late today because I just watched the whole series of My Transsexual Summer on YouTube back-to-back 🙂

      I like your priority list. As for swearing, I think I posted before about my solution for home: I decided it was not OK to direct swearing at someone (as in “You fricking idiot!”) but it was OK to exclaim for emphasis (“That show was fricking brilliant!”) Although that may have only started up when Link was about 13…

      • Fiona

        Ah! I have to finish watching MTS! I hope it was of some use. My swearing is mostly for emphasis / punctuation / alliteration but I’m afraid I’m getting much worse as I get older.

      • Alliteration? Do you mean like, “I don’t give a flying f***?” 🙂

      • Fiona

        That could work, although I often aim for longer strings of alliteration. (Lol – once again I have lowered the tone in comments!)

  6. Great post as usual! I know what I DIDN’T teach the boys… They came back after moving out and had to ask how to go grocery shopping and how to do laundry–things I did automatically and enjoyed doing and just never asked for help with and what do you know–they never learned how to do these simple things! Now I am going to pay more attention to what I do to teach/learn from others.

  7. You are right! I sometimes find myself falling silent when someone makes a statement with a little laugh at the end, clearly expecting me to agree and laugh along. Once I might have, but now I feel the need to explain morality to people. Maybe I am a bit of a stick in the mud, but I have come to learn that principles should never ever be compromised.

  8. Let’s see: my parents were both very frugal. I am frugal and my brother is not. My mother is a super housekeeper: my brother is also and I am a slob. My husband and I are both frugal: both kids are. My daughter is neat; my son is messy.
    My father was very interested in personal finance. I am also, not sure about my brother. My son is even more interested in personal finance. My daughter is not.

    Most important (to me). I was the only reader in my birth family. I married a reader. Both my kids are readers.

    Nature or nurture?

  9. I am explicit in teaching my boys some things – values and beliefs and how we treat others, just as much as how we do things including household tasks. But Mr S and I also demonstrate and live our values. Doesn’t mean I win (or have them accept and live some things) on everything I want. Cleanliness and tidiness are areas I haven’t had wins on. But, more importantly, being kind and polite and non-sexist are the values my boys live and hold true to.

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