Actions speak louder than words.
A recent Quora question was how do we teach our children priorities. The answer is simple. Every time you make a choice, you are teaching your child your priorities.
You are in the middle of cooking dinner, and your child demands that you stop what you are doing and come see this marvelous bug that he is looking at.
If you turn off the stove and go look, you are prioritizing curiosity, discovery, enthusiasm and in-the-moment excitement.
If you explain you are in the middle of cooking dinner and you need to stay focused on that, you are prioritizing routine, schedules, predictability, and meeting people’s basic need to get fed.
Both are valid. And while one incident does not a priority make, over time the weight of your choices will make clear your priorities—even if that priority is balance.
If you add words to your actions—and your words and actions align—you will be reinforcing your priorities
I like to use the phrase, “in our family we….” For example, let’s say that your older child comes and asks if she may have a sleepover at her friend’s. You explain that you would like for her to be able to sleepover but tonight will not work because it is her little sister’s recital “and in our family we support each other’s big moments.” Now as long as big sister is accorded the same respect the next time she has a performance or big game, she will know absolutely that supporting each other’s big moments is a priority in her family.
In my opinion, knowing and being clear about one’s own priorities makes parenting much easier. You are much less likely to second guess yourself or to feel guilty about your decisions in retrospect. In identifying your priorities, it is really important to put aside the external voices of parenting experts and coaches like me. Keep in mind that something may be good in general (for example, I truly believe that time spent outside in nature has all kinds of health and well being benefits for children and grownups alike) and at the same time just not be right for you and your family. By putting aside who you think you should be or what you think you should be doing and really checking in with your own preferences, you will be identifying your true priorities. (Otherwise, by default you are prioritizing getting other people's approval.)
Priorities can change.
Don’t worry if priorities change over time. You might feel you are being inconsistent, but it might just be you are being responsive to where you are in your life right now. Perhaps you thought you really valued moms being home with their kids but you find that you are going plumb crazy with all your energies focused on your family. It may be that you do value being present as a mom but given you have enough energy for ten moms, you find yourself over mothering and managing your kids as if they are a business. If that is the case, for you and your family it might be better if you expend some of that energy on an actual business and make your family less of a job.
Naturally, the reverse could be true, too. The trick in setting priorities is to really check in with yourself and your family.
Personality plays a role in our priorities.
One major consideration that can be very hard for parents to accept is that while your children may be very clear on what your priorities are, in the end there is little you can do to make your child have the same priorities. To a great degree our priorities come from our personalities. If you are an extrovert and your child is an introvert, you may teach your child a love of family, but your child might always put having quiet, reflective time by herself as a higher priority than spending time with family. That doesn't mean she doesn't love and value her family. It means she has a priority of needing solitude to fill her emotional tank before she can give to others.
To go back to the Quora question, your actions speak louder than words. Whether you are thinking about it or not, where you put your time and energy is teaching your children what your priorities are. That being true, I think it makes sense to actually think about your priorities and take steps that align your decisions with your beliefs.