Don’t Expect Accountable Children If You Aren’t An Accountability Partner
A few years ago, during Naeem’s and my Father-Son He Man Women Hater’s Expedition, something remarkably coincidental occurred while we were independently taking photos of our journey. On several occasions, when I thought I had covertly taken pictures of him, upon closer examination, I discovered that not only did he know that I was taking pictures of him but in many cases, he was watching me all the time.
This phenomenon where I was trying to take a photo of my son while he wasn’t looking is a form of photography that many professional photographers love to employ. Rather than having people pose, real photographers – a group which sadly I do not possess the acumen to be a member – like to photograph people being themselves in their natural surroundings.
Photographers taking these “natural” pictures don’t want you to pose, put on makeup, do your hair, flex your muscles or hold in your stomach. Photographers taking these “natural” photos just want to catch you doing what you normally do – being yourself.
Relax and Be Yourself
You need only reflect back to the last time you had to hire a photographer for an event like a family reunion, high school prom, family portrait, etc. I’m fairly certain that you remember receiving the “relax and be yourself” instructions.
The “relax and be yourself” instructions are very different from the “say cheese” instructions. When the photographer asks you to say “cheese” too often we find ourselves trying to create the perfect smile for the camera. Unfortunately as often is the case, once the photo is developed we notice that our smile was anything other than our “usual” smile.
The photo where we uttered the word “cheese” rarely turns out to be an authentic representation of the moment. I believe this is why I rarely smile when my photo is taken. I’m far too concerned that the picture that is developed will not capture the authentic me but a corny and cheesy version of me.
But enough about me. When the photographer gives the “relax and be yourself” instruction, their aim is not to capture a picture of you with an embarrassingly goofy smile or shocked look on your face. I wish that was the goal then I wouldn’t be the only one with stacks of photo albums with pictures of me with corny and cheesy expressions on my face. But I digress again.
The goal of the photographer is not to take a photo of you that you can use for a modeling portfolio or one that will appear in next month’s Glamour or Men’s Health magazines. Rather, the photographer’s objective when they give the “relax and be yourself” instruction is simply intended to get you to do nothing more than what you regularly do and be no different from who you usually are. The photographer wants to take a photo of you that everyone will recognize as the genuine and customary you.
As it turns out, our children are just like those real photographers. When our children view us each day, they do so through the lenses of their lives and they want to know that who they see through their lenses is actually who we are. Our children want our lives to be genuinely reflective of who we really are and not like the modeling photograph which captures a fabricated image that we have exclusively created for the camera. Children keep us accountable; they are society’s ultimate accountability partners.
Somebody’s Watching Me
In 1984, Motown released the debut single of a new R&B artist named Rockwell. Rockwell’s song featured Michael Jackson. The song was entitled Somebody’s Watching Me. The song reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 but I’m not sure if anyone ever heard from much less watched Rockwell again.
But the fact that Rockwell was a one hit wonder is really not the point I was hoping to make. Instead, I wanted to make you aware that once again something from back in the day provides us with some great insights on successful parenting. The chorus of Somebody’s Watching Me is a key to great parenting – to be an accountability partner:
I always feel like somebody’s watching me.
And I have no privacy.
Woh, I always feel like somebody’s watching me…
Those three sentences from the chorus accurately depict the life of most parents. And I can personally attest from the journey with my son, somebody is always watching you. In my case, as is the case with most parents, that somebody who is always watching you is your child – your undeniable and compulsory accountability partner.
What I hadn’t given much thought to until the moment that I reflected on the photo of me looking at my son and noticing that he was looking back at me was that like Rockwell I have no privacy. And even though I am not a celebrity or a public figure, when it comes to being a parent, I also should have no expectation of privacy.
Everything Comes To The Light
My grandmother often said that “everything comes to the light”. Being a woman of great faith, I can only assume that she was referring to a passage from the Bible “For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” (Luke 8:17)
As an adult, I now know and understand what my grandmother was trying to tell me as a child. We learn the most about people when they think no one is looking and that no matter how discreet we believe we are behaving there is no such thing as being secretive.
Everyone and everything is subject to having their life examined under the bright lights of scrutiny. Every parent should be aware that those bright lights might be turned on us by our children who don’t share our belief in our expectations of privacy.
So even if you believe yourself to be an “average Joe” like me, you might as well think of yourself as a celebrity because when it comes to watching you, your children are like TMZ or the paparazzi. Contrary to TMZ or the paparazzi, our children are not watching us so that they can sell tabloid newspapers once we mess up. Instead, our children are watching us because we are their model for everything that they do and become. Moreover, our children are watching us because their mandates it – they are our genetic accountability partner.
Good, bad or otherwise, the expression “what they see is what they will be” is with rare exception resoundingly accurate when it comes parenting. If our children witness us doing things that we otherwise would not like to come to light, they will more than likely model our behavior. If our children discover that we have two faces, one for the camera and one for real life, they two will adapt this approach to life.
So how do parents create and maintain an image that we want our children to see? How do we avoid having things come to light that we hoped would stay in the dark? We just need to make a minor modification to the photographer’s instructions “relax and be yourself”. Instead of “relax and be yourself”, our acccountability partner instructions will be as follows: “be the best accountabilty partner so that you can relax”.
If we authentically are who we say we are, we’ll never have to worry about our children being disappointed in us having discovered that we were like the forged work of art – fake, fraudulent, phony. I think that we all can attest life is best lived when we are free of worry about what will happen when the lights come on.
I believe life is improved when there is nothing to hide especially from our children. And like it or not our children are always looking back at us in an attempt to see us for exactly who and what we really are. So be your best self so that you can relax.
When your children see you are they seeing the real you or fake version of you? Are you teaching your children to “do as I say” rather than “do as I do”? How would your children rate you as an accountablity partner?
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