Mara here. After spending the week with my niece, I noticed something I hadn’t noticed before. As role models, we have a lot more power in our influence than we realize. And the problem is we sometimes do things without realizing we are being looked up to.
Recently my 3-year-old niece came to visit. I always enjoy spending time my niece even though I get no work done or have any free time…even to pee in private. Props to you, moms!
One day I came home from work super tired as usual. My niece came running to the door to greet me. She was so excited that “Mawa” (Rs are hard when you’re 3) was home. She pulled me into the den where her toys were strewn about, which disrupted my routine of immediately taking off my jewelry and putting on my PJs. I did, however, have a chance to kick off my heels that I had been wearing all day.
Making silly faces together
My niece sat in my lap and told me she liked my necklace. I was afraid she’d ask to wear my necklace, but she didn’t. She wanted her own jewelry. Her own necklace, her own rings, and her own earrings, so she could match me. She put her feet in my heels and began to parade around the house.
As the week went on, I noticed she mimicked my moves. If my hair was up in a ponytail, she wanted a ponytail. If my hair was down, she wanted her hair down. And if my hair was flipped around and tucked behind me to get it out of my face, she wanted her’s tucked behind her.
I jokingly told my friends that the hero worship was pretty nice. Once as my mother was giving her a bath, she cried and said, “I want my Mawa.” My mom answered, “Your mom will be back soon.”
“No, my MAWA!”
I very much enjoyed spending time with my niece and the hero worship was nice, but it also showed me how much influence we have with those who look up to us. And that power can be used in a good way or a bad way.
I also have a 17-year-old nephew, and love being the “cool aunt.” But there again, that title comes with responsibility. And by being the “cool aunt,” I can show him what really is cool and what really matters in life.
One afternoon I came home from a weekend backpacking. I was limping, dirty, stinky, and just all together gross. My niece happened to be at my house.
I felt a little bit of pride as I walked in my house, backpack strung over one shoulder, matted hair in a knot under a baseball hat, and flies following my scent. OK, the flies really weren’t there.
Mountain biking with my nephew
But I loved how this was the image I portrayed. It wasn’t that girls have to prim, pretty, and polite, it showed you can play to your heart’s content, have a great time, and not care what you look – or smell – like.
I want my niece and nephew to see me as a woman who takes pleasure in life and has more of a purpose than pop culture will lead her to believe.
When I was in my fragile teenage years, I put way too much emphasis on wanting to be cool and pleasing to others. I loved “Saved By the Bell,” and similar teenage TV shows, and thought life should revolve around being popular and what people thought of you.
Boy was I wrong about that! And I want to show my niece and nephew that that line of thinking is wrong too. And the best way I know how to do that is by living a life that shows them that it doesn’t matter.
I also realized I had the power to teach her to be a good steward of the environment. Each night she stayed with me, we fed my dogs. She, of course, wanted to do it. I would show her how much food to give them, and then we would strip the can of its paper wrapper and put it in the recycle bin. I didn’t have to tell her to recycle and how important it is, but rather I showed her. And by showing her and her doing it, it will stick with her more.
The same with my nephew. When he sees me making the extra effort to recycle, that is something that sticks.
So I’m going to leave you with a challenge! I challenge you to pay attention to the little ones that surround you. Notice how much they pay attention. And think of ways you can show them without telling them what in life is important to you.