When my son was eight, he was starting to choose his own role models – the travel soccer coach, our next door neighbor Vince, who embraced my son as his own, letting him tag along on every dad/son outing he and his son were going on. Another person he admired was a fireman we met during a trio of false fire alarms on a New Year's Eve visit to my sister on the West Coast. After the third alarm, and perhaps seeing the glow on my son’s face every time the giant truck screeched up outside the loft, the firefighter asked my son, and the whole gang, to hop aboard for a trip through the streets of San Francisco.
It was almost magical seeing the city from atop that perch. My son riddled the guy with questions about fires and saving bloodied bodies in car crashes. Before we hopped off, my son had agreed to write a paper for his third grade class and send it to his now favorite person in the world: Fireman John. For months, he corresponded with Fireman John through my e-mail account. And he declared in his school paper that he wanted to grow up to be a firefighter, inspired both by John and by an uncle who is a fireman/paramedic.
I’m all for idolizing fire fighters, but more significantly, I am glad that my son was looking up to someone who works hard at helping other people and has dedicated himself to such a heroic and noble profession.
Fast-forward to today. My son is at Chicago University Medical Center studying to be a paramedic after graduating last year from fire science school. He pays his own way working as an EMT in a local hospital emergency room. With his intensely compassionate personality (and interest in working out to stay buff), you couldn’t match him to a better profession.
“You Would Be So Good at That”
Every mom hopes her kids will grow up to do something good. But with all the negative role models around, how do you inspire kids to follow the positive ones? I was lucky that fate brought people in community service — like Fireman John and Uncle Doug — literally to our doorstep in their red trucks. For my daughters, I subtly (or maybe not so subtly) tried to counter gender stereotypes: “Look, your pediatrician, Dr. Meyer, is a woman.”
When Circle of Moms members discuss this issue, the conversations tend to resolve around the need to negate all the negative role models out there. Moms like Christina wonder, “Where do your kids find role models these days? We can't expect Hollywood to provide role models for our teens." Answering her own question, she suggests getting your kids involved in sports and youth groups.
In my case, pushing positive role models went beyond my kids' after school activities. A tad controlling? Guilty. But I wanted to make sure my kids saw that people who work hard can achieve their dreams.
Somewhere along the way on this campaign of mine, my kids figured me out. I guess I wasn't exactly subtle. When my daughter was eight I arranged for her to shadow at our dog’s vet. Later, when she was 16, I brought her to the inner-city school where I worked in communications under the guise that I needed help organizing a spring picnic. I then not so secretly orchestrated a meeting with a cute young male teacher with the hope that he would inspire her teacher dreams a tad more. As my kids now remind me (repeatedly), I was always pointing out inspiring people — famous book authors, artists, museum directors and founders of non-profits — and explaining how “you would be so good at that.”
For now, I’m on a roll. My oldest daughter, who used to follow me around a newsroom and carried a notebook and journal (still does), is a recent college graduate who landed a job as a project manager at an advertising agency, writing digital content. And, my son, he’s on his way to becoming Fireman John and Uncle Doug. Fingers crossed that my youngest, who is majoring in education in college, continues to follow the path of the hunky history teacher. Verdict’s still out, but my campaign record so far is all wins.
What kind of role models are you encouraging for your children?
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