The Importance of Role Models

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Role Models

Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. I Corinthians 11:1

Role models are important–not only in the lives of children, but in the lives of adults.  We all need that person we can point to and say, “That is the example I want to follow.”  Often however, we don’t have role models–we have celebrities and idols.  We look at someone and want what they have and not to be who they are.  We want the wealth or the fame or the hit selling album or the hot body or the groupies or the show on the Food Network.  But those people don’t always have character we want to emulate.

We can see this really clearly in the lives of young people–what posters hang on their walls?  Whose picture in out their t-shirt? Whose philosophy are they hearing on repeat on their ipod?

When my daughter was much younger, her little friends loves Hannah Montana.  They had posters, bought the clothing line, watched the shows and movies.  In the store one day my daughter asked if she could get a Hannah Montana t-shirt.  We had never seen the show, but everyone else was wearing her clothes…

The answer was no. And of course she asked why.  And we were able to have the talk.  The talk about role models.   I asked her who were the kind of people she wanted to be like–not what they had, but who they were.  Who was doing good in the world, shedding light, making the world a better place? Who was both happy and holy?  We started a list right there in Target.  The list was full of missionaries, saints, doctors, writers, pastors, scientists.  I asked her why her peers didn’t have posters of any of these people on their walls.  I told her if she found a shirt with Mother Teresa on it she could have it.

Our non-Cahtolic friends and family sometimes wonder why we talk so much about saints in our home and why my kids know so much about Hildegard von Bingen, St. Francis and St. Therese and nearly nothing about Justin Bieber, One Direction, and Taylor Swift.  It’s simple, we would rather our kids model their lives after saints, than the alternative.

The Saints and Martyrs

Where to start?  There are so many to choose from! How did we decide which saints to introduce to our children? We started with some books from the library with a saint a day and a book from Loyola Press with stories of the saints for children.  We learned courage from Joan of Arc, we learned conviction from St. Catherine of Sienna, we learned compassion from St. Francis, we learned wisdom from St. Hildegard, we learned humility and the “little way” from St. Therese.  We even learned there’s a time for punching people from St. Nicholas. (You do know there is more to his story than delivering gifts, right?)

Jokes aside, it was all these little things that started to form in my children a very high standard from which to live their lives.  They cannot settle for a lukewarm Christian life after learning the stories of those who laid it all down for His sake.  When you know these stories something inside you is challenged in a way that is not of this world.

Their Godparents

When our children are born we have asked special people to be their godparents.  These aren’t necessarily the ones that get them if we die. These are the ones who commit to pray for our child, love them, support them.  When the day comes when our child needs a place of wisdom, advice, or even just comfort (and let’s be honest, we know full-well this will not always be us!) they have a solid relationship established with someone who will lovingly point them to Jesus.

Other Family Members

We encourage our children to love and support one another.  We expect the older ones to be nurturing to the younger ones and for the younger ones to respect the leadership of the older ones.  This has led to a very healthy level of interaction with our children and they have become one another’s biggest cheerleaders!  They love to see one another succeed and help one another freely, even if it means putting aside their own activities.  It blesses us to watch!

We are blessed with Christian families.  We are happy to be able to point to grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and others saying, “Follow their good example.”

A FEW SIMPLE GUIDELINES

  1. Be proactive! Don’t let people of influence (whether you know them in real life or via the media) drift into your life or the life of your children without first considering whether or not you want their influence.  Take the reigns back from our modern culture and use that gift of the Holy Spirit called discernment!
  2. Establish relationships with your role models, when appropriate.  Of course some you will only know from afar. Not everyone is going to be best buds with Billy Graham or the Pope.  But you can grow in your knowledge and their influence in your life can grow as you read what they have written, listen to their words, watch their actions.  Other role models, however, are available for coffee, for phone calls, for sharing of hearts. Make time for that.
  3. Set realistic expectations. What sets a lot of us up for failure in relationships is that we set up expectations for how the other person “should” behave in various situations and when that person performs outside our expectations we are disappointed and read into it a lack of love or affection.  The real fault often lies with us and our expectations that were unrealistic or not properly communicated.  To keep it healthy don’t expect more from a role model then they can reasonably offer you.
  4. Stay teachable.  The people we look to for guidance and support will not always tell us what we want to hear.  Sometimes they will challenge us to face parts of ourselves that are not pretty.  Stay teachable.  If we only surround ourselves with yes-men, we will not accomplish the level of growth that is possible when we are open to the loving critique of others.

[We’ve been writing and sharing a lot lately about raising our children into adulthood.  This post is part of that series. You can find all those posts here: Young Adults.]

 


  1. Georgina - November 3, 2014

    Yes, I agree it is a huge blessing to have godly people model truth and love to our children.  But if there is even one person reading this who questions from where will these role models come?  I encourage you to start praying.  God hears your heart’s cry.  For one of my children it seemed to take many years for kindred spirit mentors to appear.  But they did.  These few women did more than influence her in the things of God, they nurtured a blossoming friendship that became more than I could have imagined.  And I am grateful to them.  They know that they are answers to a mommy’s prayer.  

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