Reluctant Role Models

sad faceHere’s a disquieting thought. Maybe kids suck….because we do.

What has me pondering the notion isn’t just the startling fall from grace of Michael’s angel or the flash of hurt and anger that fill his eyes when yet another adult disappoints. Because it isn’t just about the kids in my life or the adults I know who don’t measure up.

Athletes willingly accept accolades and actors enjoy adoration. Just as long as they’re not asked to do too much in return.

Those in the public eye who are called upon to serve as de facto role models often shun the responsibility, abhorring its potential pitfalls. In spite of their blessings, they consider the notion of reciprocal obligation above-and-beyond the scope of their jobs.

Rihanna shot back with defiance when a reporter labeled her a toxic role model last summer, noting that it wasn’t the gig she’d signed up for. The dozens of NFL players who’ve landed in ignominy since the last Super Bowl seem only apologetic when their antics are answered with a hit to their paychecks. And politicians and lawmakers step in and out of the limelight with the dexterity of dancers, donning the beacon only when it’s self-serving.

On grand scales and small, few people seem ready to shoulder the role model responsibility.

And if we’re not collectively willing to set a good example or two, why are we so shocked when our kids make mistakes?

The ideal of role models may hearken to simpler times when roles were set in black and white contrast instead of high def color and clarity. Maybe our hyper-vigilant media and instant connect lives do make being a role model a more daunting undertaking than ever before.

But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Parents have no choice. Like it or not, we are our own kids’ best—and worst—role models. They accept or rebel against the examples we set.

But we owe it to more than our own offspring to offer the good (and bad) examples from our lives. We owe it to the next generation to step up even if we get absolutely nothing in return. In fact, we should do it only if we expect nothing in return.

Talk about hearkening back.

Finally (reluctantly), I’ve accepted the moniker of mentor to a few people in my life. I’m less inclined to lock into the notion of being their role model.

I’m lucky that the kids I know are just self-absorbed enough not to ask me the really tough questions. I know I look better to them when they draw their own positive conclusions. The illusion is my own good gig.

But being a role model is another –whether I like it or not.

I can’t offer them a perfect example, but I might be able to impart a lesson or two. And I can hold them up to their own good standards, even when they don’t know how good they can be.

And I can be honest. Insist that they are too –to me and to themselves.

The thing is that they can be role models, too. They don’t want to be. I don’t blame them. But they should be. And we should demand it of them.

Occasionally I get to put peer-to-peer and let them teach one another. They’re not often fans of my manipulations but they acquiesce.

It’s easier at home. Alex knows she’s supposed to set a good example. She doesn’t seem to mind. Older sister, older cousin; she’s a good fit to her position.

Even Michael is tepidly stepping up to the plate. When his little cousin crossed a line that he wouldn’t, he felt compelled to share her disrespect. There was a time, in the not so distance past, when Michael as role model would have seemed a scary precept; not any more. It’s his turn to set a good example or two, to offer someone younger or newer a bit of sage advice –even if it is from a 19-year-old kid. Already, Michael has a lot to offer as a role model.

We all do.