Teaching by Example on the Family Side

family reunionI truly have the greatest family on earth! I am so blessed to have wonderful grandparents, parents, siblings, in-law, nephews, nieces, spouse, children and the list can go on.

I have a theory about families that in life we have three different kinds of family. We have the family we are born into, the family we create and the family we make from those closest to us. I have all three in my life.

One of my greatest teaching examples in family life comes from my brother, Jared. An impromptu family reunion happened several years ago when there were only 17 grandchildren (a number which has increased substantially since then if not exponentially). Each of the six children and all of the grandchildren made a trip to Indiana to visit our parents. Soon, we had a troop of Harringtons running around my parents’ 1300 square foot home. We needed a solution quick for all of these small people.

Jared, a contractor by trade owning his own business (Harrington Builders)Jared and nail gun, pulled up one day with his big truck and work trailer full of tools and wood. He swiftly interrupted the morning Disney show to announce, “Who wants to help Uncle Jared build a clubhouse in grandpa’s backyard?” Children squealed, screamed, jumped up and down, ran up to him and clambered all over the man. “Well, if you’re going to help me, you need to get dressed and meet me at my trailer. We have lots of hard work to get done today.”

Each child proudly carried pieces of wood, tools, nails, screws and much coveted power tools. Each parent worried about the power tools, especially the nail gun, but Jared assured us there was nothing to worry over. He did a demonstration and told the kids how dangerous power tools could be. Then, he wrapped his arm around each grandchild and showed them how to use the tool. Children lined up, excited to take their turn using the nail gun. Some nails went in crooked. Some were bent. (We’re not sure how they managed to do it, but they did.) Some were in the wrong place. Did it matter? Not at all. This was their clubhouse.

When the clubhouse was finished, it was moved to the back corner of the lot. For years, every grandchild used the little clubhouse and each time we visited their grandparents, they proudly announced that they had built the little space. All of those small children owned it. I watched as some borrowed a broom from grandma to sweep out their little house. They evicted bugs and critters when it hadn’t been in use. It was their secret space where adults could only enter if invited.

When we teach our children it is often easy for us to do it for them instead of by example. We attempt to want to make things perfect, yet, the learning is not in the perfect product. The learning is in the creation of the product. Mistakes will happen. Errors will happen. Not every nail will go in straight. This is part of their learning process. When, as parents and educators, we interrupt that learning process, we have, by action, told our children that their efforts are not good enough. We didn’t just rob them of a learning experience, but we have robbed them of their self-esteem.

Tracy Harrington-Atkinson

Tracy Harrington-Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the mid-west with her husband. She loved storytelling and sharing her stories with her children. As they grew, she started writing her stories down for them. She is a teacher, having taught from elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education, masters in higher education and continued on to a PhD in curriculum design. Her husband, Kerry and Tracy breed miniature dachshunds and love to spend time with their growing family. She has published several books including Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Rachel's 8 and Securing Your Tent.