Painting on the wall, and other ways to feel the love

My little Basquiat in the making

What is your parenting platform? If you were asked to teach a mini lesson to a new parent on best practices in parenting in five minutes or less what would be the center of it? If I could be pinned down to one philosophy on parenting it would probably be modelling. Parents model choices, beliefs, possibility or lack there of to their children. Good teaching and good parenting both begin there. Am I reaching for the fruit or the cookie? Am I planning a day outside in the park (with a zillion layers on) or parking it in from of the tube? Am I reaching out, and bringing the neighbor a dinner, or talking about how annoying it is that they…Am I yelling, or asking in a calm voice for the behavior to stop? Am I reading a book in bed, or playing Words With Friends on my phone?

Sometimes I like to watch a DVD (we don’t have television-too much insane modelling there for now). Sometimes a cookie is just the thing. I’ll yell if you are about to hurt your brother, and I am exhausted because I stayed up too late on Twitter… (Wait-does modelling count when they are asleep?) Modelling is not an all or nothing: it is about choices, choices, choices, and being open to explaining why one over the other.

I also model that I mess up, cry, get annoyed, and struggle to make ends meet. Then I model that I forgive myself, pull myself together, and find ways to spend even less money and still have fun. They see it all. They soak it all in.

With Valentine’s Day for example I am introducing a new kind of modelling: talking about how and why we love. Loving your family, loving your friends, and just as importantly loving yourself.  The heart Sam painted is on this big white-ish plywood framed out thing that is about 3.5 feet x 3.5 feet. It was leftover in someone’s studio next to a writer’s studio I had for a spell in my youth (OK early pre kid 30’s). We stick stuff to it, like cards, and pictures, and art we make. The other day I got inspired thinking again about the commercialization of Valentine’s Day, and how I want to model the “showing your love  in February” love thing differently. It also came about in response to Marcel’s recent declarations that he “hates himself”.  I don’t think anything could be farther from the truth–I believe he picked it up somewhere-but I don’t want it to get anymore attention than necessary.  Having him stand in the corner and say “I love myself” as a consequence felt a little off.

So one night we went around the table and instead of saying what we are thankful for (our daily ritual–that happens 90% of the time because Marcel starts it off; “Mommy what are you thankful for today?) we went around the table asking everyone to say one thing they loved about themselves. The kids looked at me like I was crazy.  So I gave examples-I modeled; “I love that I have learned how to cook a yummy meal for my family. I love that I am able to write stories people like to read. I love that I know how to take care of my friendships.” Then Shrek shared that he loves that he is able to play songs on his guitar, and sing songs with friends. He asked if he could have a second turn. So we made several rounds. Marcel loved that he knows how to be thankful. Sammy loves that he is so fast and can swim.  He also loves that he can read books out loud too. Marcel loves that he can ask his brother to read to him.

This translated into the wall of loving. Sam painted it. Marcel and I cut out hearts. Whenever we think of someone we love, something we love about someone, someone we want to send love to, or something we love about ourselves we write it down and paste it up. We’re building a living Valentine in our home–and guests are invited to join in too. The goal–fill it up by the end of February. Maybe in March I’ll have Marcel paint a big Shamrock and send people luck?

Hopefully all of this models that love is everywhere, and omni-present. Hopefully this shouts that it is not just about getting chocolate, and counting the number of cards you got, but about noticing the abundance of love we have to share. Hopefully this models that sometimes you should paint on the walls as long as mom can photograph you, and turn it into a post?


So what are you modelling to your loved ones today? What was modeled in a really memorable way to you as a kid, that made a huge impression?  And if you’re feeling really sharp today–what is your parenting divining rod? What guides you with the most reliability?


  1. Thanks for this post. I’ve been feeling like a not-good-enough mom lately and have felt like I needed a shift. I like the idea of thi king about modeling. And I also really love the “wall of love”. I think I may steal that one!

  2. Thank you! We were needing some inspiration and we’re doing it right now 🙂 I just poured the pink and red paint and P is going to it! We love you!!

  3. This column really hit home for me. This is one of the things I know, but have a really hard time putting into solid practice. This gives me a great push to live the way I’d like Bea to model. As always, thank you, Catherine, for putting something into words that make sense.

  4. If I had this board I would pin a heart to it saying how much I love this post. Thanks for the inspiration! You are wonderful, Mama C.

  5. Boy, did I need to read this! What a lovely way to think about the relationship between parents and kids. I spend so much of the time “managing” that I sometimes forget the magic that happens in just living what I believe and bringing my boy along for the ride. Thank you.

  6. Recently I’ve been modeling the ability to admit when I’m wrong. And, the other day my 4 year old admitted she was wrong and I was SO proud. It was kind of ridiculous.

    I love that you’re sharing one thing you love about yourself at the dinner table. We often do one thing we’re proud of for that day. And, you know, its surprisingly difficult for me. It’s good that I’m practicing!

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