I was new to the Waldorf School when I first heard the idea of “being worthy of imitation” from my son’s nursery teacher. Immediately I was intrigued. Although it sounded quite daunting, the words were so beautiful and inspiring. I loved the refinement of being “worthy” of being imitated. The concept raised the standard of what I thought was menial and unnoteworthy.
Waldorf nursery and kindergarten teachers take the task of being worthy of imitation very seriously. They see homemaking tasks – baking, gardening, cleaning, and crafting as worthy activity for young children to emulate. As a result of their example as teachers, I took a bit more pride myself in these domestic chores at home. There is a quiet artistry in the task of setting a table for breakfast or folding clean clothes in a pile or chopping a rainbow of vegetables for a dinner salad. Most of these things we do with little regard to their simple charm. These daily duties present moments that invite connection with our children and allow for us to exemplify virtues like cleanliness and consideration. Providing our children with opportunities to learn and acquire virtues is essentially the purpose of our lives.
Rudolf Steiner, the philosopher behind Waldorf education, spoke on a number of occasions about the experiences that are essential for the healthy development of the young child. These include:
• love and warmth
• an environment that nourishes the senses
• creative and artistic experiences
• meaningful adult activity to be imitated
• free, imaginative play
• protection of the forces of childhood
• gratitude, reverence, and wonder
• joy, humor, and happiness
• adult caregivers pursuing a path of inner development
Love and Warmth
Children who live in an atmosphere of love and warmth, and who have around them truly good examples to imitate, are living in their proper element.
—Rudolf Steiner, The Education of the Child
Steiner’s guidance is practical and provides us with a tangible framework that resonates with spiritual principles. Ultimately, as our children grow, we realize that being worthy of imitation isn’t something to ponder as just a parent of a preschooler. Parents always remain an example to their children – whether we exemplify good or bad behavior or choices – we show who we are to them through how we “do” life.
My 11 year old’s Mother’s Day card today made me recognize this more than ever…In her words, “Growing up, I knew I had a very special mom who made me feel happy and loved. But it wasn’t until I got older that I started seeing things – like your strength and courage, your talent and your wisdom, and how much energy it takes to do all you do. I love you.”
I am humbled by her words. There’s so much I need to be for her – so much self discipline required to be worthy of being imitated by her!
We can be so critical of ourselves and know every blemish, every underdeveloped character quality we possess – but truly there is no time for us to wallow in this self-criticism. Our children need us to be worthy of imitation in this moment, today. As tough as each day is to be patient, forgiving, trustworthy, thankful, and self-disciplined, it is the spiritual work of being a parent to do our best and inspire our children to do the same.
I am contemplating what kind of example I am setting for my daughter in this critical hour of her development into a young lady. It is essential that I strive to take care of myself spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Parenting is such a bounty as it provides for us the opportunity to be accountable toward constant self improvement for the sake of another human being’s development.
Recently, for example, I have set the goal to walk 3 miles every day, no matter what. It’s a goal that will benefit my overall sense of well-being. I am more inspired, however, by the fact that it provides for me an opportunity to exemplify self-discipline and determination for my children – qualities I hope to develop within them.
We show who we are in all that we do every day – the way we speak of our work and co-workers, the level of involvement we have in service to others, in the way we respond to our children (with or without courtesy)…
A parent could become easily overwhelmed by our own expectations to be so, so “perfect.” Having a high standard isn’t a quest for perfection. I strive toward maintaining rigorous accountability while at the same time exemplifying a gentle compassion for myself when I struggle. This is moderation and balance – also very worthy of imitation.
Happy Mother’s Day!