When I was a little girl, one of my favorite books was Robert Louis Stevenson’s “A Child’s Garden of Verses.” And one of my favorite poems from that book was called “My Shadow.” It begins with the words, “I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me.” My mother used to quote that line to me all the time, as I followed her around the house. She quoted it to me again when my son learned to walk and began to follow me around the house. Following mom seems to be a universal trait of childhood.
And it’s perfectly natural that children would follow their parents. They are always looking to us to learn what to do and how to behave. They imitate everything we do, from tying our shoes to brushing our teeth to cooking in the kitchen. They try to sweep the floor, to answer the phone, to brush their hair just like we do. Wherever we are and whatever we’re doing, that’s where they want to be and what they want to do.
Honestly, at times it’s annoying. I’d like to use the bathroom without an audience now and then. I’d like to pick up the house without tripping over a small child every time I turn around. I’d like to sit on the couch for a minute without someone immediately planting themselves in my lap. I’d like to take a shower without someone peeking through the curtain to say hello. I’d like to NOT be followed now and then.
And frankly, there are behaviors I sometimes exhibit that I’d rather my children not imitate. I’d rather they didn’t growl under their breath when a fellow driver cuts us off. I’d rather they not repeat some of my muttered sayings, such as “You’re killing me,” and “Holy crap.” I’d rather they not shout when they’re angry, like I do, or boss each other around, like I do, or turn their noses up at certain foods, like I do. There are many times when I wish they’d stick with doing as I say and not doing as I do. But because they follow me, it reminds me to be aware of what I do and what I say. That little shadow at my side reminds me to guard my lips and bite my tongue, and to think before I speak and before I act.
Because I am followed, I am forced to be a leader, an example, and a role model. Because I am followed, I am a better person. As annoying as it sometimes is, being followed is a good thing for both the follower and the followee.