Updated: Apr 20, 2020
We conscientious parents take our job very seriously. We understand it’s a
big responsibility, and that we're supposed to bring up our kids to be ready for the future, whatever that means. If we're honest, what we parents really want is to enjoy our adult children, and for them to want to spend time with us. We want to get along with them and not have to bail them out of trouble--we want our adult kids to be good people who other people respect and like, with a healthy life of their own. But how does this happen?
Our kids are babies, or toddlers, or in middle-school--how do we get there from here? To get from point A to point B, we have to do three things:
Keep moving in the direction of B, even if you make stops along the way.
The way you locate B - the end goal- is this: Ask yourself "how you would describe the kind of person you want your grown up child to be?" I think in the long run you’ll find it has very little to do with attending a particular college, playing a particular sport, or having a particular career. It’s a person’s character that makes their life what it is. That’s the goal–to help them become a certain kind of person.
When you’re clear about what that person looks like, do a careful self-examination; is the way you’re doing things in your family likely to cultivate the qualities you hope your child eventually possesses?
For example, say my goal for my daughter is for her to value and contribute to her family, to learn self-discipline and good study habits, and to learn to manage her money well. Terrific goals! However, what if I have given her a smartphone and a car, and each week I give her cash to spend with her friends at the mall? She doesn’t do any chores, I have no idea who her friends are or how she spends her free time; she’s too “busy” to spend time with her younger siblings, and resists joining the family for dinner. Hmm . . . does this fit my stated goal? Definitely not!
That’s where step 2 comes in–leaving A. There is no way to bring your goals to you, you have to go after them, and you have to lead your kids there. Going toward your goal–B–means leaving behind what you are currently doing–A.
The photos above was taken at Bandelier National Monument in NM, a place where a group of people found a home hundreds of years ago. They somehow saw what they were looking for in these forbidding cliffs–not on the ground. They had already walked hundreds of miles from their original home because of threats to their way of life; now that they had found a good location, they had to continue by leaving the valley floor to climb this rock face and others like it for the sake of preserving the things they valued most.
In the example above, A –the way I’m bringing up my daughter–is comfortable, it’s easy, and my daughter and I both are used to it. Not only that, but there is very little conflict–she’s pretty much free to do whatever she wants. But I want better things for her; I want those things I listed as my goals. To get those things, I have to leave behind this easier way–I can’t have both. Like the settlers at Bandelier, there are things more valuable than comfort, things I’m willing to work to achieve. Because I want more for my daughter, I’ll commit myself to putting up with attitudes and dealing with the conflict that will inevitably come as she tests my leadership. The easy way doesn’t lead to what I’m really after.
Look around where you are–are you in a bog of things and ideas that are keeping you from moving toward what really matters to you? Are you hanging on to relationships, jobs, habits, or ways of thinking that you’ve grown comfortable with, but which are ultimately harmful to your family? Are there fruitless ways of parenting that are easy–being too indulgent, making excuses for bad behavior, too many electronics, and so on–but would be better left behind for your kids’ sake, even though they may resist the change? Turn your eyes to that lofty goal, and leave what’s easy and comfortable behind.
The third step is to just keep moving in the direction of B. Your progress may be slow, the path may become obscured along the way, and you may even come to a halt and have to re-establish your bearings. In fact, sometimes you may think you’re on the clear path to B when you realize you’ve become disoriented, or simply that you’ve dragged too many things from A along with you–toss them and move on. If sometimes it seems it would be better to just go back, to head in a completely different direction, or to simply stop and stay indefinitely, especially if the way has been rough and you are weary, pause for a moment to remember the long view–remind yourself of what’s really important, and that it really is worth whatever it takes to get there.
Never lose sight of your goal. You will fall and you will fail, just don’t quit. Keep putting one foot in front of the other, grabbing that next handhold up, and don’t give in. Eventually you’ll be there, looking back at where you came from. Oh, and your children will be standing next to you, thanking you for getting them there.