First and foremost I am not an expert on parenting. Like everyone else I am learning as I go. I am a father of four children and their ages range from eight years old to 11 months old. Like most parents I want to do my best to raise my children. I believe raising children to be productive human beings has got to be one of the toughest things to do. I recently read the book, 12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid by Tim Elmore. He provides us with excellent insight on the struggles we deal with as we prepare our children for life. I want to share a few key points below.
We won’t let them fail. Life is about failure. If we don’t let them fail along the way how will they ever deal with the harsh reality of life? If we swoop in and rescue them from everything as they grow how will they cope with their first real failure? We see an overwhelming amount of students have their first setback while at college and they never recover. Benjamin Franklin said, “The things which hurt, instruct.” I think it’s important that we put our children in situations to take a risk and experience failure. It’s also important that we talk about our own failures throughout life.
We project our lives on them. Many parents live their lives vicariously through their children. This is hard not to do. For these parents it offers them a second chance to get it right. I can remember when my oldest daughter was four years old, I got her into a soccer league in Minot. At the time I wanted nothing more than for her to be excited about soccer. Unfortunately for me she could care less. She was more concerned about playing in the gopher holes on the soccer field than scoring goals. This was a good education for me as a parent. I realized that I cannot project my personal ambitions on to her. As a parent I can expose her to these different passions of mine, but I need to realize that she will have her own passions and they may not match mine. I need to be okay with that.
We just want them to be happy. Every parent wants their children to be happy. Tim Elmore makes the argument that happiness should be thought of as a byproduct and not the ultimate goal. We often think happiness is related to material wealth, but we all know people who have everything and are not happy. Life disappoints. Being happy is dependent on how we react to or perceive events that occur in our lives. During their early years we should be communicating that they are loved, safe, valuable, uniquely gifted, and supported. As they transition to adolescence our message should shift. We need to help them understand that life is difficult, you are not in control, you are not that important, you are going to die, and life is not about you. These may be perceived as harsh, but they are true statements. If they are to become productive human beings then we should prepare them for this. Happiness is important, but there will be bumps throughout life. Think of happiness as a byproduct.
We remove consequences. You may have heard the term “helicopter” parent, this is when we fight the battles for our children. This type of parenting does not create independence. There are times when our children need support, but we have to be careful in how much support we provide. When we insulate kids and remove consequences from actions, we fail to prepare them for the future that awaits them. Elmore explains, “If we really love our kids, we do not make it our aim to get them to love us back. That is the by-product of our loving them and leading them into adulthood. Our kids don’t need us to be their pals – they need us to be their parents.”
We won’t let them struggle or fight. One of the biggest issues we see in school is the ability for children to delay gratification. Take a minute sometime and search “Marshmallow Test” on Youtube. This is a research study where students were brought into a room and at the table was a plate with a marshmallow on it. The test was to see how long the child could wait until he or she would eat the marshmallow. If they waited long enough they would receive a second marshmallow. Researchers came back years later and tracked the original children that took part in this test. They found that those who were able to wait were highly successful in college and on the SAT. The ability to delay gratification is very important for kids. Do we allow them to struggle for a bit or do we immediately provide them help?
When we affirm looks or smarts instead of virtues, their values can become skewed. Roy Baumeister, a leading advocate of self-esteem research found that self-esteem does not improve grades, advance careers, or lower violence. We need to be encouraging a growth mindset for our kids. I am not saying we shouldn’t praise our kids because I think praise is important. We should praise their effort, creativity, hard work, and persistence – more than the achievement itself.
We prepare the path of the child instead of the child for the path. When we encounter situations that are out of our control, the worst reaction is to force ourselves in and manipulate a better outcome for our kids. If we are focusing on life preparation we need to realize that we are not always going to be able to fight their battles. I understand that I cannot control how other kids treat my child, the teacher they get, my child’s attitude toward me, how happy, talented, smart, or beautiful my kid is. I can influence them and help them find ways to cope with the issues that occur in life. Elmore explains, “You cannot control your child’s attitude, but you can influence it. You cannot do the job interview for her, but you can prepare her for it. Influence is not control.”