I see so many good, loving parents who pour themselves into providing everything their child could need. Those same parents express frustration with their kids’ entitlement and lack of discipline. “Unappreciative” is a word that comes up often. I see parents who worry about their kids’ lack of drive and lack of resilience. Just recently, a couple who has so much – good marriage, financial security, friends, healthy kids – worried out loud that by “being so nice, might we end up raising jerks?”
It is reasonable to ask ourselves, “Am I creating opportunities for my kids to practice the values and skills I want them to have when they grow up?” If you are resilient, how did you get there? It likely wasn’t handed to you through a life without struggles. If you are appreciative, you’ve probably had to work your tail off for something. If you are motivated, you’ve probably known that if you don’t go after your dreams, you won’t get to enjoy the benefits you seek. If you are self-sufficient, chances are good you’ve accomplished something of significance yourself and felt good about it.
Our kids may be children right now, but we’re not raising them to be children, we’re raising them to be adults. Now, while they’re in our homes, is the time to start with the end in mind. Now is the time for them to practice the skills and traits we want them to develop.
If I want my kids to have grit, I need them to persevere through discomfort 1,000 times while I am here to love and nurture them through their struggles. This way, when they encounter hardships in the adult world, they can say, “I’ve got this – I can do hard things.” But (and this feels like a big “but” in the maelstrom of day-to-day parenting) this means that WE have to be willing to tolerate little moments of discomfort at home. The kids didn’t do the required chore before wanting to go out? We have to be brave enough to follow through, in spite of their protest. Over and over, we parents make decisions about following through or letting them off the hook. We can take the easy path which keeps the peace in the short term but robs them of the chance to practice tolerating discomfort.
We can still be kind and connected when we set and keep limits, but we’ve got to follow through. It’s easy for us to cave unless we are committed to helping them practice an important life skill like grit, perseverance, or follow-through. Life in the adult world doesn’t cave to our whims and desires. Now is the time to prepare them for the real world. We can do that by reverse engineering the skills and traits they’ll need as adults.
Inspiration came from the authors of the book “The Power of Moments” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. They share a story of Michael Palmer, an associate professor of chemistry at University of Virginia. Palmer started a weeklong program to help college professors design the courses they’d be teaching. On the first day, he leads the professors through an activity called the “Dream Exercise,” inspired by an idea in L. Dee Fink’s book Creating Significant Learning Experiences.
I’m going to adapt this exercise for you as a parent, because we parents are our kids’ biggest teachers, after all.
Fill in this sentence. When my kids are grown,
they will know__________________________________;
they will be able to do___________________________;
they will find value in____________________________;
My answer would be along the lines of,
“I want them to know how to be good humans with good ethics who are disciplined. They will be able to treat people well, take good care of themselves, and go after their dreams. They will find value in leaving the world a better place and living true to who they are.” Other common words might include: “responsible, engaged, resilient, self-sufficient, appreciative, motivated.”
In the book, after completing this exercise, the professors share goals along the lines of: students collaborating with colleagues, thinking of math as fun and interesting, feeling confident reviewing new research, and being curious about learning.
Next, Palmer is ready to help the professors trip over the truth. He reminds the professors they’ve just written down their top goals for their students. Then he asks them to pull out the syllabus they brought to the training. He asks, “How much of your current syllabus will advance your students toward the dreams you have for them?” There’s an awkward silence in the room. Professors look at their syllabus and reply, “Zero.” They realize they are teaching data but not their dream objectives.
Is that how we parent? Do we focus on the day-to-day curriculum at the expense of starting with the end in mind of the values we hope to instill in our precious young people?
I have an invitation and a commitment:
Do this exercise of
- naming what you hope your kids embody when they’re grown and
- look at where you are creating opportunities to demonstrate that trait.
There is so much more to this. It applies to so many parts of our parenting as well as our own personal lives. I commit to continuing this conversation and bringing you resources about how to implement this mindset into your parenting.