Do you have goals for your children? Would you recognize what a good outcome for him/her is as an adult? One of the most important and exciting decisions you can make as a parent is to define success goals for your child, tools that serve as guidance systems for you and you children. Once you decide the goals that will serve as the measure of your child’s success, those goals will help you make decisions throughout the child’s trip to adulthood. Choosing, communicating and pursuing clear and age-appropriate goals for your child will give them a sense of purpose that brings them the experience of mastering their world as they achieve the designated benchmarks in their life. It will also bond you and your child, bringing you together and energizing you both.
Loving parents choose to take responsibility for their child’s direction in life. You must determine both the path and the destination for the adult you are raising, or prepare yourself to deal with potentially disastrous consequences down the road. As you learn more about your child, as your child learns more about himself or herself, you become partners in defining success in life – and in designing the plans for pursuing it. Until then it is your job, and you need to do it.
Parents need to discipline themselves before they can discipline their children. One of the most important parental self-disciplines is forcing yourself to move from the general to the specific. Rather than saying, “I just want little Susie to be happy,” you need to define clearly what sort of happiness you are talking about. Happy as in giddy with laughter? Or happy as in living an authentic and fulfilling life? Does happiness mean that little Susie has good friends, close family or an outstanding academic record? Maybe it’s all of the above. Whatever the heck it is, the parents need to define it so they can cut a path to it and know it when Susie’s got it. First, you decide what your destination will be, and then you look for the best route to get there.
Clear guidelines make it much easier for your children to make their own decisions and, in the process, develop their problem-solving skills while using your criteria. That is what parenting with purpose is all about.
Most adults have a basic grasp of goal-setting, but sometimes they need ways to measure and monitor their child’s progress. I have designed a short audit to stimulate your thinking about the goals you want to set for your child. Take a minute for this short questionnaire to see where you are and where you need to be.
Select one of the two descriptions from each set:
1. Your goal is trying to deal with each crisis as it happens.
2. You are achieving at least one step toward a goal every day.
1. You feel that you are happy if the kids don't create a crisis today.
2. You feel some accomplishment if you can see some steps toward a goal today, even if there is a crisis, because there are times when crisis serves as a step.
1. You think a goal is to keep your child from causing a disruption in your plans.
2. You feel that if your child doesn't create a challenge, that you are not fulfilling a goal of expression and authenticity.
1. You want your child just to be quiet and accept your rules with no question.
2. You encourage your child to ask questions, even if they challenge your ideas.
1. Your motto is: "Children should be seen but not heard."
2. Your motto is: "Children grow into life by being respected and acknowledged."
1. You had the idea that your child would be a source of glue for the family.
2. You had the idea that your child should receive your attention for his or her individual abilities and interests.
1. You are committed to controlling, directing and maintaining an environment that is described as excellent by your ideals or some other authority, like your own parents, social group or community.
2. You are committed to the protection, socialization and authentic development of your child, regardless of the external sources that might define these for you.
1. You have not defined what your goals for your child are, other than to get them through their teens without drugs, pregnancy or flunking out of school.
2. You have definite goals for your child, such as learning empathy, finding resources and personal goals or working toward discovering skills for success.
1. Your usual goal for the day is to have the child complete his or her assigned tasks and stay out of your way.
2. Your usual goal for the day is to see some learning in your child about himself or herself that promotes better understanding of abilities or insight in the world.
If you selected ANY of the statements listed first (1.), I want you to decide immediately to develop a plan with specific goals. For each first statement (1.) you circled, add 10 percent to the probability that you will have major problems with your child by the time of 17.
If you notice, the statements listed first (1.) are descriptive of those behaviors that do not immediately and deliberately lead to goals of success for your children. Those listed second (2.) confirm that you are on course toward your goals. It might be helpful for you to retake this little exercise every week or so to monitor your progress.
Modified excerpt from Family First: Your Step-by-Step Plan For Creating a Phenomenal Family by Dr. Phil McGraw (Free Press, 2004).