On Becoming an Exceptional Parent and Family

Children seek to gain their caretakers’ love by imitating them.
Children seek to gain their caretakers’ love by imitating them.

Based on my long in-depth work with families, I believe today’s parents are unaware their emphasis on grades and best college preparation has, in the eyes of their children, generally abdicated their authority to the school.

This emphasis on school success has further blinded parents to children’s role in effective parenting—to what children seek and actually bring to the parent-child relationship.

1. The first thing infants experience leaving the womb is fear of abandonment. So they seek to gain their caretakers’ love by imitating them; feeling being like them will gain their love and the security of their caretakers always being there for them.

This imitation process further enables children to internalize their parents’ or guardians’ character, values and other qualities (good and bad) expressed by the wisdom: “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

As children grow, they develop a subconscious assessment —wondering how well they are being prepared for the world beyond home… Will I one day be able to handle life on my own?... Take responsibility for myself?... Be my best self? This intuitive questioning strongly affects their relationship with their parents.

2. Since children don’t begin to think abstractly and logically until age 11, they are way behind their parents intellectually. So instead of responding with their brain, they learn to read our hearts (emotions,) often knowing our true intentions better than we do ourselves. (This is why children can be expert at manipulating parents.)

My wife Blanche and I were fortunate to be raised by parents whose first and foremost purpose was preparing us for life, which in turn helped us establish this relationship with our children. I didn’t like my stepfather’s very strict discipline; relatives thought he was a “monster” to me; if he was in the living room, I’d head for my bedroom. My stepfather had limited people skills, but I reluctantly trusted his parenting, and today I love him for the character and sense of purpose he helped instill in me.

3. When kids are honest with themselves, they know what’s good for them.

Blanche and I focused our parenting on preparing our children for life, helping them to realize their best and slowly become responsible for themselves. This approach gained their trust in our guidance and created a very close family.

Many parents make the tragic mistake of seeking their children’s love. Since children seek parental love from birth, not only does this disrupt children’s learning process, it also signals to them that their parents are defaulting on their primary job of preparing them for life.

4. Children may manipulate parental love to have their own way, an act that coincides with loss of respect for their parents.

So it is vital that our heart—not just our words— tells our children that our first concern is always preparing them for life.

Many parents have difficulty with the taking hold-letting go process. Our children enter this world with zero responsibility for their life; our job is to ensure they have at least 51% upon leaving home.

At any age, and in any situation, determine how much responsibility your child should take. Then let go of what belongs to your child and take hold only of your share, allowing your child to struggle and learn that level of responsibility. Remember, whatever your child fails to learn of that piece of 51% in childhood, can become dangerously hard after he/she leaves home.

5. Finally, since children imitate parents, parental growth can powerfully elevate both parent and child.

The greatest source for adult growth is to be found in our childhood. As good as our parents were, they were imperfect. Most of this came from imitating their parents’ imperfections. Internalized, these became negative dispositions, keeping both parents and children from their best.

Understand that these negative dispositions just get passed on in life. I had a loving mother with great spirit and empathy; but growing up in a house with a domineering alcoholic mother led to dispositions that ultimately overwhelmed her in life. I suspect I could find the same thing in her mother. I led a successful life. But my greatest personal growth came at age 80, when I dealt with the negative dispositions I developed growing up in my alcoholic home.

I believe that if we address our deeper dispositions, write about them, share them with our older children and others, our families will experience very significant growth.

And it’s never too late!

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