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We all know that our kids are our future. We can even sing the Whitney Houston song about it. They are our beacon of hope that tomorrow can be better than today. That their life might rise higher than our own. If only they can avoid our mistakes and do all those things we wish we would have done. Surely they’ll heed our advice and do things better, right?
The Dirt: We’re raising our kids
Here’s the challenge. Are we really raising our kids or are we lowering them into a tough life? Are we giving them a chance or dashing their hopes and dreams? In no way am I suggesting that we would ever intentionally hurt our kids, but what if we didn’t even know were doing it? Could it be we “took the hook” first and just like faithful followers, we passed down the poison to our unsuspecting offspring?
We generally try to guide our kids the best we can. Sometimes it may feel like the blind leading the blind, but we do our best and hope things work out. There’s an old maxim that says “Don’t listen to broke people on how to get wealthy.” In a greater context, this means that if someone isn’t where you want to be, we probably shouldn’t be listening to them. In the least, don’t bet the farm on their advice. So to expect us to parent kids to any level beyond ourselves is a bit naive and potentially destructive.
Unfortunately, we cannot take all the credit. Their conditioning comes from us for sure, but there are a variety of other sources. We have a school system that wants to move kids to the next grade more than they want to educate effectively, we have a marketing industry whose job it is to convince us to do what’s in their company’s best interest, and a society full of uninformed opinions that suddenly all have a microphone. Is it any wonder a child can get screwed up with this amount of noise?
At the end of the day though, we are the ultimate example. We are the ones that set the pace, that lead our kids to their final destination. Remember back to when we were kids. Didn’t our parents have the same hope for us as we have for our kids? What happened? How did we go from such high hopes to low expectations? Let’s look at some of the ways we can sabotage our children.
You can’t do that.
This is the classic. It’s the story of the elephant that is tied by rope to a stake in the ground when very young. When the elephant matures, it can easily pull the stake out of the ground yet it doesn’t. Since it was young, it fostered the belief that it couldn’t so it no longer even tries. This self-limiting belief system we bestow upon our kids can be the most debilitating. Kids have such a grandiose vision that everything is possible. While we’re stuck trying to be realistic, they don’t know what the term means. After all, how many great inventions (electricity, airplane, etc.) were completely unrealistic a few years prior to their accomplishment? We may give up on our dreams, but let’s be careful to not allow our kids to give up on theirs.
Kids are full of energy and always in a rush. They don’t understand why we can’t do everything at once. With their vision of their future selves in mind, they are on a mission to get there. Then we tell them to slow down because we can’t keep up. We instruct them to stand in line and wait their turn. Certainly there are some manners to be learned here, but if we kill the energy, we may destroy the dream in the process. Let’s put aside our own limitations (that we similarly developed as kids) and allow them the freedom and energy to become the person they wish and to succeed in any area of life.
Surely we don’t want our kids hurting themselves or anyone else. So while physical fighting may not be tolerable (though it would only take one good shot on a bully for them to cower away and never bully anyone again), we must be careful that the lesson doesn’t spill over into fighting for other things: their life, career, and what’s right. The opposite of fighting is backing up and taking a seat, neither of which are historically launching points from which to succeed. Life is going to be a battle and it will take strength, mental toughness, and perseverance to make it up the hill. Let’s make sure our kids are prepared for the battle.
Keep it in the lines.
Generally good advice when using a coloring book or driving a car. When it comes to creativity, isn’t it about doing the opposite? The highest paid folks are the ones that create. Whether it be new inventions, platforms, or even art, that which we create we own. If others want to share in it, we can prosper quite well. The ability to create is also crucial in problem solving, which will even help you get ahead in corporate America. No problems are solved at the level of thinking we were at when we created the problem. It takes creativity to find new ways to solve old problems. Let’s encourage our kids’ creativity and let them out of the lines as much as possible.
Get good grades.
This one seems like good advice. And it is except that it’s a bit misleading. Do we want our kids to get good grades or get the best education? Should the latter lead to the former? The challenge comes in when we push so hard for grades, that the end goal becomes the grade and not the education. We have then trained them to “do whatever it takes” for the end result (grades), oftentimes forsaking the journey (learning). While bad enough to apply this to school, what happens when they’re in the real world and it becomes a race to keep up with the Joneses’? That’s one ticket to Poorville that we probably don’t want to cash in. Let’s help our kids focus on the right thing and let the other things fall into place.
Money isn’t everything.
Of course it isn’t. Neither is oxygen but you better have it if you want to live. What kind of money myths and bad habits are we passing onto our kids? Are we telling them that money isn’t important or that it can’t make you happy? Here’s some news: poverty can’t make you happy either, so if you had a choice to be happy, would you want to be happy with money or without? Think about your thoughts about money and then compare that with your net worth. If what you have in the bank is what you want your child to have at their peak, then continue sharing your thoughts on money. Otherwise, let’s give our kids a real shot by getting them a real education about money. Not the non-existent school version and certainly not the marketing from the financial industry.
Here’s your 18th place trophy.
There are no 18th place trophies in nature. Our propensity to protect the feelings of our younger ones seem noble at the surface but may be doing immense damage below. Anything we do that confuses winning with not-winning sends a very dangerous message. Perhaps they got rewarded for showing up and trying their best and they feel like that is a win. This is fine as a child, but in the real world, the person that expects to win simply by showing up and smiling will be quickly passed up by those that know it takes competence and effort to become successful. This naturally leads to an incongruence that they must reconcile. They may realize that what they were taught wasn’t quite right, but more likely they will form a delusion that they must be the victim. It wasn’t that they weren’t prepared, it was their boss, the economy, the traffic, the kids, etc. Let’s give it to the straight and help them become the person worthy of winning.
Don’t talk to strangers.
Kids are naturally open and helpful to others. They are always looking for ways to help as they were ingrained from nature with the understanding that we win together or we lose together. Somewhere along the way, they pick up our notion that our self-worth is dependent upon others’ opinions. They begin to care what others’ think which makes it awkward to hold a conversation, let alone build a relationship with another. Strangers are just friends we haven’t yet met, so while we don’t want them to get abducted by a bad person, we must take care not to label anyone they don’t know as suspicious. That may manifest itself into a social isolation from which winning will be nearly impossible. Instead, let’s help them develop a strong sense of self and a strong faith in others.
The good news is that we can watch our words and our actions as we role model for our kids. We can be a good or bad role model, but a role model we are. For the first 18 years, our kids are counting on us to guide them, encourage them, and nurture them in ways that will promote a successful life, whatever that means to them.
“Children are great imitators. So give them something great to imitate.”
I challenge you to share this with anyone you know who has children. It just might save their kids’ lives. I appreciate you for spending time here. Looking forward to meeting you at the top ‘cause the bottom’s way too crowded.