Begin With the End in Mind

A wise way to approach parenting is to begin with the end in mind. What kind of human would you like to guide into existence? How do you want your son or daughter to be in the world as an adult? How closely connected would you like to feel?

It’s difficult to deliberate on these deep questions when a person is sleep-deprived and surrounded by diapers. Yet the opportunity to explore the future we want to create for our families won’t magically show up; we need to carve out the time and allow our imaginations some space to bubble. Let’s begin!

If you want a garden you have to plant seeds

People have been raising kids for as long as there have been people. For almost our entire time on earth the focus for families has been survival – procreating to perpetuate the species and produce group members to hunt and gather. This non-strategic, biologically driven method worked for an indescribably long time.

Our brains evolved over hundreds of thousands of years where lifespans were short and you could have ten generations within 150 years. Due to these circumstances it made sense for women to raise their children the same way their mothers and grandmothers raised theirs. And the teenage phase wasn’t a thing!

Questioning one’s parenting never made sense for centuries. But it no longer makes sense NOT to question these things. The pace of change is too rapid, and the threats to humanity that exist now weren’t here even in our own childhoods.

Say what you mean

How many times have you asked your teenager to listen to you? This is common shorthand that parents use when they want their child to pay attention. But is that what you actually desire? Try being impeccable with your word. This requires real clarity about both the outcome you are hoping to achieve and your technique for communicating that.

Saying, “I want you to pay attention because I’m trying to give you information about X,Y,Z that you will need to know after school,” is a message with more respect and integrity than, “You’re not listening!”

Would you like to know where your son is going? Are you attempting to talk with your daughter right now about the weekend? Instead of demanding they give up their mental autonomy you could invite them to talk with you by saying what you really mean. Perhaps something like, “I’ll be able to enjoy my evening if I’m not worrying about where you are. Could you tell me where you think you’ll be tonight?” You could try, “Confirming plans for your tournament this weekend is important to me. I have ten minutes right now to talk about it with you. Does that work?”

Actions speak louder

Many of us begin our parenting journey with infants who don’t understand our words. Communication is almost entirely physical at that stage, and responding to their needs immediately with a steady and gentle touch tells our babies they can depend on us.

It’s an exciting development when we can use language to communicate with our young ones as they grow, but our actions still provide the bulk of our message. Do we actively play on the floor with them? This says their world is valuable and interesting and worth being a part of. Do we look them in the eyes with relaxed patience as they explain a convoluted story? This tells them we deeply care about their experience and perceptions.

Once your kids become teenagers they can read you like a book by the way you walk and the tone of your voice; our actions give us away all the time. Another superpower that teens have is recognising justice and integrity – or perhaps a lack thereof. If you fib to your daughter that you didn’t drink until you were 19, she will likely smell your deception. And if you attempt to give different curfews to your sons – watch out! The fairness judge will appear to set you straight.

Human intelligence and ingenuity have always been incredible. Now that we have more refined abilities to think critically and plan ahead, it makes sense to apply that knowledge to our most beloved relationships.