Parenting With A Long‑Term View
Every year starts with goals to live differently, to live better. Whether our goals were personal New Year’s resolutions, or professional benchmarks, most of us started 2016 with achievement in mind. We all want a fresh start at being the best person we can be, and parents are no different. In fact, parents tend to think very deeply year-round about what they need to do to help their child to the best life possible. I hear goals like these often: “I’m going to help my child make more friends.” “I’m going to ensure she reads more.” “I’m going to work hard with him to make sure he gets a better report card.” “I’m going to make sure he becomes a better math student.” All are noble and well-intentioned goals — but can they be better and stronger?
The goals we set reveal our expectations — of ourselves and others. This is important to keep in mind when setting parenting goals because certain expectations work on kids in a very specific way — and probably not the way you’re hoping. Ken Ginsburg, a pediatrician and university professor specializing in adolescent medicine, describes it as “living down” to parents’ expectations. Think about it this way: If you help your child with those tough math problems, she may get more of them right — but she might also get the message that they are too hard for her to do on her own, that she can’t become a competent math student. Or, if you start monitoring how many books your child finishes, or turn every weekend trip into an academic experience, he may learn to dread reading (not to mention his weekends). Ginsburg says that when parents set narrow, specific goals for their kids and manage and monitor those goals closely, they can rightly expect kids to meet those narrow goals — which is great — but how does that set up kids for success in the long term?
Ginsburg suggests that our goal as parents should not be to raise an 8-year-old, or even an 18-year-old. These are short-term goals, and life is long. Parenting with a focus on the short-term might make us less effective than we had hoped. When we parent with a long-term view — thinking about how we would like our children to be and live as adults long past age 18 — we arrive at new goals, goals that lead not just to learning, but to a sustained growth in a complex world. These goals look like:
- I’m going to model what a good reader does by reading more around — and to — my child. Parents are children’s first role models and by exemplifying that reading is an important and interactive part of life, you’ll be setting the stage for a habit of lifelong reading (and learning).
- I’m going to listen more about his friendship struggles. This goal shows your child that communication is a two-way street involving both talking and listening. It also reinforces the bond between you and lays the foundation for open communication during the difficult teen years and beyond.
- I’m going to play a math game with her three times a week. A goal like this helps build math skills without turning the parent into a drill instructor or undermining a child’s confidence. It also sends the message that math (or any other subject) can be fun, even when it’s challenging.
- I’m going to encourage compassion. Instilling compassion in children isn’t as simple as teaching a grammar lesson — compassion is learned experientially — but it’s an important trait, and encouraging your child to choose compassion in difficult or frustrating circumstances helps them grow into happy, kind and sensitive adults.
- I’m going to provide some clear boundaries that allow freedom (and try hard not micro-manage). This isn’t an easy one, but encouraging freedom and independence is essential in the long run.
- I’m going to expect mistakes. Kids make mistakes, just like adults. Mistakes are learning opportunities that teach us resilience and give us opportunities to try again. When parents expect mistakes, it provides a level of security for kids to take good risks by trying new subjects and activities without the fear of disappointing anyone if they don’t achieve immediate mastery and success.
- I’m going to have high expectations for my child’s level of integrity. Like compassion, integrity is a life skill that will see your child through life’s toughest moments — much more so than calculus or physics. Expecting this characteristic in your child will help her expect it of herself.
These parenting goals are goals that keep the long-term in focus. They set your child up to grow into a good communicator, a good learner, and more importantly, a good person — long after he or she leaves school.