Parenting Goals: Somewhere between when our children are toddlers and 18 years old, parents get lost. We lose sight of the real goals of parenting.
The purpose of parenting is not to have a kid that goes to college. The purpose of parenting is NOT to grow a star athlete. The purpose of parenting is not to raise an adult that will someday get married and have their own children. These are all aspirations we have for our children, but this is NOT the purpose of parenting. Goals like going to college or finding a spouse are important. Still, the mistake many parents make is making those goals too important. Let me explain.
The purpose of parenting is to grow a self-sufficient adult. To teach another human to be kind, honest, help others, and be responsible. The purpose of parenting is to teach children how to take care of their bodies, minds, and health. The purpose of parenting is to encourage our kids to contribute to society positively. You may have your own parenting objectives. Parenting with purpose reflects these objectives, but notice that these are all personality QUALITIES we want our children to have. They are NOT tangible achievements.
Goals are different. They are not our parenting objectives, like the things mentioned before. Goals are tangible. Goals have a beginning and an end. Goals are essential because often they are the vehicle in which we are trying to teach our kids lessons.
Goals provide direction and a destination. For example, a car’s purpose is to take you from one place to another. Goals are the same. Their purpose is to take you from one place to another with certain tangible objectives as the end point destination. The purpose of the car is NOT to teach you how to drive. Instead, the purpose of the car is to get you to your destination, and we hope that the journey to the destination teaches the person behind the wheel to be a good driver. That is what parenting goals do also. Goals provide a journey to learn. They are vehicles for learning.
The common mistake many parents make is forgetting the purpose of goals. We lose the meaning in the middle of the everyday muck and forget the big-picture objectives. Let me give you an example.
When my child was an infant, all I cared about was the goals and milestones. Could my child sit alone by the time they were 9 months? Could my child walk independently by 18 months? Could my child use 2-word phases by the time they were 24 months? Everything was a milestone, and I knew my child was developing appropriately if they hit those markers. These milestones are not absolutes. They are ways to help gauge development.
As children get older, there are more unspoken milestones, but now they come in personality development. How do I grow a child that values kindness, health, honesty, responsibility, and service to their community? What will be my vehicle to these life lessons? Well, to teach my children the value of health, I put my kids in sports. I want my children to learn how to cooperate with others toward a common goal and see the value of exercise along the way. These are good intentions, but I had to bite my tongue several times when my children wanted to quit a sport that they just were not interested anymore. For me, I was like, “What! I spent money on that sport, and you were doing great! Why?”
You see, sometimes I got so focused on the activity, and what I THOUGHT the activity was contributing to my child, that I lost sight of the real intent of the activity. In this case, I was trying to teach my child teamwork and the value of health. The minute the sport did not serve my child for the lesson I was trying to teach- was the same minute that activity needed to change. Forcing my child to continue past the end of the sports season just taught my child to resent the activity and taught them that MY word was more important than their lesson. That isn’t what I wanted. I needed to find another vehicle to teach the lesson if the sport wasn’t doing that anymore.
Tangible goals are essential because they give people something to work towards. It doesn’t matter if the tangible goal is to make the sports team, get an A on the exam, or receive the reward. Tangible goals act as those milestones we need to keep moving forward and progressing in the right direction. Tangible goals give us a gauge for our successes and failures. But remember, the concrete goals are NOT the goals of parenting. I know I will sound cliché here, but as parents, we really need to focus on the journey and not the destination.
Let’s take, for example, my oldest son. Again, I wanted to teach him the value of health and fitness, so I encouraged him to join a sports team at school, and he picked crossed country. My son is not a runner
, but my goal for him was to finish the season and learn the value of exercise. Unfortunately, the track season was rough. My son lost many meets, and on one race he came in dead last. The poor kid crossed the finish line alone, embarrassed, and feeling defeated. I know this sounds crazy, but it was one of my proudest moments as a mother. Why? My son finished. He never gave up. He did not let the embarrassment stray him away from the goal- which that day was just to cross the finish line. Maybe my son did not cross the line first, but I guarantee you I acted as he did. I gave him a celebration as though he was the winner.
I could have gotten mad at the coach for setting him up for failure. I could have focused on the loss itself and pushed him to train more and be better, but both of those options didn’t feel right. The goal of putting him in the sport was NEVER for him to win or be the best.
Let me tell you the opposite story. I also have a daughter that is a great athlete. No matter what she tries, she wins, and she is good at it. At first, I was proud of my daughter’s winnings because it felt like she was hitting all her goals with ease, but I began to worry after a while. It dawned on me that my daughter didn’t know how to lose. Losing is tough and being gracious when you lose is even more difficult. So, although my daughter was crossing the finish line first and winning the prize, she wasn’t learning “the bigger lessons” from sports.
I have one child who gets the trophy and one child that comes in last. Although the trophy was rewarding, the trophy didn’t teach my daughter much. Sometimes it’s not about the end goal, but it is more about the journey. The goal gives us drive and destination, but it is more important to look at the journey along the way.
Understanding the role of goals and milestones in parenting is important. Goals are the fuel. Goals give us direction. Having a goal for your child to be an honor student is not bad, but don’t forget what the REAL objective is- to value education, work ethic, and learning.
Consider YOUR goals for your child. Are they surface level, tangible objectives? If so, what is the REAL objective behind those goals? What are the qualities you are trying to instill? Those personality qualities are the purpose of parenting.
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