Contrary to what is often written and reported in today’s mass media, I don’t think that raising good kids today is as impossible as everyone says it is. In spite of how much more complicated the world seems to be, the key to being a good parent is what it always has been. It doesn’t take more money, fancier gizmos, or better psychological counseling. Although we have so many more resources today – internet access to information, childcare options, more discretionary income for extracurricular activities, those things are actually ancillary. I don’t think there is a thing in the world that can replace the most important role of parenting -- spending time with our kids. Knowing our kids and guiding their decisions is paramount to giving them the tools to become successful.
As I reflect on my own childhood the best memories of my parents revolve around conversations. We didn’t have a lot of money, although I never felt we were poor. The thing I remember most was the time I spent with my parents – sharing experiences, hearing their stories, asking them for advice, and learning lessons (some painful). I knew when I’d be in trouble because I knew what was expected of me. My parents weren’t ever afraid of saying “no” when other parents said “yes”. They were always quick to explain why our family was “different” and that it was okay. As I grew older, I knew they trusted me to make decisions, but fully understood that if I made a mistake, I’d have to deal with consequences. I never questioned their love, or whether they’d be there for me. I always knew they’d be my biggest life cheerleaders.
So as we started raising our two kids, my husband and I followed the role models we had. We told the kids when they were young that as soon as they realized God didn’t bless them with the nicest parents in the world, we’d get along just fine. They didn’t get a cell phone until they had after school activities and needed to call us. It didn’t matter if all their friends had them. Our daughter was deprived of a personal laptop until she went to college. After all, we had computers at home – in public parts of the house – so that homework, internet surfing and social media time could be spent in plain view of parents. They didn’t (and still don’t) have televisions in their rooms. Every other bedroom in the house has a TV – just not the kids’ rooms. Home is about family, and about being together. We try as best we can to spend time with them. Our kids are turning out pretty well. They’re socially well-adjusted, carry good grades, seem well-rounded, and hang around the right kind of kids. We share, we talk, we confide, and genuinely enjoy being together. Sure there are moody teenager days – but overall, I feel as though our kids know that we are, as our parents were for us, their biggest life cheerleaders.
Research gives empirical evidence of the importance of spending time together. I serve on a board with Joe Califano, who heads up The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. The organization has done extensive studies on the causes of teen alcohol and drug abuse. After a great deal of research looking at possible contributing factors, one of the most enlightening findings is that those teenagers who share a regular meal with their family once a week are less likely to resort to drugs and alcohol during their teenage years. Surprise. Spending time with your kids increases the likelihood that they’ll turn out good.
The word “parent” is a noun. It’s also a verb. Active parenting isn’t hard…it just takes effort and dedication. It also takes a willingness to put our own needs behind those of our kids. We have to be willing to hit the “pause” button on our own lives so that our kids get the guidance and support they need. Without us, they find it somewhere else – and we in essence abdicate our most important role.
How we lead our children is vital to the future prosperity of the world. Think about it. Most of the problems in the world can be solved by how we raise the next generation of kids. Dare I say that parenting is the most important leadership role that we have!