I had the privilege of speaking at the International Marriage and Family Summit last week in San Diego.
One of the highlights of my week was being able to spend some time with one of the nation’s most recognized pediatricians, Dr. Meg Meeker. As we talked together about the state of 21st century parenting, she said something so simple, yet so profound.
“You know, Josh,” she said, “Parents today have within themselves everything they need to raise great kids, too often they just don't realize it."
Maybe that’s why parenting today seems so complicated. Perhaps we’ve made it complicated because we don’t believe we actually have what it takes.
So we try to cover up our insecurities by measuring our parenting success against two of our kids’ most outward expressions—academic or athletic achievement, and personal happiness--a phenomenon I wrote about a few weeks ago.
In fact, a Harvard study published just last month showed that nearly 80% of kids stated that the primary message they receive from their parents is that personal achievement and happiness matters more than the care and concern for other people. The kids in the study were also three times more likely to agree, “My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”
It seems we’re sending our kids the message that outward success matters more than inward character.
But why, you might ask? I think it’s because we’re giving in to parental peer pressure more than we’re willing to admit.
I mean, heaven forbid one of my friends thinks I’m a bad parent because I don’t use “educational” videos with my three-year-old to give him an advantage. Or that I’m a bad parent because I, at the expense of my son’s “happiness,” told him he wasn’t allowed to throw his wooden train as hard as he could at my face.
Yes, I care more about how my kids treat others than I do their personal happiness. Scandalous, I know.
But I have to ask myself, do I live that? Do my actions toward my kids relay this message?
Besides, a good report card is a more visible measure of my parenting skills to teachers than my son’s random act of sharing a toy with another child in the corner—an act nobody ever sees.
When we don’t believe we have what it takes as parents, it’s too easy to reach for the outward affirmation that’ll prove to us, and everyone else, otherwise. So we end up valuing success over character. Feeling better over loving better.
And the result is exhausted and stressed out parents trying to keep their kids happy, and in step with the Jones'. Kids who, I fear, will grow up with full schedules, but empty souls.
Here's the good news: You have what it takes. As Dr. Meeker reminded me, every parent has within them the ability to raise great kids—kids who genuinely care about others. All they need is you!
In fact, I highlighted in another blog how research shows that if we focus on character, higher achievement AND happiness follow suit. And there’s nothing more powerful in instilling these values than your loving and safe presence. YOU spending time with your children in face-to-face eye contact (especially with toddlers under the age of three.)
Here are a few ways research shows YOU build the brain and character of your children more than any electronic device or “educational” video on the market:
- Reading to your kids
- Singing to, and with, your kids
- Talking to your kids about their day
- Laughing and joking with your kids (creating a positive environment has an amazing impact on brain development)
- Playing outside in the dirt with your kids
- Eating dinner regularly with your kids
- Rough-housing with your kids (especially dads)
Do we want our kids to get good grades? Of course we do. Do we want them to be happy? I most definitely do.
But I also realize that true happiness and joy stem not from personal success, but from loving and caring for other people.
And the most powerful way for that to grow in my kids is to simply be with them.
Mom and dad, stop exhausting yourself trying to give your kids an advantage.
You are the advantage.
Joshua Straub, Ph.D. is an advocate for families and parenting in the 21st century. He loves coming alongside families to provide encouragement, support and practical counsel. Josh loves combining scientific research with biblical wisdom to provide the best-of-all-worlds perspective on raising stellar kids, having an awesome marriage and enjoying life while doing it. You can read more of the boring professional stuff about Josh and his books here, if you’re interested. Together with his favorite writing partner and wife, Christi, Josh has fun parenting their son Landon and daughter Kennedy. For more encouragement and ideas on marriage and parenting in the 21st century you can join Josh and a growing tribe of awesome families at www.joshuastraub.com and follow him on Twitter @joshuastraub or Facebook.