[Week 24 of 52 Weeks to a Better Relationship With Your Child]
The goal of a good system
There has been a lot of talk lately about goals versus systems. Many times goals are thought of as something reached at an endpoint, something that can be checked off. The trouble with these types of goals is that a person can tend to be never satisfied. While the effort is being made to reach the goal, the joy of the moments along the way can be missed.
A system is seen more as how life is lived on a daily basis. Goals can be a part of this, but are not considered the major inspiration. Life as a system is more about habits and ongoing relationships. Goals are reached as one proceeds, but are not end points in the same way.
Consider going to play cards with friends. There may be a goal of arriving at a certain time, as well as intentions of sharing stories of the week and attempting to win the card game. However, all of these goals are really fluid steps in enjoying the relationships.
When it comes to work activities, a strict goal orientation will lead to frustration since there will always be more work to do. Clothes will get dirty. Food needs to be prepared. We get tired. Money gets spent. Having a system attitude toward these inevitabilities will help a lot. A system attitude helps you find a pace and set priorities in a sustainable way. It helps you be satisfied with how you interacted with your system regardless of particular goals reached in a given time period.
In the title of this article, I am trying to use the word goal in the sense developing personal priorities and standards. These types of goals are more about how choices are made and how people are treated, no matter what opportunities or challenges are faced. These are the sort of goals that form the foundation of how a person responds to disappointment or success.
What are your goals for your child?
To help our children set good personal goals, it helps to figure out what our goals as parents are. What is directing how we advise or praise our children? How well have we considered the signals we are giving them? Are we more concerned with how their choices make us look than how their choices will affect them? Are we spending enough time with them in ways that is deeply relational, rather than surface level, fast, and merely functional?
Another way to evaluate our goals for our children is whether the goals are related to real adult life. For example, learning music or playing on a sports team can be fun and healthy in many ways, but praise for such things is often out of proportion to usefulness. Should not the child who is diligent in learning to fix his own bicycle be equally encouraged. Too often parents reward activities associated with fame more than practical mundane habits that are likely to have a much longer impact on a child’s life.
Learning to be a spectacular normal
Most of us are normal. That is, we won’t be famous or win grand awards. What we sometimes fail to understand is how rewarding and enjoyable normal can be. Passing this on to our children can be one of the greatest gifts we give them. Enjoying normal is not giving up or being boring. In fact, we should teach our children to make the most of being normal.
By normal, I don’t mean average. Average is a faceless statistic. I also don’t mean normal as an excuse for giving into common or ‘normal’ human bad habits. I mean normal in the sense of what a human is on this earth. I also mean normal in the sense of everyone is a certain blend of normal traits that somehow make up the unique person.
It is kind of like there are all the normal colors, but they can be put together in a wild variety of ways. Or it can be like denim is a very normal fabric, but it can be made into all kinds of different clothing. Don’t shun normal or think it is less because it is ubiquitous. Think of each person’s normal as a canvas being painted throughout life. No two will be the same, but they will all use the same colors.
Starting with a good canvas
Think of personal character as the canvas. It’s the same idea as a foundation of a house, but since I’ve started the painting metaphor, let’s stick with it for a while. A good, strong canvas, made of durable material will allow for more creative painting and it will last longer. If you just paint on newsprint, the least little thing will destroy the painting.
That is not to say we do all our own painting, but that is a deeper philosophical discussion than I want to deal with in this article. Suffice to say that each person is born with certain traits and potential talents, then develops those things according to some choices, but also deals with many unexpected things in life. Or, in some ways, it is like we are born with a painting that in some regards unfolds before us and in other regards we are able to embellish in meaningful ways.
Did you forget to tell you children anything?
If you poll parents, a lot of them will say they just “want their children to be happy.” The problem with this are things like:
- parents do not actually communicate this to the children
- happiness is not adequately defined
- the parents have ideas of happy that conflict with the children’s ideas of happy
- the practical aspects of being happy are ignored
- the parents are not happy, so the children do not have a good model
It can be a challenge for parents to express complete acceptance of their children while at the same time encouraging children to improve themselves. Too many times, children are left with the impression that they must achieve “one more thing” for a parent to be satisfied. An education system that relies heavily on testing and a sports system that is centered on competition reinforce this idea.
For the record, I am not against competition. I understand that the marketplace is a competition of ideas. I also think it is fine to strive for winning a race or game. However, in the world of buying and selling there are constantly new opportunities to explore. These is not a set amount of what can be created and there is no one test that measures you against everyone else. The marketplace, especially if politics stayed out of it, has the potential to be an adventure in discovering what you have to offer others. Any failures help point you to where you should be going.
Real life sports are similar. While there may be games involved, it is more about keeping our own bodies strong. Every one can win because everyone can build strong hearts and muscles.
How to be happy
I taught my children that happiness starts on the inside. No one can be happy for you. It starts with working on your own character and habits. This involves how you think about yourself, how you choose to treat others, and how you deal with responsibility.
Nothing will make you truly happy if you are dissatisfied with yourself. This doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, but you have to know what your standards are and take steps toward them. You also have to have ways to deal with failure and guilt.
Achievements have to be based on honest behavior, or they will fester in the soul. Laziness needs to be distinguished from appropriate rest or decisions about having fun. Self-centered victory is hollow and lonely.
The saying “love your neighbor as yourself” should make us comfortable with loving ourselves. And make it clear that loving our neighbor grows out of that healthy self-love. Our children need to know it is a good personal goal to be happy with themselves, while still understanding their own limits and failures.
Secrets to enjoying life
Even hermits are social. I remember watching a documentary about a famous hermit. It was all about the people he knew and interacted with! My husband and I laughed at that. Along the same lines, many of my family are introverts according to common personality tests. They still need interaction with people.
If we want our children to enjoy life, we need to help them set personal goals for how to have relationships. Good relationships are like good cooking. They don’t just happen because you buy fancy cookware or read a good cookbook. You have to actually roll up your sleeves and work. It involves a sacrifice of time and energy to get a desired outcome. And it is a rare stew that can’t be fixed by tweaking this or that.
And like food for the body, relationships are food for the soul. Here is a summary list of things that will both build and guard relationships:
- Develop abilities that prepare you to take care of yourself and your family
- Learn to have a good attitude about things that must be done
- Learn to appreciate other people’s personalities and strengths
- Learn how to discuss disagreements with humility and patience
- Learn how to be responsible with money
These are the sorts of personal goals that are foundational for anyone. Having the right perspective about relationships and how to tend them is crucial to enjoying life.
Looking for meaning in all the wrong places
Both government controlled education and institutional religion do a lot of false advertising about what is meaningful. They have to, because that is what keeps those systems in the money. They would have you think that earning a degree or being a missionary is the epitome of achievement.
When our children were considering their next steps in adulthood, we asked them to consider what sort of work they wanted to pursue. If a degree might be useful in obtaining that, we would support them in the effort. However, a degree to hang on the wall or as a symbol of rank is just so much grandstanding. Such a document may suggest potential, but it is more about jumping through institutional hoops than indicating personal achievement.
Political standing is another false construct of the government. Whether a person somehow feels qualified to rule others or has convinced themselves that they can violently impose peace on society, politics promises meaning. What it really is is a popularity contest and/or an appeal to mob rule.
Similarly, religious figures present their “ministry opportunities” as more meaningful than jobs that pay. This conveniently downplays how much people encourage, minister, serve, help, and sacrifice in everyday life. It barely acknowledges how much jobs that pay provide the necessities of life. It also attempts to downgrade the nobility of taking care of yourself and your family by the work of your own hands.
Sacrifice of time and money is something that is admirable, if done with some wisdom. Living off of other people’s donations is not really a sacrifice, no matter how sparsely you live. A religious quest does not make someone more honorable. Inordinate emphasis on educational degrees sends a distorted message to children about real worth and character. Politics pits one group against another instead of letting people try to get along. As parents, we need teach our children to be aware of the false promises of these systems.
A summary of good personal goals to teach our children
- Be happy
- Be responsible
- Learn to provide for yourself and your family
- Have a good attitude
- Be useful
- Form good priorities
- Develop skills for relationships
- Find healthy ways to have fun
- Keep learning
- Keep your eyes open for good opportunities
- Learn when to be flexible about plans and desires
- Figure out ways to do things you enjoy
These are the things that will grow into a beautiful painting of their life. We can’t predict what job opportunities there will be, how technology will change, or how the government will mess with the economy. We can predict that having these types of personal goals will help them live a rewarding life.