Goals for Our Children

Nearly 20 years ago, my wife and I sat down and wrote out what we still consider today the most important goals in our life together. These aspirations have nothing to do with the careers we wanted, the kind of house we’d live in, or the type of retirement we’d enjoy.

These are goals for our six children.

Now don’t get the idea that we’re some kind of ultra-driven parents. If you tried to play the battle hymn of the tiger mom in our house, one of my kids would just turn up the volume on Bruno Mars.

The goals we set for our children aren’t academic in nature or about professional achievement. Rather, these goals articulated the kind of adults we wanted our future children to become.

It all started when I heard a speaker at a conference I was attending at the former Yale Bush Center for Child Development in New Haven, Conn. In essence, the speaker pointed out that if we as parents cannot clearly identify the core values we want our children to have as adults, how can we possibly work to nurture and development those characteristics within them as children.

This seems painfully obvious in retrospect. If you don’t know what the destination is, how can you map out a road to get there? By nature and habit I am a planner. I have contingency plans for my contingency plans. Yet this very simple idea had never occurred to me. It truly was an epiphany.

Thus my wife and I sat down and each wrote out the three most important values we hoped would epitomize our current and future children when they reached adulthood. Although we used different words, we came up with exactly the same three ideas. That they were identical might sound apocryphal to some, but it’s the truth and has always made perfect sense to me. Frankly, our shared values is the only reasonable explanation I’ve ever found to explain why my lovely wife was willing to marry a schmo like me.

In any case, we took those values and framed them, hanging them in each of our children’s rooms. If you’ve ever been to our house for one of our many gatherings of family and friends, you’ll see one of those frames in our kitchen. They are constant reminders to our children of what we value most as a family. They are also meant to be the lens through which we judge our behavior as parents.

Believe in yourself.

Family is everything.

Be generous.

“Believe in yourself” because we want our children to be confident. Real confidence comes from being comfortable in your own skin. You know what you are capable of doing. You understand your value. True confidence is the well from which you draw the strength to overcome the seemingly impossible obstacle.

“Family is everything” because to us, that is the essence of happiness. The greatest joys in our life have come from our family – first from those who live in our home, then from the friends who have become like family to us. We might argue from time to time. We get a little frustrated with each other. But fundamentally, the joy we feel from simply spending time together is what makes life worth living.

“Be generous” because there is no greater manifestation of love than the willingness to give of oneself. Be generous with your money. Share your friendship easily. Give of your labor. I recently read a wonderful piece of advice from an 80-plus-year-old woman who always manages to find joy in her life. The secret, she said, was don’t be afraid to be the one who loves the most. With your family by blood, or your family by friendship, be the one who loves the most and you’ll see how much happiness is returned your way.

Our greatest hope for the future is that when our children are adults, these three values will define who they are and guide them as they live their lives.

Our intent as parents today is to always ask how our actions are furthering the development of these three fundamental values in our children. Of course, like all parents, we sometimes lose our patience, overreact, or just get plain angry. But the hope is that by making the effort, over the years we’ll manage to get it right often enough so that our children will grow up to be confident, happy and generous adults.

This all comes to mind as I write this almost a year to the day after my father passed away. I hope somewhere he’s smiling as we try to raise his grandchildren into the kind of generous people of whom he would be proud.