Most parents, when asked what they want for their child, will say “I just want them to be happy”. However, when asked what that means the answers become a bit fuzzy. “Happy. You know, have a great job, great relationships, happy with their life.” And when prodded even further with questions like “How are you going to make that happen?” the answers become even more vague or I’m met with blank stares and open mouths.
Parenting is hard and there is no instruction manual. Every parent approaches their job of raising children differently and to further complicate matters, the same techniques and strategies don’t work on every child. They may not even work on siblings. As a result, parenting can often be frustrating and confusing and you’re never quite sure if you’re headed in the right direction.
Since there’s no child or family that is the same, you may be wondering whether it’s even possible to come up with a road map to ensure your kids turn out okay.
I can assure you that it is possible. Not only is it possible, thousands of parents are doing exactly this.
Your Parenting Road Map – What Exactly is it?
Imagine having a guide to parenting your children, a clear plan, a road map if you will. A road map that tells you exactly how to raise your kids, how to make those difficult decisions that inevitably crop up, how to ensure your children turn out to be successful adults. Would you want such a plan? If I show you how to create this road map, would you do it?
Your road map, which you and your spouse can create, will be your ultimate guide to raising your children. Although your children may be completely different, you only need one road map to help you navigate. It will help you do the following:
- Keep you and your husband/wife on the same page
- Guide you through discipline and enforcing rules
- Navigate through tough parenting decisions (e.g. cry-it-out, health issues, selecting a childcare or school, social issues, etc.)
- Correct course when life starts to go sideways
Sound too good to be true? Let’s get started…
Step 1: Brainstorm Future Characteristics
We often fantasize about what our child will be when he/she grows up. A professional athlete. A doctor. A CEO. But rarely do we fantasize about who they will be.
We hope they’ll be kind, compassionate, courageous, successful, make friends easily, among other traits but we often feel this will depend more on their personality than our parenting decisions.
What if we could orchestrate this? What if we could be intentional in the way we respond to our kids, the decisions we make, and the thought processes we share with our children? What if we purposely tried to build these characteristics?
Step one is to brainstorm the future characteristics you want to see in your child.
To do this, fast forward 20, 30, 40 years into the future. Imagine your child as an adult and they are home for a visit. What are they like? How to they act? What is their mood or demeanor?
Take a moment to picture it.
Make a list of all of the characteristics you’d like them to have. You can brainstorm these ideas with your spouse or create individual lists and then merge them together.
Want to make sure you’ve thought of everything? Click here to get a sample list created from hundreds of other parents.
Step 2: Define those Characteristics
You and your spouse have now agreed on a list of characteristics your child will have in the future. However, you each have different perspectives and life experiences so your impressions of what each characteristic means could be different.
Take some time to discuss and define each characteristic. Feel free to look up definitions in the dictionary but if those don’t ring true then make your own.
This will ensure you’re on the same page.
This list of characteristics is your road map. It outlines exactly where you want to go. This list is what you will use to evaluate any problems that come up, any behavioral issues that arise, and any curve balls thrown your want.
The exercise of coming up with characteristics and then defining them will take approximately 2 hours. I recommend splitting up the time over a couple of days. Create your definitions and wait at least one day before re-visiting them to see if they still make sense or if you have anything to add.
Step 3: How to Use the List (or Parenting Road Map)
Now that you’ve written down exactly where you want your child to end up, it’s time to use it to get from where you and your child are now to this desired destination.
Pin it up. Review it often. Use it to determine consequences or strategies to deal with behaviour issues. Refer to it when you and your husband/wife are not on the same page and determine which approach better meets the parenting goals or future characteristics you’ve identified.
Remember that you will never be perfect. You will never be fully in alignment with your list. If you find you are off track then identify any issues you’re having and brainstorm solutions that better align with your road map.
It’s not about perfection. It’s about improvement.
The following scenarios illustrate how to use the road map.
Every morning is a battle with 3 year old Emma. She takes forever to eat breakfast, refuses to get dressed, and puts up a fight when it’s time to get her coat and shoes on. This daily morning ritual ends in frustration, yelling, and tears. Mom is sick and tired of starting her days like this.
After looking at her road map, Mom realizes that none of her tactics (yelling, forcing, threatening) align with the future characteristics she wants Emma to possess. She looks for other options (routine cards, asking Emma for help, giving Emma choices) and uses her list of characteristics to assess which ones move her closer toward her goals.
Jane and Steve are frustrated that 10 month old Lucas won’t sleep through the night. They are exhausted and dream of a good nights sleep. They research sleep training but find that the methods are vastly different. Some suggest letting baby cry for an hour and a half and others offer no-cry methods. They aren’t sure what to do.
They look to their road map to determine which option moves them toward their end goals. They want Lucas to feel capable and confident in his own abilities. They also want to model compassion and kindness so he can learn those traits too. Jane and Steve agree to let Lucas cry-it-out only if it’s a cry of protest rather than distress. They agree to go in and pick him up if they think he might be really struggling.
Is it Manipulative to Try to Mold our Child into What We Want?
The short answer is yes. We are going in with a clear intention of creating a decent human being (by our own definition). However, it’s not about producing a specific result (e.g. I want my son to be an Olympic athlete). It’s about giving them the necessary tools to succeed and thrive in live.
You are building the foundation to succeed (however you define success) and teaching your child how to approach problems, deal with life’s curve balls, bounce back from failures, and develop meaningful connections with other people. You aren’t teaching them what to think, but how to think.
Consider the alternative.
You are molding your child with or without the road map. They are learning from you how to behave, how to make decisions, and how to treat others. Without being intentional, you are leaving things up to chance. They’ll witness inconsistencies in your behavior and get confused.
Is it still possible to raise great kids that turn into great adults without creating and using this road map? Absolutely. But why leave it to chance?
You are intentional in other areas of your life: your career (you may take courses to improve your skill set), on the job (most companies have strategic plans that guide their decision-making), saving for and purchasing your house.
Your children are arguably the most important thing in your life. Why wouldn’t you want to be intentional about how you raise them?