You want to be successful and independent. We all do.
When you have kids, though, it's funny how quickly your aspirations become all about them. What will they do in life? Will they be happy and successful?
(It's already my experience just six months into this being a father thing.)
Dr. Leonard Sax is a forceful and controversial pediatrician with a national reach. In his new book, The Collapse of Parenting, he spells out several things parents need to do every day to have truly successful kids. Here are seven questions to ask yourself every day (I added two of my own).
Bonus content: 7 Things Great Leaders Always Do (But Mere Managers Always Fear) (free infographic).
1. Do my kids know that I love them?
Everything else flows from this. It's why you care more about their success than your own. It's tricky, though--this doesn't mean simply telling them each day (although that's a good idea), and it certainly doesn't mean giving in to their every whim.
Instead, it's all about honesty and maturity. Can you honestly say that when they're 20 or 30 or 40 or more, they'll recognize that you do what you do because you always want the best for them?
2. Am I acting like a parent?
You want to treat your kids like adults so they'll behave like adults--but kids by definition aren't adults. Yet it seems a lot of parents, in the hope of respecting their kids' choices and encouraging them to make decisions, wind up stepping aside and meekly letting their children make adult decisions.
"It's not about the abdication of authority," says Sax, citing the example he's seen of parents who allow their 8-year-old children to make the final decision about what school they should attend. "I know of cases where the kid was clearly making the wrong decision, and the parents knew it but nevertheless felt completely powerless to overrule their child. The child is the one who suffers."
3. Am I in charge of their technology?
You want your kids to learn to turn problems into opportunities. When they're immature, however, they're likely to turn opportunities into trouble--and in the 21st century, there's probably no bigger mine field than personal technology. We're not just talking about kids stumbling into the netherworlds of the internet and seeing things that are clearly inappropriate; we're also talking about the sheer addiction to screens that even adults succumb to.
"You now find kids at 10, 12, 14, 16 years of age who have their phone in their bedroom at two (o'clock) in the morning," Sax says. "No child should have a phone in their bedroom unsupervised. That's not just my opinion. That is the official teaching of the American Academy of Pediatrics ... You would be astonished, or maybe you wouldn't be, how many parents find that an impossible recommendation. They feel that they have no authority over their child in many domains."
4. Do my children have my full attention?
We all have a lot of things going on. The fact that you're reading this column on Inc.com tells me you probably want to change the whole world--or at least plant a flag in your little corner of it. Yet kids often need you to set those ambitions aside to simply spend time with them.
Rule number one, according to Sax? Eat dinner together every single day.
"By communicating that time at home as a family is our highest priority, you are sending the message that family matters," he says. "So many kids are in the race to nowhere, trying to add things on to their résumé through extracurricular activities with no sense of why. They just burn out at 15 years of age."
(Related: No earbuds in the car. "That time in the car is precious," says Sax."The time in the car is for you to listen to your child and your child to listen to you.")
5. Am I praising them for things that are praiseworthy?
I was overcome with pride when I watched my baby daughter find her pacifier in her crib and put it back in her mouth by herself. That said, I know I'm setting the bar a bit low with that--the point is to offer support all the time, but offer real praise when it's warranted.
"The first thing is to teach humility," Sax says, because so many kids have "been indoctrinated in their own awesomeness with no understanding of how this culture of bloated self-esteem leads to resentment."
6. Am I demonstrating a healthy respect for money?
Money is important. Even Bernie Sanders would agree with that. Having it opens a world of choices; not having it forecloses opportunity. But is money more important than everything else? Hint: The world's most successful people don't think so.
"Teach the meaning of life," Sax says. "It cannot be just about getting a good job. It's not just about achievement. It's about who you are as a human being. You must have an answer."
7. Am I letting them be kids?
All of this said, kids are kids, and they should have the opportunity to play, grow, and develop like kids. They're not hard-wired to be focused on success all the time. They're not stressed out about whether they're happy enough (like many adults are).
A quote from Thomas Jefferson is instructive here: "We will be soldiers, so our sons may be farmers, so their sons may be artists."
You don't want your kids to be tied up with the same challenges you are--and you certainly don't want them to face their own challenges at too young an age. So ask yourself: Am I able to follow my kids' lead on finding what's important? Am I willing to learn from them?
Are there other questions we should be asking? Let me know what you think, and don't forget to download the bonus infographic: 7 Things Great Leaders Always Do (But Mere Managers Always Fear).