By Barbara Browned for Parenting Matters
One of my favorite parenting group activities is asking parents to imagine that it is 20 years into the future: “You are in a grocery store and meet the parent of a child your child went to kindergarten with 20 years ago. Both are now grown. The other parent asks about your child.” Then l ask parents: “What do you want to be able to say? What words do you want to be able to use to describe your child as an adult?”
Parents typically reply with a variety of touching and positive descriptors, from “independent” and “drug free” to “kind” and “healthy.” (In recent years, I frequently hear “not living at home” -followed by sympathetic chuckles!)
Continuing the exercise, I suggest to parents that they think of these qualities as their long-term parenting goals, and in order to accomplish them, their daily parenting behaviors need to focus on developing these traits. l ask them to think about “parenting with the end in mind” – to focus on what they want the end product of their parenting to be like and use that as a guide for their parenting strategies and methods.
Questions parents could ponder might be: “What do I value? How am I developing that trait in my child today?”
For example, if you want a responsible child, begin early to develop responsibility by allowing the child (even a young one) to “practice” by being allowed responsibility for chores, pet care, the condition of their own toys or rooms. They will need to take on more as they grow so they become comfortable with responsibility and good at it BEFORE they reach adulthood. (One thing for sure, no one magically becomes responsible at age 21!)
Another part to this is that a parent must also teach the results of irresponsibility by providing consequences and outcomes for undesired actions, and step back so kids experience those outcomes. If a child loses homework that was not put safely away, he must suffer the consequence. This is how learning takes place. If a parent bails the child out by writing an excuse or helping re-create the paper, what will the child learn about taking care of things?
“Parenting with the end in mind” challenges the thinking of the parent who wants an honest adult child but announces that 3-year-old Ryan is “2 when we go to the movies.”
Planning for the end of parenting also questions the effectiveness of the parent who values independence, but will not allow the child to have his own opinions or choice of friends, or values kindness while calling people names or mocking people.
Hopefully, the words you use to describe a “child of your dreams” today will, for the most part, describe your own grown-up child in the future (who is living where you want them to).