4. “We’ve lost our way”
Time to remember the real goal
Many of today’s parents are well intentioned but our monumental parenting efforts may be harming their kids.
This runaway over parenting train is denying our kids and ourselves peace and joy along the road of family life.
Many of us have become blinded and lost touch with the ultimate goal – to have happy and healthy kids. Modern parenting expectations promise to deliver health and happiness and yet, there is no correlation between the two. In fact, they are mutually exclusive of one another.
What all of this amounts to, is that we’ve lost touch with the goal to raise happy and healthy kids. We’ve become lost and we are missing the mark on health and happiness
Consider the frequently cited parable that I refer to as the parable of the Banker and the Fisherman:
An investment banker was at the pier of a small southern island village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The Banker complimented the Fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.
The Fisherman replied, “only a little while. The Banker then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish? The Fisherman said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The Banker then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?”
The Fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my friend. I have a full and busy life.”
The Banker scoffed, “I am an ivy league MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to the City, maybe LA or even New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”
The Fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”
To which the Banker replied, “15 – 20 years.”
“But what then?” Asked the Fisherman.
The Banker laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions!”
“Millions – then what?”
The Banker said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”
Right? It makes you think and emphasizes the importance of knowing what it is that you want out of life and making purposeful choices to get there.
My children picked up on us when we visited the Masi Mara in Kenya in the summer of 2016. We visited with many villagers who don’t have many opportunities or access to basic needs like clean water, education or medical services. Despite their poverty and limitations, they inspired us with their visible joy and gratitude for what they did have and their strong community and family ties. They had time to spend together and share their lives.
On the surface this seems like a paradox. But I realized that we share the reverse paradox in North America. As a long-time volunteer in the field of mental health for youth and families I am acutely aware of, and concerned about the epidemic of young people suffering from anxiety and depression who are succumbing to suicide. Our current society is failing our youth miserably. Despite having access to the best education and health care and the highest standard of living in the history of this planet, kids in western developed countries are suffering. I see it in my community and my gut tells me that we are missing the mark despite our best efforts.
I’m not suggesting that any of our herculean efforts to be great parents are anything but well intentioned. And as a parent I understand how easy it is to be blinded on the road of parenting. I also understand the deep personal motivations that fuel our need as parents to do our very best at parenting optimally. Modern parents don’t want to have any regrets about failing to provide every resource at their disposal toward being the best parent possible. None of us want our kids to grow up believing that we failed them, or that we damaged them by our failings.
I’m one of the worst offenders, partly because I’ve given death a lot of thought. In my professional life, as an estate planning and estate administration lawyer, I work with individuals and families to plan legacies and to move on after they lose a loved one. In my world, there’s regular talk of the ‘deathbed test’.
In a nutshell, the idea is to consider the scenario that you are at the very end of your life and that you have the opportunity to think back and ponder your life choices and ask yourself what you are glad that you did, and what you regret having done or not done. This becomes a tool for making decisions or choices during your life. The goal is to avoid any regret at the end of your life. This exercise prompts you to connect to your foundational priorities, goals and values.
Applying this test to parenting, what do you believe that you will look back on and regret? Will you regret not having signed your kids up to more activities, not pushing them to build a larger resume or obtain a wider range of musical talents, or will you regret that you didn’t share enough joy with them? Will you look back and regret not having prepared them better to be independent, wise, and empathetic adults. Will you regret not having spent more time getting to know them deeply, sharing experiences and dreams, sharing joyful moments and building life long bonds and memories.
I know my answer.
Becoming refocused and reoriented on the path toward where we all truly want to be as parents and families, how do we chart a course? In the next section – What I’ve Tried with My Family, I share what’s worked for me. In the following section, you’ll be introduced to Parenting goals that parents should be aiming toward and investing in.