Craig Boneau’s kids are watching and learning. He knows they will be doing so for the better part of two decades. He wants to make sure they learn how to live, not what to avoid.
As a father, you want your kids to grow up to be happy adults. You want them to pursue their dreams. You want them to follow their own path. You want them to live by the virtues and priorities that are important to them, not by what someone else tells them is important. But that’s not really the example you are setting for them.
Is the Path You Took the One You Want for Your Kids?
You grew up with the idea firmly planted in your head that you would go to college, maybe grad school, get a good job, have a family, and provide for them with that good job. You followed the path laid out by your parents, society, your teachers, your friends, or your colleagues. That path was supposed to make you happy. So that is what you did. But it didn’t turn out exactly like they said it would.
It turns out, making a lot of decisions based solely on, “because that’s what you are supposed to do” is not the best way to create a life you love. But, since you’ve followed that path so long, it’s almost impossible for you to tell which are the priorities and virtues that are important to you and which are the ones society tells you are important.
I came to this realization one day giving my two-year old son a bath. It just hit me.
If things stayed as they were, if I didn’t do some work to parse out what is important to me versus what is important to somebody else, I was going to be a walking contradiction to my kids, teaching them to be true to themselves while I didn’t even know what that meant for me. I was in the process of laying down footprints that I absolutely did not want them to follow.And whether we like it or not, “do what I say, not what I do” doesn’t often work.
Our kids will spend the better part of two decades watching us and learning from us. If we are not leading a life we would want for them, we are making it much harder for them to do anything different. The beautiful thing is, that we can change all of that.
We can do it in a powerful way by showing them that even when you have been off track for most, if not all, of your adult life, you can make a change and live a life that is true to yourself.
How Do You Live a Life You Would Want for Your Kids?
Pull the things you really find important in life away from all the other influences on your decisions.
You have to find the things that drive you that are intrinsic to you.
You have to take the other influences, social pressures, your parents, your colleagues, or anything else external to you out if the equation.
Answer these three questions:
1. What was your favorite thing about high school and why? (The why here will likely still be true for you, my example is below)
2. What three virtues/priorities would you choose for your children? (This is about what you truly value versus what you think is important because someone else thinks it’s important)
3. Who is your favorite superhero and why? (The why here will reflect what you see as your attributes or attributes you want to work toward)
I’ll walk you through what this looks like for me.
1. Being a part of my high school basketball team. I loved being part of a group that worked toward a common goal, respected each other’s roles, and picked each other up when things went sideways.
2. Compassion, Courage, and Resilience
3. Batman, he is focused on results, he doesn’t care about following protocol or formulaic processes, he cares about getting the job done. He is also a lifelong learner, who acquires skills as he needs them.
Then you look at your answers to the above questions, they will tell you the story of what is important to you. These questions will help you shape your life to align with what you enjoy and what you want it to look like.
For me it looks like this:
I’m setting myself to be happy and succeed when I’m a part of a group striving for a common goal where everyone is respected for the roles they play and helps out when someone falls short, when I am working with a focus on results (getting to the goal as quickly as possible), not just going through specific processes for the sake of doing it (this by the way can be good and bad, I’m terrible at baking because you actually have to follow recipes for baked goods to turn out well…), and when I am in a position to regularly learn new things.
I am moving my life in a direction I value when I make decisions that reflect compassion, courage, or resilience, or some combination of those things.
If I find myself outside of these things, I am usually not very happy, more stressed, and less good at whatever I am doing.
The same will likely be true for you.
I should mention that the answers to 1-3 may not be things that you actually see in your kids. They will be different from you. The point isn’t that they emulate your exact internal compass, but that they learn to follow their own, and that it is ok to do so. Watching you do that will give them the template and the permission to do it themselves. To provide that template, you have to know where your internal compass points.
These three questions will give you some insight into that direction.
Conclusion – You Can Set an Great Example for Your Children
It will take time and thought on your part, but once you have figured which influences on your decisions are your own and which are external to you, it will be much easier to see when something else is driving you.
Then you have to be honest with yourself, and make the decision that is true to you.
It’s going to require you to be diligent and purposeful, because we are talking about adjusting a way of thinking you have been using for years. Like anything, as you practice, you get better at it.
It is much easier to do it when you understand why you are doing it, and when that why is meaningful. For you, the why is probably the most important thing you will do with your life.Raising your children to be happy successful adults.
Remember, when this gets hard, your kids are watching, and learning. What they learn is completely within your control.
That’s good news.
Now go out and set an example you would want them to follow.
Photo: Flickr/Alyssa Rielly