We all want to raise children to be the best they can be. The struggle is getting them to see the path that is best for them. Unfortunately, this battle is with the child and with the parents as well. Although societies differ in how they place children into “buckets” of life plans, there is a constant among all children. The life they choose is always going to vary from the vision the parents have. The best parents ignore their vision for their children and instead help the child find their own.
Allow them to be the best they can be
As parents, we see dangers and struggles our children will face based on their decisions. These may be challenges we have encountered in our lives or even common knowledge. For example, a child that pursues a military career will likely spend more time touched by death and injury than one that chooses to run a bakery. The odds are that a child that wants to teach is not going to be the next Oprah Winfrey. Of course, it is not just about being the greatest person of all time; most parents are thrilled to raise a child that becomes a happy and productive member of society.
Happy vs. Productive
When looking at being the best they can be, raising a productive member of society is secondary to being happy. More specifically, being fulfilled. Real success, and being the best they can be, comes from people doing that which makes them feel fulfilled. Fulfillment is where someone doesn’t get “in the zone” sometimes, but instead, their whole life seems that way. The struggle is that people rarely achieve that apparent success overnight. Michael Jordan spent years playing basketball over all other pursuits, and we see that he chose wisely, but do you think his parents might have worried that he didn’t study enough? Or that he should try other sports as well?
I have listened to and read hundreds of interviews with successful people through podcasts like the Tim Ferris Show and Entrepreneur On Fire among others. One thing that sticks out when you listen to “successful” people is that they are doing what they love. That means that raising a child to do what they love is probably going to make them a contributor to society. They may not bring home impressive paychecks, but they will be fulfilled, and that is even more important.
All of this sounds great but, how do you help a child find their path? The best start is to allow them to experiment. That is what childhood should be. Kids have only spent a few years in the world and need to experience things. Experimenting does not mean you kick them out the door and say “go figure it out,” but you do need to help them explore the world and their options.
That leads to another commonality among those that have seen great success. It is rare to find one that didn’t spend some time finding an individual niche. Yes, the niche is often found while these people are still a minor, but there is some experimentation involved. There is a fundamental fact learned during this exploration of what life has to offer. That fact is that there is a difference between doing what we like and what we don’t like. The difference can include the challenge of enjoying something more even though it does not start out to be our best choice.
Allow For Growth
My youngest daughter is a great example. She has always been good at academics. Her strengths have been engineering disciplines like math and the sciences. She has also always liked to doodle. It has become highly apparent that her fulfillment lies in drawing. The fulfillment from drawing exists even though early on she was much better at those engineering skills. Her artwork was not bad but lacked an artistic feel. Think blueprints for a house compared to an oil painting of the house.
As she has spent time in her chosen activity, she has gotten better, and her options in the world of art and drawing have opened up. Her artwork moved from something that was template-based to original creations. She has even found a thing she loves called speed painting. This activity is where you can watch others draw a picture quickly via an accelerated recording.
Your child might choose a path almost identical to the one you want for them, but they might not. The important thing is to let your child experiment and allow for mistakes and even failure. If they find an activity or pursuit is not for them, then help them move on to another. Avoid the sunk time cost argument. Allow them move on without baggage from prior pursuits and to experiment freely.
For example, it may be hard to see little Billy give up on soccer after you spent the last few years getting him to every camp and paid for all that travel soccer in time and money. However, if Billy wasn’t enjoying it enough, then burdening him with “we spent all this on your soccer career” is not going to help him experiment with other pursuits. Billy may be destined to cure cancer. He can only accomplish that after he finds that medical research is his true calling. The pursuits of youth may be just that and not something that needs to pull a child away from the path that is best for their life. Help a child see that the world is open to them until they find their niche. Once they find their niche, assist them to hone their skills and master their chosen craft.
Anything is Possible
Venues like youtube have opened up a world of possibilities. I think it has grown to the point where there is not a pursuit that cannot lead to an independent and fulfilled life. There are people making money doing the craziest things (like speed painting) and guiding your child to be the best they can be will help them find a niche where they can not only survive, but thrive.