You make goals to earn more, get fit, wake up earlier, connect more with friends…but what’s your goal when it comes to raising your kids?
Dads, if you don’t have a goal for how you want your kids to turn out, your priorities are out of whack!
Without a goal, how do you know what actions to take? How will you raise your kids if you’re not sure of the ideal outcome?
Without a parenting goal, you’ve got no North Star, and no way of checking in to see if you’re still on track.
When it comes to something as important as raising great children who turn into great adults, not having a game plan means you’re left with simply hoping that things turn out alright.
I don’t know about you, but hope isn’t one of the things I rely on when I need to make sure things work out.
The alternative to hoping things work out is to set a goal for how you want to see your kids turn out.
Why Set A Parenting Goal?
Having a parenting goal allows you to:
1. Commit to a parenting style
I talk about this elsewhere, but committing to a parenting style or paradigm can help you make decisions when conflict arises, rather than leaving you grasping for the right answer.
It can also lead to inconsistency in how you show up for your kids. If you choose to be attentive and calm during one conflict, but reserved and closed down during another, your kids won’t know what to expect.
As Dan Siegel writes about in The Power of Showing Up, inconsistent parenting can lead to what he calls “ambivalent attachment”, which can cause a child to have anxiety and ambivalence as to whether they can trust their parent.
2. Track your progress and change tactics if you’re off course
One of the ways I like to accomplish goals is to break up large goals into smaller, easily digestible chunks.
For example, an annual goal could be broken up into quarterly, then monthly, then weekly, then daily goals.
Not only does this provide a roadmap, but it provides regular reminders to check in on your progress.
Rather than realizing you’re way off base after one year, you might notice that you’re not on track to hit a goal during the first quarter, which allows you to make adjustments.
3. Practice mindful parenting, always aware of where you’re trying to lead your children
I’ve found that having “mindfulness triggers” is very important to me to ensure that it’s always top of mind.
For me, this means I work it into my schedule with daily meditation, regular times for journaling, regular breathwork sessions, and more.
It can also look like visual reminders. For me, this is a tattoo on my right hand that says “WAKE UP”. It’s a very obvious reminder that catches my eye throughout the day and helps remind me to drop into the present moment, rather than get carried away by my thoughts.
Working towards a goal that you check in on regularly can help develop a mindful attitude toward parenting, because it’s always there in the back of your mind, and the more you’re aware of something, the more likely you are to take action on it.
4. Learn where you need to upgrade your skills
If you want your kids to turn out a certain way, you’re going to have to get honest about the skills you have and the skills you lack.
If you’d love your kids to be confident communicators, but have trouble speaking in front of a crowd yourself, you’re not going to be the most trustworthy teacher in this case.
Knowing where you fall short as a teacher and a parent allows you to do conscious work to improve so that you can be the leader they need to learn the things you want to teach.
5. Focus on things that will teach your kids the lessons you want them to learn
By having a goal and breaking it down into smaller chunks, you’ll figure out what lessons you would like to impart along the journey.
If you want your kids to grow up to be mindful and grounded in their bodies when they grow up, how and when will you teach this lesson?
Some things will need to be taught in your everyday interactions with your kids, whereas other things might require sitting down for a talk with them at an appropriate age.
Goals To Avoid
Now, before you start planning your kids’ lives for them, I want to make it clear what kind of goals I’m NOT talking about.
Too many parents try to live vicariously through their children and force them into a path that feels unnatural. This can cause anxiety, shame, and unnecessary pressure on a child that can last a lifetime.
When it comes to parenting goals, you want to focus on characteristics you’d like to foster, rather than specifics such as careers, education, and earning potential.
How many times have you heard someone say that they only became a doctor or a lawyer because their parents expected it?
This type of parenting breeds resentment and dissatisfaction, because the child has to navigate choices between two types of shame: the shame that comes from choosing to dishonour their own preferences to please their parents, and the shame that comes from disappointing their parents if they choose to follow their own path.
I also recommend avoiding goals that are about YOU.
One of the reasons I decided to set my own parenting goals was because I read a parenting goal that was essentially, “I want to have a relationship with my kids when they grow up, and have them want to hang out with me.”
Now, that’s actually a really good goal, but it’s a goal for yourself, not for how you want to raise your kids.
If you’re successful and your children grow up as mindful, content, well-rounded adults, it will be fully their choice whether they want to hang out with you. It’s up to you whether you are the type of man they want to be around when they’re grown.
How To Set A Parenting Goal
My parenting goal is:
To raise curious, confident, resilient, mindful children who love themselves, are able to overcome adversity, honour themselves, stand up for what they believe is right, and who choose to create their own life, rather than having life thrust upon them.
There’s a lot there, but notice that each one is closer to a characteristic, rather than an achievement.
I want my kids to know how to learn, rather than get a specific University degree.
I want them to be able to know they’ve got what it takes to get through hard times, rather than becoming a doctor.
I want them to love and be loved, rather than get married by the time they’re 30 and have 3 kids.
Here are a couple of ideas to get you started crafting your own parenting goal.
1. What do you wish you were like?
If you’ve done any form of inner work, you’ve likely noticed areas in your life where you wish you were different.
Maybe you wish you were more assertive, were better at communicating your feelings, or that you wouldn’t have settled for the soul-destroying 9-5.
Since you’ve got first hand experience of the pain these things cause in your own life, this can be a great place to start.
There are many experiences we have gone through that we hope our children will never have to go through, so consider what characteristics would have allowed you to handle a situation or life event better, and consider how you can work that into the way you parent your children.
2. Do a Metta (Loving-Kindness) Meditation Toward Your Kids, and See What Comes Up
While you could simply think and journal until you come up with what it would look like for your kids to have a happy, fulfilling life full of love and vitality, pairing this exercise with a Metta meditation can give you extra clarity.
When you do this type of meditation, you’re basically sending well wishes to the person you’re visualizing.
So, grab a comfortable seat, set a 10 or 20 minute timer, and wish your children well.
When you say these well wishes in your head, visualize what your children look like, receiving this love. Visualize them as adults who have received this love, and visualize what they look like, what energy their smile gives off, where they might be in life.
Here are some of the phrases I use…many of them are classics, some I have added myself:
- May you be happy
- May you be free from suffering
- May you love and be loved
- May you experience great joy in this life
- May you be free from physical pain
- May you know your own worth
Repeat phrases like this while focusing on the image of your child receiving these well wishes.
Afterward, think and journal about what you saw, how they looked when you pictured them with a life according to these phrases, and what type of person they might be if all of these things came true.
3. What virtues do you want them to embody?
You could also simplify this exercise by choosing a set of virtues that you hope your children embody.
I recently enjoyed watched Ryan Holliday explaining the four cardinal virtues from a Stoic perspective, and think they’re likely to guide you if you’re having trouble coming up with parenting goals.
It’s hard to argue with courage, moderation, justice, and wisdom, particularly because while so many things go into each of them, they’re simple to remember and easy to understand.
You can watch his short video here.
Time To Create Your Goals
Goals give us a destination. They also keep us mindful of the task at hand, lest we travel too far down the wrong path.
Having a parenting goal that states what kind of adults you’d like your children to become can help you become a better father by targeting your energy onto what’s important.
Using one of the strategies above, I challenge you to come up with, then write down, your parenting goal.
Regularly check in with your goal, both to set shorter term goals to help you hit the long term goal, and to make sure you’re on the right track.
If you’ve got financial, fitness, or relationship goals, it’s about time you do the same parenting!