What’s the toughest communication job on the planet?
Without question, it’s gotta be parenting. I should know. I’ve been a parent for the last five decades, with kids ranging from 18 to 62. I’m one of the only 84-year-olds in the world who’s still raising teenagers.
Parenting is one of the few jobs where you’re often treated the worst when you are doing your best. Kids don’t like being told to do their homework or to eat their vegetables. They definitely don’t want to hear a word about the quality of their friends. The resistance only increases as kids grow older and face the temptations and challenges of adolescence. Until they have their own children, they can’t fully understand that we do what we do because we love them.
Still, no matter how good our intentions, we all fall short at times. I remember one day, when I was eight years old and dark black car pulled up next to me—the guy inside rolled down the window and gave me 200 comic books. Apparently, he’d told his son that if he disobeyed him again he would give his comic books to the first kid he saw. I was the lucky benefactor of his son’s misfortune. When I went home, I told my dad the story and he took my comic books and burned them. “I told you never to talk to strangers!” he said.
At the time, I thought my dad was just being mean. In retrospect, I realize that his only goal was to protect me from getting hurt. Did he handle it the best way? Probably not. But most of us have been guilty of this type of thing at some point. And, those moments when we’re not our best (I’ve had many over the years) help us to become more aware of what we could do better.
My better parenting moments are times when I am able to keep my kids accountable, while also showing them love. The balancing act isn’t easy, but—when I’m at my best—I find a way to provide loving support and disciplined standards. If you’re being a good parent, you can’t have one without the other.
I want my kids to know that I love them no matter what, and that I will be there for them even when especially when they fail. Sometimes, those closest to me criticize me for giving too much to my kids. If there’s something I can do to help them—whether it’s paying for them to work with a particular coach, paying for tutors, helping them with their business, or umpteen-thousand other ways I can help—I usually do it.
Some people say that parents should let their children fend for themselves. “It will make them stronger,” they say. Well, I’m not so sure. No successful person is an island. We all need help. The help doesn’t always come from a parent—but, if a person is successful, you can be sure that they had support. And, personally, I’d rather the support come from me than someone else.
The most important way parents can support their kids isn’t by giving them all the material things they need; It’s giving them all the time they need. It’s giving them all the love they need. Each of us, no matter our station in life, can give our kids our time and our hearts.
Good parenting isn’t just about giving—It’s also about leading. In order to lead, you also need to provide standards. Children face temptations and challenges that are beyond their ability to manage. Without standards, they’ll get lost. That doesn’t mean that you simply tell your kids what to do; it means that you help them by providing boundaries that support good habits. It also means that you eliminate as many negative influences from their life as is reasonable.
The most important standard that you can give your kids is a strong value system: Honesty, work ethic, humility, kindness, and all the other time-honored virtues that matter most in life. To instill these values, parents sometimes have to do things that aren’t pleasant. It’s not fun to discipline our kids—to “teach them lessons.” Sometimes, the most valuable way that we can love our kids is by doing something they don’t like. That takes courage. It takes leadership.
If we’re not leading our kids, who is? We live in a digitally-connected universe where kids have access to every temptation known to man only a few clicks away. The average teenager checks their smartphone up to 74 times a day! If parents aren’t vigilant, the barrage of information coming from the cellphone will drown out the information coming from the parent.
Good parenting in our day requires setting standards about how our children use technology. We need to teach our children to live a little less in the cyber-world and a little more in the real world. They need to learn how to put down their phone and communicate face-to-face with other people. These are skills that can’t be taught without a parent who cares enough to be a little tough at times.
Like I said, parenting ain’t easy. Only trial and error can teach us the right balance between giving “enough rope, but not too much rope.” But, if my life is any indicator, parenting is something that you get better at over time. Eventually, you learn how to provide both the support and the standards that kids need to be their best.
The rewards of great parenting can be a long time coming—but, they do come. Nothing in my life has brought me so much joy as my kids. I’m proud of every single one. I love them more than I can say. And, though I fallen short in a thousand ways over the years, I’ve tried my best to be a good dad to them. At the end of the day, trying our best is all we can do.