Perhaps the biggest mistake parents make is not taking the time up front to follow the prescription of Stephen Covey: begin with the end in mind. Families jump headlong into decisions about sports and other activities without first taking time to clarify their values: what is really important to us as a family? Too often the result is kids who are overscheduled and families who are rushed with no down time or time together.
I have asked parents at my workshops to close their eyes and visualize their children at age 25, all grown up and the kind of people they want them to become. We make of list of their ideas, which typically includes qualities like kind, compassionate, caring, high integrity, resourceful, motivated, balanced, close to their family, and confident. I have done this exercise throughout the United States and in 17 countries including Saudi Arabia and China, and the lists are surprisingly similar. In a 2001 study, when people in 50 countries were asked to report their guiding principles in life, the value that mattered most was caring and benevolence, not achievement.
Interestingly, no one has ever listed Ivy League college, straight A’s, wealthy, or top athlete as an end in mind for their kids. Yet I find parents directing most of their energy on pushing their kids to excel academically and with activities with the end goal of admittance into top-tier universities, resulting in a high paying job.
That is why I am encouraging you to step back from the rat race of parenting and thoughtfully reflect on what’s really important. Include your children in this process, and come to agreement on what your family values, perhaps in the form of a family mission statement. Use your end in mind to guide all of your decisions: how many sports teams and activities to sign up for, what schools to attend, or the amount of electronic use.
Parenting in this manner puts you in charge of your schedule with no one to blame but yourself. You won’t be influenced by what all the other kids and families are doing because you are internally driven. Beginning with the end in mind is one of the best tools to keep your family grounded when everyone else is flying by the seat of their pants.