We’re now situated right between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. With those thought-provoking days, combined with our twins’ second birthday, I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about the roles that those of us that are parents play. Of course there are roles we all know well: caregiver, healer, counselor and the list goes on. The one thing, that in my opinion, gets neglected by parents is the idea that they must be leaders. Even if you’re not a parent, pay attention. You may well become a parent someday, and if not, these lessons here are directly applicable to those leading teams in other facets of life.
More Miserable Than Ever
Look around at parents. Most are more miserable than ever. They’re certainly more stressed, more anxious, and more burdened than ever before. When my wife was pregnant with our boys, there was a seemingly endless line of people waiting to tell me how my life was “over.” Admittedly, I was nervous about having kids. We waited quite some time so that we could ensure we were able to devote the necessary time and energy to our children so that they grew up to be people we respected and admired.
The viewpoint of one’s life ending when they have kids isn’t just expressed from people who don’t have kids. Many of those that do have children feel the same way. I see individuals with young kids openly express resentment for how their lives have changed because of their children. Look at pop culture and movies – it’s the same thing. Time and time again we see the over-worked, under-rested parent wishing they were anywhere but with their kids.
Reflection in Kids
This attitude is in turn reflected in their children. Kids today are unbelievably anxious and in a constant state of burnout. How can that be? So anxious are our kids, that a recent Wall Street Journal article detailed how 20-somethings and younger are afraid to answer the door when the doorbell rings because “you never know who is on the other side.” Look at a child’s schedule to explain the burnout. Travel sports used to mean you played games in other towns – now it means other states and other countries. The demands of these schedules and the anxiety it creates have created a generation of the brink of chaos.
It’s common to bash millenials, but the facets of their behavior that drive us nuts are really just reflections of the parents that raised them. Rather than bashing a specific age group, let’s look inward for the answer. After all, the answer to every problem always starts and begins with us. That’s simply what leaders do.
Parents as Leaders
And perhaps that’s the problem. Among the many things we expect parents to be in our society, leaders is not one of them. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that leadership doesn’t just happen and it’s not a byproduct of the many roles we play. It requires us to be deliberate and focused on leadership itself. We know it’s the single most important factor in any situation, so why as parents do we not make it our single most important mission?
Just as we protect our own time, so too must we protect that of our kids. Just as our teams need missions, so to do our children. Just as we need to communicate clearly at work, so we need to with our children. Leadership is the most important quality that our children can see us.
So as parents when we recognize that we are leaders, we must also recognize that raising kids is not a burden, but a calling to lead them something greater. This doesn’t have anything to do with how much money you make, where you live, or anything else for that matter. It doesn’t even matter how smart you are.
Recently I heard a stunning example of this. Many know the name Ben Carson, he’s currently the secretary of Health and Human Services. However, before he was a political figure, he was a world-class pediatric neurosurgeon with degrees from Yale and Michigan. Before was a world class pediatric neurosurgeon, he was Ben Carson, soon-to-be third grade dropout. He ranked at the bottom of his class and was unmotivated, commonly acting out. When his mother got wind of this, she gave him a simple task. Each week he was to read a book and write a report on it. Not for school, just for her. Of course, the rest is history, but what Carson would learn many years later, is that his mother could not read. Just because you might not be the smartest person or have a certain skillset, does not mean that you cannot lead people down that road. That’s a POWERFUL concept, and one that many leaders in new positions struggle with.
Perhaps this is the limiting force for parents, that because we’re not experts in a certain area, that we deem ourselves unable to lead our children. Related to that is the idea of thinking big. Parents are quick to resign their children to their own lots in life and to sell their children short. As parents, we need to do the opposite. We need to provide leadership to our children so that they can be successful in life. It’s one thing to say it, but we must do it. We must be deliberate about leading our children – and we need not be experts in order to do it.
Don’t mistake what I’m advocating here. We should not be helicopter parents or push our children down paths they don’t want to go down. But we must instill in them the drive for something greater and the love of the process of pursuing it – whether or not we actually achieve that goal. The best way to do so, is to be the example.
As a parent, when your kids were born, did you abandon your goals and missions in life, or did you continue to pursue them with all of the discipline and energy you can muster? Do your children see that you’re pushing to be something better every day? Do they see you working hard at work, constantly improving your fitness, maintaining a healthy diet, and being deliberate in the way you interact with them? Or do they see people that have given up, have caved in to the overwhelming demands of parenting, and are simply running out the clock while hoping that things don’t go too bad.
Do you want to prevent your life from “ending” when your kids are born? Make yourself better each day and make your kids better each day. That mission and the work pursuing it will provide you with all of the fullness your life is craving, and set the next generation of kids up for success.