Being a good parent is certainly a long-term investment that requires a long-term view. At any given time of any given day, being a good parent has very little return on investment. At any given moment, it will be more satisfying to do almost anything than to put everything on hold and be a good parent.
Harvard business professor Clayton Christensen put it best:
When people who have a high need for achievement...have an extra half hour of time or an extra ounce of energy, they’ll unconsciously allocate it to activities that yield the most tangible accomplishments. And our careers provide the most concrete evidence that we’re moving forward. You ship a product, finish a design, complete a presentation, close a sale, teach a class, publish a paper, get paid, get promoted. In contrast, investing time and energy in your relationship with your spouse and children typically doesn’t offer that same immediate sense of achievement. Kids misbehave every day. It’s really not until 20 years down the road that you can put your hands on your hips and say, “I raised a good son or a good daughter.” You can neglect your relationship with your spouse, and on a day-to-day basis, it doesn’t seem as if things are deteriorating. People who are driven to excel have this unconscious propensity to underinvest in their families and overinvest in their careers—even though intimate and loving relationships with their families are the most powerful and enduring source of happiness.
Fortunately, you don’t really have to wait 20 years to get a glimpse in to the value of being a good parent. Life is actually full of little reminders and pieces of evidence. You just have to keep your eyes out for them.
This summer, Wendy and I went through our annual exercise in figuring out what to do with the kids for the next several months. We fasted on Sunday for spiritual guidance. And we looked back at previous successes and failures.
For example, I buy math books for the kids every single summer. And—every single summer—they don’t get used.
After a lot of prayer and thought and discussion, we came up with two surprising pieces. First off, we decided we needed to get our pool fixed. It’s a complete wreck, like so much of the house and yard. All the pipes are broken, much of the brick has deteriorated, and it’s covered in a permanent black stain from years of organic growth all over its walls.
But I can’t deny that, halfway through my fast, I felt certain I was supposed to fix the pool. I was worried the kids would not get outside enough or be social enough or exercise enough. And, honestly, the pool will definitely address all those concerns.
So...we fixed the pool. Kind of. It’s not going to be a beautiful pool in the traditional sense. It’s still pretty beat up and we don’t have the $15,000.00 we need to restore it. (Plus, if we did, why would we spend it on the pool?!)
But we did figure out some creative fixes so that we could get it up and running. It may not be glamorous. But its functional and a LOT of fun. I just asked the kids to think of it as a really nice pond instead of as a really beat up swimming pool.
The other inspiration came from Wendy. And that was to change our approach to the dreaded chores list. She looked around online, thought about our own family priorities, and then made a list of daily “must do” categories. This was less specific or prescriptive than a standard chore list. And it included things like “work toward one of your goals by practicing a skill for 20 minutes” and “help another member of the family.”
This has been a wonderful change of approach, and it’s already paying off. The kids are off to a strong start this summer. They have been happy, kind, involved, and energetic.
Happy Fathers’ Day from the Red Balloon!!