What’s your definition of successful parenting?

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by Robin Dance

Married over half her life to her college sweetheart, Robin's guilty pleasure is Reddi Wip from the can. Mom to three, she's as Southern as sugar-shocked tea. Follow her on Twitter. Her beautiful new blog robindance.me is a must-see.

Mary Jane was the first person I ever hired, and I vividly recall her response to my question about her greatest accomplishment:

“Raising my two sons to be responsible adults, both out of college with meaningful careers, considerate of and generous to others, and one now married and expecting his first baby.”

It wasn’t the rehearsed answer I anticipated, and it set her apart from the other less mature applicants. Like two strangers at a wedding, it was an exchange that began constructing a framework for my parenting philosophy when my babies were merely eye twinkles:

I now knew my end game.

You don’t raise your little children to become bigger children, you raise them to become adults. I’d wager the majority of parents agree with that sentiment, but realizing it early on and allowing it to inform how you parent is key.

There’s a constant parenting push and pull—eagerly anticipating and celebrating markers and milestones, while resisting time’s swift flight.

Focusing on the bulls eye makes a difference in hitting the target.

In your children, you have opportunity to shape the future. Your goal isn’t to build automatons who merely parrot your views because they think that’s what you want to hear. When you reach the heart of a teen and…

  • teach him to consider others with his choices,
  • impress upon her that there are consequences to actions,
  • and train your children to respond reasonably rather than react emotionally to challenges

…you’re raising a responsible adult who will contribute to culture and community.

If you’re a long-time Simple Mom reader, you’re already familiar with her suggestion to write a family mission statement. Although that thought never occurred to me when our children were toddlers, it can apply to parenting, too.

• Decide with your spouse those qualities and character traits most important to you both. Be sure your parenting choices are consistent with those qualities.

• Emulate the character you’d like your children to exhibit. More is caught than taught.

• The devil is in the details, so don’t get bogged down with anything formal or confining. Be flexible to accommodate change of circumstance and conviction.

• Open communication with your spouse and children is essential. No one is a mind reader.


Photo by Erin MC Hammer

All this can be put another way: how do you know you’ve arrived if you don’t know where you’re going?

While that might be an oversimplification of parenting “success,” and I don’t think you’ll ever “arrive” because parenting, in some capacity, never ends, I do think it’s beneficial to the family and society to have goals in mind as you parent.

Parenting with intention means you’re aware of the motive behind your choices and you’re leading rather than reacting; parenting with an end goal means you’ve determined a measure for success and your decisions support that goal.

Success defined by America’s standard is largely material. But to me, parenting “success” is much more important. I’m thankful Mary Jane seeded that thought.

It’s important to add that you can do everything “right” as a parent and still have children stray; likewise, you can be a miserable excuse of a parent and have your children turn out wonderfully. Nothing is certain. But because I think being a mom is the most important job on the planet, I’m going to do everything I can with what I’ve got.


Last month, I wrote a series called 31 Days of Parenting Teens and Tweens. If you’d like to read more, click the button and scroll through the entire series.

Your turn: What is your definition of “successful parenting”? Would you say you’re parenting with that in mind?

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Comments

  1. Robin, you are my go-to gal for parenting genius. Following your direction to lead rather than react and to do everything I can with what I’ve got!

    So thankful for you… xoxo

  2. My definition of successful parenting is for my children to surrender their lives over to Jesus Christ and follow Him! I pray for their salvation every night before they go to bed and I pray that I will train them to love the Lord and want to please Him (not obey because they have to or because their parents said so). I love the idea of a family mission statement and building everything you do on that foundation. It keeps you focused and makes decision-making so much easier!

  3. I agree with you Bethany! But we checked that off the To Do list for our children a few years ago. I would add having both children in the Advanced Academics class in Elementatry School. Our 10yo is doing great this year and our 8yo is in her first year of this fast paced teaching method and so far, so good!

  4. I think it’s so crucial to “parent with the end in mind.” My wife and I regularly take time to discuss and pray about what we want our kids to look like in 5 or 10 or 20 years, and then we focus on how we (with the grace of God) help them get there.

    On a parenting blog for our church that I used to write, I gave an example of this:

    http://childrenatgrace.blogspot.com/2010/05/shepherding-our-future-man-elijah.html

  5. Really great post! I’ve never considered a mission statement for parenting.

    In a nutshell, I want to help my children learn the tools that they will need to handle life & be good people. This means getting them to think about how to care for themselves- physically, emotionally, and spiritually- and be kind to others.

    I don’t have defined images of how my kids will ‘turn out’. I think you are so right- you can be the best parent, but you don’t have final say in your adult children’s actions.

  6. This is so timely! I’m halfway through an ebook and the first half has been about the power of mission statements for your family (and for your blog). I don’t have one for either, but I’m definitely reconsidering now.

  7. Beautiful post. The last paragraph is a very important point, I think. We can only do our very best, and in the end, our children will make their own decisions, but you can be sure that I’m going to try my hardest to instill in them the ability to be good, decent, healthy adults!

    There’s a Jewish saying that success in raising kids is 50% marital harmony and 50% prayer. That is to say, being a good spouse, or a good role model, is also a very important factor. As you said, “more is caught than taught.”

  8. That is my philosophy! I have taught my young children from the beginning to hold themselves to a higher standard. My oldest is 7 so for her it is the beginning of girl drama. She will tell me things that so and so said or did. I tell he to not get involved to tell her friend that she likes being friends with her, but that she doesn’t like girl drama. it works! I don’t teach her this so that it stops in the moment (although that’s a great bonus). I have the bigger picture in mind. I don’t want her to be a drama addict like many grown women are. I also don’t want her to be sucked into it as she gets older in the workplace or even at church (gasp!). I actually use the words “hold yourself to a higher standard” multiple times a day. I want my children who grow up to be adults that are confident, successful in what they choose, and to be someone that is enjoyable for others to be around. I want them to be thoughtful and considerate of others. Yes, sometimes that means putting others first, which is not taught much anymore. Sorry for the novel. I could go on! This very idea is something that I am very passionate about.

    • Melissa,

      Oh, how I want my daughter to avoid drama! I had a lot of drama in my life and now that things have settled down (once I finally matured!!!) I still have a friend who is in her 30’s and her life is just full of drama. I get so tired of hearing about it and wonder why she can’t just buck up and get on with life as an adult. I will give your idea a try on what to tell my daughter when the drama starts. She’s just a toddler, but I hate the idea that it starts as young as age 7! I don’t think I experienced that until Junior High or even later, maybe.

  9. My absolute most important goal in parenting is to raise someone strong enough to take risks, to fail occasionally, to not be afraid to make his own decisions. As a result, I sometimes let him climb higher on the playground than other moms might. I let him make decisions that I know will be wrong so that he can feel the consequences and learn. I give him space even when I really just want to grab on tight and hold him close. It’s something that fuels every decision I make as I go through my parenting life, and yes, it has absolutely helped me to keep this in mind and parent with a philosophy.

    • I also let my kid climb high and make it a priority to give him space, so that he learns to learn by trying. I also hope to raise someone who will trust his parents and come to us with his problems.

      I just started a Mindful Parenting Collaboration on my blog to address this issue and make sure that I am parenting with my son’s highest good in mind. I just wrote a mission statement for myself, and drafted one for the things I hope for my son as well.

    • avatar
      Audra Bastie says:

      Wendy, love your comment.

  10. with 11 children, my husband and I have had to keep it simple. Our overall strategy is to raise saints. The way this translates daily can be very specific, like, “will sneaking a cigarette in the back yard when the little kids are asleep keep him out of heaven?” Sometimes, its simpler…if they aren’t in jail, its all good. Mostly, we know we need to build relationships. We are a very young family with some old kids and very old parents!
    thanks for a great post!

  11. I think we all want to raise great kids to be successful adults. I’m shocked at how little I listened to older people as I raised mine (such simple advice as “the time will go by so quickly – treasure this time”. I was even more shocked to realize that our biggest mistake was that we didn’t play enough. It wasn’t surprising to know we had made mistakes; it was just a real stunner to realize that was the biggest one.

  12. I’m so scared to have kids because I just know I’ll screw them up. And although I want children so desperately, I don’t want to be selfish and make them my kids just because I want them; they may not want what I have to offer. I know it’s a crazy thought, but does someone else out there think this sometimes? Surely I’m not the only one…

    • Leonie,

      My experience has been that having kids will make you the most selfless person you could possibly be. It is really impossible to know how much you will give up when you become a parent, until you actually do it.

      As far as “knowing you’ll screw them up” I’d say you should change your self-talk in this area so it doesn’t become a self-fufilling prophecy. As Robin said, you can do everything right and still have problems with your kids. Or, you can do most everything wrong, and have a well adjusted child. There are so many factors determining how your children turn out. There are just no guarantees.

      As far as your child not wanting what you have to offer. I have been in awe by the love that my toddler shows me. She doesn’t care that I am not perfect as a parent, wife, or human. She just needs me to love her unconditionally and continue to provide for her. Now, I have limited experience since I only have a toddler, but I can’t imagine a child not wanting what their parent has to offer them.

  13. I love those words the more is caught than taught. I am just now with an 8, 6, and 3 year old realizing how much my girls watch me and see how i behave and interact with people and situations.

  14. I am the oldest of eight and my parents goal was that we would love Jesus, be gracious to others, and make a difference no matter where we were.

    Now that our oldest is a teenager, I realize all that my mom and dad were shooting for. It is amazing to watch your child change from someone who accepts your authority without question to someone who really wants to live her own life with her own values.

    My goal is that she would live for Jesus, be gracious to others, and make a difference no matter where she is at. It is funny how right my mom and dad were.

  15. Thank you for sharing this. I’m the mother of two little girls – 2 and 5 months – and I often think about the type of women I’m raising them to be. I see so many flaws in my own character, and really want to pass on a better standard to them. I like the idea of leading rather than reacting, and am going to mull over that during the day.

    Bless you.

  16. I didn’t realize when I first became a parent that I was an raising adult. It wasn’t until my oldest was 17 and we had some major issues that I was actually supposed to be raising an adult. With the younger 3 we tried to change our focus. Now that they are all grown and out of the house, I feel successful when I see that they are able to care for themselves and their families. I feel like we did the oldest such a disservice. She and I are now best friends and we talk about it. She has forgiven us for our parenting mistakes!
    Great post Robin!
    Bernice

  17. When my youngest was around 10 months, giggling at strangers from the front of a grocery store cart, an older gentleman walked by and whispered in my ear,
    “You know, if you keep feeding him, you’re going to get a teenager.”

    He was trying to be clever and I got a great chuckle at the time, but what an important perspective! My boys WILL be teenagers and then adults, and we don’t get a do over if we don’t prepare them along the way… so we had better parent with the end game in mind. (Love that!)

    When we make “unpopular” choices or choose a more meaningful path over one that is easier in that moment, I remind myself that we’re really not raising children. We’re raising adults.

  18. What a wonderful reminder. It’s so easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day details and forget about the ultimate goal I’m working toward. More than anything, I want my two young boys to grow into men of integrity and character. I pray for them to have a heart for the Lord and that their desires will fall in line with His, instead of the world’s.

  19. I have a blog in draft right now that started on this thought. thanks for making me revisit it – and for providing a place for conversation around it!

  20. I am terrible at writing out Mission Statements and have yet to write a family mission statement. I mentioned the idea to my husband, but he’s as bad at it as I am!!! But, I really love the idea of a mission statement for parenting. I am always in awe of Sally Clarkson. She has been so deliberate in her training of her children. I think of my parents (and I’m sure there are others like them), who as far as I could tell, they were always in survival mode and didn’t think about how to measure if they were being successful parents. Don’t get me wrong, they did a wonderful job raising us to know the Lord, and I’d say we all turned out alright in the end. But, the idea of not only having parenting goals, but also a way to reach those goals is a new idea for me, and I’m sure to many. I look forward to discussing this with my husband. We for sure have lofty goals for our kiddos, but haven’t sat down and gone over how we plan to achieve those goals and/or how we’ll know if we did. Thanks for the inspiration!

  21. My goal is to stand, with my children, before the Lord. My plan to get there is first to pray for each of them (I have 6 children ages 4 to 23), to do what it says in Deuteronomy and take every opportunity to show them what God has made and is doing around us. To humbly teach them in the way, morning and night. To connect what we read in the scriptures to what we see in our everyday lives. To pray for wisdom, like it says in James because I don’t always have a clue what to say or do and to the best of my ability through the grace of God to be faithful. Last but not least, I’m learning to trust that the Lord is more than able to get my children where He wants them. This is probably the hardest part for me…letting go of them and trusting that they will be okay. The Lord often surprises me with the insights and wisdom that my children share with me. Oh, and I listen to my children and I honestly weigh out what they say. I respect them. All but my youngest has professed faith in the Lord, and I can honestly say that I see fruit in their lives. This is truly the Lord’s doing for He is good!

  22. Love this post! and that is one good question!

  23. Thanks for this! When I was teaching we focused all the time on “backwards design” – first determining what you want students to learn before planning a lesson or unit. So many articles and books on parenting seem to focus on the triage required to get through a day, phase, or stage of development. This post is a great reminder to keep your eyes on the ultimate prize of making good people, not just good kids.

  24. What a wonderful thing to remind parents! I think many of us get so caught up in just taking care of our kids basic needs in the early years that we never even stop to think that there is an end goal or that there should be an end goal. I agree wholeheartedly with your friend Mary Jane and I would add on thing. I am raising my children to know that they are Divinely loved and beautiful creations of God. My thought is, if these are the only two things they take away from being my child, then they will still be set up to do all that they are capable of doing and will serve the world around them.

  25. My oldest is in graduate school, my next two are are undergrads in college, then I have kids ages 14, 11, and 8.

    I’m stilly defining success. Sometimes it changes to match what is real, just to keep me sane. :)

  26. As much as I don’t want time to fly as I raise my 3 boys, I try to think about them as older young men and the qualities I’d want them to have…like knowing who they are and using their gifts, being strong in their faith and in their beliefs, being full of integrity, being leaders, being kind and genuine, treating others and themselves with respect…and the list goes on and on. This post was a great reminder that they will eventually grow up and that I am growing adult men and not bigger boys. This job as mom is so important and I want to do it right and do it mindfully while they are still young. Thanks for your wisdom!

  27. I haven’t written a Mission Statement, but here are my goals…

    I want my daughter to always know that she is loved beyond words. I want her to keep her ability to express her love for others, and to set limits for herself when someone tries to force intimacy on her.

    I want her to grow up confident and safe, with an ability to reflect and grow through whatever her life brings.

    And I want her to be strong enough to choose her own path, in her own time, based on love and not fear… always knowing that her parents will be there and support her no matter what she chooses.

    That is success to me. :)

  28. Very simply, I think the way you define parenting success is to know in your own heart that you did everything you could to raise your child in the best way you know how. Parenting never ends and it is a daily thing, so if you know your child to be kind, respectful, and eventually self-reliant, you have achieved personal success.

  29. i am a part of a great parenting class at our church called “raising tomorrow’s leaders” and it has encouraged me in the same way your post does – the end goal so influences the daily choices now. our kids will be tomorrow’s leaders and we get the chance now to help mold their character, values, and faith. what a honor and responsibility!

  30. Successful parenting? It’s an old Russian saying which could be translated as”you’ve got to count your chickens in fall, not spring”, which basically means in this situation that you won’t be able to tell how successful your parenting is until the kids are actually grown.

  31. Can giving in to a less than stellar sitch also be successful parenting? I jsut posted about just accepting that I am NOT a great mom in the middle of the night, but I will teach you to back bread etc by day! LOL. We LOVE the family mission statement, is 1 and 3yo too young to start with it?

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