A purpose is the reason for doing something. A thoughtfully constructed purpose helps to keep one focused on priorities. It provides a basis for action when the right decision is not self-evident.
A parenting purpose is needed to serve as a basis for action for when those things that are truly important become obstructed by the overgrowth of daily life. Life is messy, noisy, and dynamic. A parenting purpose brings order to the chaos.
Simpler is Better
Your parenting purpose doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, it can be exceedingly simple. That way, it can serve as a handy reminder to yourself when you are too consumed in the emotions of the moment to make a levelheaded decision. The simpler a purpose is, the more effective it will be.
It can even be obvious. For example, my parenting purpose is to raise adults, not kids. That’s it. In other words, I believe the reason for my filling the role of parent is to ensure my children are prepared to create positive life experiences for themselves as adults. This purpose helps me to stay focused on the priorities of the long term while answering the many demands of life, which always present themselves in the short term.
For example, a child who behaved well all day at school might come home and inexplicably start screaming about something that I perceive as minor. After a stressful day at work, it’s the last thing I need. Or my children might rebuff my attempts to help them prepare their fishbowls for a ride in the car, to take to a friends’ house before we leave for vacation. That can be frustrating. Their attempts may seem inadequate, and I just want the fish to survive. Soon I will tell you how the simple reminder to raise adults, not kids, helps me figure out what to do.
Okay, raising adults, not kids, is not so simple. The concept is simple, but there is a lot underneath those four words. There are some complicated thoughts that get boiled down to the one simple phrase that helps me bring order to the chaos of daily life.
Underneath the Simplicity
When I first became a parent, I didn’t know what I should be doing or why. I was committed to learning as much as possible. I pored over the best parenting books, research papers, magazines, websites, and forums I could find. I was confounded by the reams of conflicting advice. Equally passionate arguments were made on opposing sides of every parenting issue.
I tried to screen the advice by the motives of the advice givers. Unfortunately, motives were not always given. When they were, they were unsatisfying.
Some advice was given on the grounds that following it would help a baby fall asleep faster. Other advice claimed to help a baby stay asleep longer. Advice was given for getting children to follow instructions. Advice was given for getting children to think for themselves. Some advice aimed to aid the development of academic skills, and other advice offered to find opportunities for free play. Still other advice cited the promotion of computer literacy as a motive, or the restriction of screen time, or the encouragement of sharing, or the cultivation of self-advocacy.
On the surface, these and countless others often seemed like good motives. The problem is that there wasn’t enough substance beneath the surface. The reason for adopting an advised sleep practice may very well be so that a baby can fall asleep faster. But why is that a good thing? Perhaps so that the child is better rested. Why is that a good thing? Perhaps so that the child can better focus on his surroundings the next day. And why is that a good thing? Perhaps so that he can learn more effectively.
Some parenting resources went as much as two or three “why’s” deep but then stopped. It was as if the stopping point marked the universally accepted right motive. No further exploration was attempted. But if you don’t go deep enough, you will find yourself adhering to a collection of disjointed motives that will sooner or later run afoul of one another. By asking enough “why’s,” a place with no further asking can be found. An “irreducible why” can be reached.
If I had an irreducible why, it would allow me to contextualize all the parenting advice I encountered. I could use it to distinguish the good advice from the not-so-good. Motives that aligned under the irreducible why could be accepted. Motives that could not be reconciled with the irreducible why could then be discarded. An irreducible why would enable me to confidently negotiate controversial parenting issues. It would enable me to make difficult parenting decisions extemporaneously.
An Irreducible Why
If I was to provide for my children according to my best efforts, I needed to arrive at an irreducible why. A why that centered on any particular trait, ability, or facet of life would be automatically disqualified. My why had to encompass the totality of life. It had to be big. And it had to be personal. My why had to be aligned with my core beliefs and values, which I found myself suddenly having to define.
After much contemplation, I determined that what I wanted most for my children was for them to live to their full potentials. Not simply as children, but over the courses of their lives. I wanted them to be able to maximize the quality of their experiences, to squeeze every last drop that life has to offer. I wanted them to make the most of life, to make themselves as fully alive, as exhilaratingly human, as possible. I wanted them to be equipped as adults to create lives that mean something, not only to themselves but to others as well. My irreducible why would be to help my children to make their best possible life experiences as adults while simultaneously benefitting society.
I liked my irreducible why. It was big. It was inspiring. And it was positive. Rather than being against an undesirable outcome, my why was framed as being for a desired outcome. I could adhere to it not out of fear but through aspiration.
The wrongs of the world, the misguided direction of society, and the faults of various parenting practices are tempting distractions when setting a personal parenting direction. There are lots of resources for avoiding helicopter parenting, for addressing ailing math scores, or for attenuating the egos of the selfie generation. Some are very good. But I believe that parenting styles based on running away from problems like these are not the best prescription for success.
New problems constantly arise. Alongside each one, pundits materialize and insistently offer advice. That advice appeals to parents to steer their children away from questionable trends and developments.
I liked that my irreducible why had me steering toward something. With a positive why, I could define the direction and stay true to it, regardless of circumstances. I was not beholden to respond to every new specter that threatened the children’s futures. I could claim the locus of control.
The only problem with my irreducible why was that I didn’t know what it meant.
Back to Simplicity
The best possible life experience, as it turned out, was undefined. I needed to give it meaning for myself. In order to do so, I needed to go beyond the subject of parenting. I found myself delving into adjacent fields of study. I read up on psychology, philosophy, and even economics. What I learned became a book, The Optimal Life Experience.
I used what I learned from that book to put myself on firmer parenting ground. One of the things I learned is that in order to become their best, people need to know that they matter. I also learned that people need to have the opportunity to make an impact. Those were two things I could focus on to help my children become the best adults they could be.
That was what I needed to make my purpose actionable. Parenting tactics that cultivate children’s beliefs of ‘matter’ and ‘impact’ can enable children to become adults who can create positive life experiences. Whenever I am unsure about what to do, I can ask whether a proposed tactic would help the children develop beliefs of matter and impact. If they do, then I am raising adults.
It turns out that I don’t have to choose between encouraging children to follow instructions or to think for themselves; to focus on grades or to play freely; to learn computers or to have limited screen time; or to share or to self-advocate. There is a time for each of those things. Because I know what I am trying to do, I can figure out when is the right time for each of them, and have confidence in my decision.
Today, I know that when one of my children is inexplicably screaming when they come home from school, I want to know why. I might find out about an ongoing dispute with a playmate. I want to, first, be there to listen to them, so they know that they matter. That is in line with my long-term interest of raising adults, which is more important than my short-term, and admittedly selfish, interest of getting the screaming to stop.
I know that when my children want to take their fish along for a car ride to a friend’s house using tape and bubble wrap to cover their fishbowls, I want to provide those materials for them and support their efforts. I will do so to give them a chance to make their own impact, even if I think there is a better way. The sense that they can make an impact is something that they can take with them into adulthood, no matter what happens to the fish on any given day.
Your Parenting Purpose
I now have underlying reasons for wanting to do all these things. Because I have a purpose – to raise adults – with associated goals and underlying knowledge and beliefs, I can figure out what to do in the moment.
Your parenting purpose may be different. It will be based on core parts of your identity. It can have associated goals of its own. Your purpose will incorporate your own knowledge, and your unique set of beliefs and values.
I recently asked one hundred people what they believed the purpose of being a parent is. Next week, I’ll share the results of the survey with you. The answers varied from funny, to matter of fact, to touching. There are categories of similar answers, but it is amazing that are so many unique answers.
What is your unique parenting purpose?
How to Properly Cite this Article: Brian Vondruska, “What is Your Parenting Purpose?”, The Kind of Parent You Are, accessed [date], https://www.thekindofparentyouare.com/articles/what-is-your-parenting-purpose.