How Does Your Child
Before I got married,
I had six theories about bringing up children.
Now I have six children and no theories.John Wilmot
"Dad," my first grader asked me recently, "what are you going to do
when you come to my class for Parents' Day?" He was standing on the
opposite side of my desk in my home study.
"What have the other parents done?" I asked, looking up from my
computer screen, where I'd been replying to email messages.
"Anthony's dad let each of us try on his fireman's helmet and
heavy jacket," he said excitedly. "It was heavy, and it smelled like
smoke! And you know what, Dad?"
"Anthony's dad rescues people from burning buildings with a big
ax! Have you ever done that, Dad?"
"Well, no. I haven't done that," I replied, clearing my throat.
"What have other parents done when they've come to your class?"
"Audrey's dad works at the Museum of Flight, and he set off a really
big rocket for us on the playground-it was so cool! You should
have seen the smoke!"
"It went so high, Dad. It had sparks and everything!"
"That sounds really cool," I slowly murmured.
"Nick's mom is a doctor," John continued, "and she put a cast on
Nick's arm right there in the class, and then she cut off the cast and
passed it around the room so we could touch
it-but Tayden didn't want to because he said
it was gross."
"Wow!" I said, trying to join in on his
"So what are you going to do, Dad?" John
"Well, Son, let's see. Um, what do you think
I should do?"
"Mommy says you work at your computer and talk on the phone
"Is that what Mommy says? I guess she's right about that-but I
don't think I want to do that for your class."
"Nooo!" John giggled.
"Let me talk to your mom about Parents' Day."
With that, John scampered out to the backyard as I tracked down
Leslie in the kitchen. "What am I supposed to do in John's class for
Parents' Day? John's going to think I'm the most boring dad in the
world, and he'll remember this forever," I said frantically.
Leslie started laughing.
"I know. I just got a mental image of you showing the class how
you talk on your cell phone and write at your computer."
"Very funny!" I snapped. "John already told me that joke-and I
didn't laugh then either."
Just then John came in from the backyard and said, "Hey, Dad,
why don't you bring your brain to class?"
He wasn't joking. John had once sat in on one of my lectures at
the university where I talked about the human brain. I'd used an
actual human brain from a formaldehyde container I borrowed from
the biology department. Needless to say, he was fascinated-as were
my college students.
And that's exactly what I did for Parents' Day. I explained to his
first grade class that I'm a "doctor" who works on feelings and that
feelings begin in the brain. I showed them a colorful wooden model
of the brain and then asked if they'd like to see an actual brain that
I had in a jar contained in a cardboard box.
"Yes-show us the brain!" some students shouted.
"Children, let's be respectful now," John's teacher said with authority
while keeping an eye on the cardboard box.
The kids were now literally sitting on the edge of their seats, and
John was grinning from ear to ear. The anticipation in that first grade
classroom was palpable. I put on my protective goggles and latex
gloves before reaching into the box. The children were wide-eyed-except
for Tayden. He was peeking through his fingers.
I spent the next few minutes answering one question after another.
The questions ranged from the practical ("What are all those
lines on it?") to the curious ("Whose brain is it?") to the theological
("Doesn't he need his brain in heaven?").
Needless to say, I was a hit. The kids still talk about that day
when they see me picking up John after school. And so does John.
"Remember when you brought the brain to my school, Dad?" he'll
say. "That was awesome!"
Whew! I did it. I made my son proud. And isn't that what every
parent wants? Don't you want your child's perception of you to be as
positive as possible?
Your Child Aspires to Be Like You - Is
That a Good Thing?
That afternoon after buckling John into his car seat and traveling
back home from school, Leslie and I were talking about what we
might do for dinner. Then, during a brief lull, John said something
that would melt any parent's heart: "Dad, I want to be like you."
The truth is, whether our kids say it or not, they feel it. Children
aspire to become what their parents are. And that's precisely why it's
critical to be the kind of parents we want to be.
John's comment got me to thinking. If he wanted to be like me,
how did he perceive me? What qualities did he see in me that he
wanted to emulate? Suddenly I was more self-conscious than I'd been
in years. I felt like I was sixteen again, looking
into the mirror and wondering what other
people thought of me. Metaphorically, I began
to "check myself out." Was I a patient man?
Could my son look at me and say, "I want to
be patient like Dad is"? Was I optimistic? I sure
wanted my son to be. Was I forgiving, empathic,
Have you ever had these same thoughts?
What traits does your child see in you? Perhaps
more important, what traits doesn't your child
see in you that you wish he or she did?
From the day John was born, I was so focused on what I would do
as a parent-reading all kinds of books on techniques and strategies
-that I hadn't given much thought to the kind of parent I wanted
Leslie felt the same way. And the more we talked about it, the
more serious we became about what we've come to call "intentional
traits." Each of us made a list of the top five traits we wanted to be
sure our children saw in us. And our lists were very different. What's
more, some of the traits came naturally and easily to one or the other
of us, while other traits would require more work.
Who You Are Matters More
Than What You Do
Now don't misunderstand-we're all for using good parenting techniques
to discipline and motivate our children. In fact, you'll find
many practical parenting tips in this book. But the primary message
we want to get across is this: Your child's character hinges on the
traits you exhibit as a parent. And who you are as a parent isn't left
to fate, luck, or chance. You can choose to be the kind of parent you
want to be. While plenty of things about your child's life are unpredictable
and beyond your control, you can make certain your child
has a parent with particular qualities. This book will show you how.
You may be wondering why the traits you embody even matter.
Let's make this plain: Your traits matter because your child is watching
you more closely than you know. A haunting reminder of just
how powerful we are as parental role models is found in the Harry
Chapin classic "Cat's in the Cradle." Written in 1974, this song starts
out with a natural harmony and depicts the tale of a father with his
newborn son. The first time we hear the chorus, the dad is saying:
And he was talking 'fore I knew it, and as he grew,
He'd say, "I'm gonna be like you, Dad.
You know I'm gonna be like you."
But by the end of the tune, which has followed their relationship
through the boy's tenth birthday, his college years, and finally the father's
retirement, the chorus is bittersweet. It seems the son, who has
moved away and started his own family, picked up on the one quality
his father hoped he wouldn't pass along-the quality of being too
busy for relationships. The father has called his son to see if the two
of them can get together. "I'd love to, Dad, if I could find the time,"
answers his son. In the final chorus, the father's words ring true:
And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me,
He'd grown up just like me.
My boy was just like me.
Chapin's song will stop almost every parent dead in their tracks.
And if it doesn't, it should. It's a poignant reminder to take stock of
the traits, both good and bad, that our children observe in us.
Being a parent-not just doing parental things-is the most important
calling you will ever have. But it's also the most rewarding
enterprise of your life-especially when you are the parent you want
1. How would your child describe you to another person?
What specific traits would your child mention?
2. If your child grows up to be just like you in one way,
what way do you hope that is and why?
3. Do you agree that when it comes to parenting, who you
are matters more than what you do? Why or why not?