Monday, December 18, 2006

Parenting Vision Statements

The hardest thing to do as a parent is to set goals. No, I don't mean goals for your children, I mean goals for you as parents. You need a goal in order evaluate whether you are doing well or doing badly relative to that goal. In business terms, the closest analogue is the 'vision statement.'

Vision statements can be useless or useful. Useless ones invariably are too broad ranging. They set goals such as we are going to be the "best." That is all very well but it does not tell you what you are not going to be -- that is something you need to know because you can't do everything. Useful vision statements place more emphasis on what you are not going to do. For instance, one of the world's most consistently profitable companies, Lincoln Electric, has a motto: "Once we're in, we never lose a sale except on delivery." This looks strange but it is useful. Lincoln emphasise quality but this means some compromise and what they compromise on is delivery times. And yes, sometimes they lose out to others on that.

The same applies to parenting. You can set a goal for your children to be the "best." But then you are setting yourselves and probably them (in your eyes) up for failure. The famous writer, Orson Scott Card recently pondered these issues. Have a read here on what he had to say and then I'll tell you what we did as a vision statement. Card's article is an excellent read for aspiring or first time parents. I basically agree with him that there is pretty much nothing you can do to 'improve' your child -- we tried with No.1 and gave up with the later kids but that is a story for another post.

Our vision statement was simple: when we looked back 30 or so years from now, we would consider our parenting job a failure if our children had not become independent adults. That was it. We have no definitions for success and a single criterion for failure. The moral philosophy behind it is also simple: we don't want our children to be a burden. That would be unfair on the world. (Now if for reasons for health problems that didn't occur that would be another matter, but we are talking about the normal course of events).

This vision statement isn't for everyone. Maybe it is not for anyone other than us. But it is incredibly useful. We come back to it all the time whenever we agonise over decisions and dilemmas. But having it and also with it defining a clear risk of failure, we have given ourselves both comfort and a challenge.