We Can't Control How Our Kids Turn Out, But Don't Panic Yet

by Clint Edwards
istock / Sasiistock

The fact is, no parent really knows what they are doing, and there is a strong possibility that no matter how great a parent you are, how well you teach your children responsibility and educate them on kindness and humanity or throw opportunities at them, they very well could grow up to be the “bad egg” of the family — the child who fell a little too far from the tree.

And to be honest, as a father of three, the thought of this scares the hell out of me. I truly love all three of my kids, and I 100% want them all to grow up to be successful and kind. If I were to try to define what I want for my kids, it would be this: I want them to be a better person than I am. But if they don’t reach that goal, where does that leave me as a parent?

I work at a university, and I often teach a lesson to incoming college freshmen on Stephen Covey’s Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence.

A Circle of Concern encompasses the wide range of concerns we have, such as our health, our children, problems at work, the amount of government borrowing, or the threat of war.

A Circle of Influence encompasses the concerns we can do something about — the concerns we have some control over.

Ultimately, this lesson is meant to teach students how to focus on their Circle of Influence in order to gain more control over the things that concern them. A basic example is that you can’t control the weather, but you can control how often you carry an umbrella; or that you can’t control a bad professor, but you can seek out alternate ways of getting class content by using the textbook, online resources, tutors, and study groups.

Every time I teach this lesson, I think about my biggest concern right now as a parent: What kind of people will my children become? What will their future morals and ambitions be? And how much will I blame myself if they grow up to be boneheads?

But that is the biggest challenge of being a parent. While it seems like you have a lot of control over your children (and in so many ways, you do), they are unique individuals you love the hell out of, but who ultimately grow up into something you have little control over.

As a parent, I struggle with that. This isn’t to say that I’m a control freak or anything. I just struggle with the idea that my children might grow up to be something less than what I know they can be, and if they do, I will feel responsible. I know myself well enough to understand that I will look back at their lives and wonder where I made a misstep. I will feel immense guilt. And I don’t want that — for me or for them.

So rather than focus on what I can’t control (my Circle of Concern), I’ve started focusing on what I can (my Circle of Influence).

Because the fact is that the only thing I have control over is me. I have control over my example as a father. I have control over the lessons I teach my children, how I interact with them, how I treat my wife, and how dedicated I am to my family. I have control over my faith and how I show it to my children. I have control over how I talk about the people we interact with on a daily basis. I have control over how I instruct my children to respect all people, regardless of race, religion, income, etc. I have control over how I interact with people who are different from me and the example I set. I have control over how I talk about education, passions, and values — and how important all three of those things are.

We live in a world of bad influences. Someday my children will join Facebook. Someday they will choose a political affiliation. Someday they will pick sides on social topics, generate opinions, and then seek out other likeminded people to help bolster those opinions. Someday they may be that opinionated social media user that some friends love and others unfollow.

And while I don’t have much control over any outside influence, I can set a good example in my home. I can give them a good foundation for what I want them to become. I can speak openly about the kind of person I want them to grow into.

And all of this must come down to action. It must come down to showing and telling and living my life in a way that shows my children how a good, moral, and ethical person interacts with the world. And while this might sound simple, I think no parent should downplay the reality of our actions and how our children perceive them. I think we should be open with what we want from them and every step of their childhood, reinforcing who we want them to be by showing them the importance and value of becoming someone of substance.

We need to listen as much as we speak. And we need to instruct while supporting our lessons through our own actions.

Many of you reading this are doing exactly that. You are gently redirecting your children toward a valuable future and showing them every day what it looks like to love and care for other people. And if that is the case, then you are working well within your Circle of Influence. And honestly, as a parent, I believe that is the most valuable thing you can do to ensure that your child grows up to be what you know they are capable of.

Or, at least, I hope it is. I will admit that my children are still young. I haven’t seen the full scope of things. Perhaps when they are rebellious teens, I will have a very different outlook.

But what I do know is that I often see a meme floating around talking about how it’s the parent’s job to parent the asshole out of their children. While this is funny and all, I am often left wondering what exactly that looks like.

I wonder if it means focusing on your Circle of Control as a parent: really using every opportunity to raise your children to be good, strong, and moral. And if they still turn out to be something different despite your efforts, then I believe you can rest well knowing they made those decisions despite your long and thoughtful example and instruction.

Honestly, at the end of parenting, I think that’s what every mother and father wants to feel confident in: that they made every effort for their children to turn out right.