Parenting tips for busy executives

This month, I want to discuss a disturbing trend and provide some ideas from Cincinnati The Executive Committee (TEC) member Jim Mason about how to reverse it.
The issue is parenting.
In the 1960s, the following factors, in this order, had the greatest impact on the development of our children’s values: parents, teachers, peers and media.
Today, the order is peers, media, parents and teachers. Something is definitely wrong with this picture. In fact, Mason’s research shows that compared with 1969, parents in 2004 spend 22 percent less time with their kids.
So given that time pressures are intense for today’s busy men and women executives and working single-parent professionals, are there any positive things that parents can do for their kids? Mason offers 10 suggestions:
1. Show up. The easiest thing to do is spend time with your kids. It says a lot when you share your most limited resource. This doesn’t mean driving them around to a myriad of weekend soccer games or swim meets. It means finding out ways to hang out with them doing casual things that are important to them, not you.
2. Be proactive. Most executives spend their business lives planning first and executing second, whether it’s for short- or long-term results. Unfortunately, for about 18 years with our kids, we are in a reactive mode. Being proactive means identifying what characteristics you want your child to emulate as a 25-year-old adult, i.e., honesty, integrity, loving, contributing, hard-working, etc. Think about what you and your spouse are doing today to make this happen tomorrow.
3. Know your own core values and live by them. The Internet and TV can be awful diversions when it comes to signifying important core values. It’s imperative that as a parent you explicitly identify them and then model them for your kids. Politicians have a distinctive reputation of being inconsistent in this area. Parents can’t afford to be.
4. Know your child. In business, we commonly evaluate strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. It’s called the "SWOT" analysis. What better way to get to know your child than to go through the same exercise with him or her? And then devise a plan for building on strengths, minimizing weaknesses, seizing opportunities and reducing threats. And do this together.
5. Love your child unconditionally. Kids get their self-worth by living in a nurturing, caring environment. Unconditional love does not mean "everything-goes permissiveness." Complimenting kids for the positive things they do as opposed to criticizing them for negative behaviors best demonstrates unconditional love.
6. Love your spouse, or at least be civil. Loving or being civil to your child’s other parent, whether together or no longer together, is the most important thing you can do to teach respect, intimacy and conflict resolution. Kids know instinctively when things are not as they should be here, and it is a major source of how they define and interpret commitment in adult relationships.
7. Set clear expectations. Setting expectations around basic things such as hygiene, fulfilling obligations, managing time, self-development, having fun, helping others, etc., will lead to adult behaviors that mirror earlier expectations. We do it at work all the time. Why not at home?
8. Listen. I recently counseled a TEC member who was having a terrible time communicating with his 15-year-old daughter. She was resentful and totally defiant. In short, she was experiencing the typical 15-year-old "rejection of authority" syndrome. He switched gears on her and began seeking understanding. He started using non-directive listening techniques by asking questions such as, "How are you feeling?" "What would make you happy?" "How can I help?" "What can I change for you?" etc. I can report that they are on a good track now.
9. Embrace failure. In business we are taught to accept the premise that failure is an important step on the road to success. We all make mistakes, and we learn from them. Our kids will and need to feel failure. But we need to be there to instill the confidence in them that failure is just another opportunity for success. We need to help them embrace this notion, and then guide them forward toward success.
10. Relax and enjoy it. Are our kids going to disappoint us from time to time? Yes. Are we going to be frustrated with them from time to time? Yes. Are we going to want to pull out our hair, and theirs, from time to time? Absolutely. But, guess what? Their time to be kids and our time to be parents will end all too soon. Here’s a mantra to rehearse in the meantime, "Oh well, this too shall pass." Take a deep breath, relax, enjoy and smile.
Lots of good advice here from one who has been there and should have done that. I hope you can practice some of these gems. By the way, these tidbits of wisdom work in the workplace as well. Come on. We are all kids at heart. Until next month, good parenting.
Harry W. Dennis III is the president of The Executive Committee (TEC) in Wisconsin and Michigan. TEC is a professional development group for CEOs, presidents and business owners. He can be reached at (262) 821-3340 or at hiduke@aol.com.
October 29, 2004, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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