My Master’s degree in Child & Family Studies from Syracuse University and my undergraduate degree in Family Relations & Human Development from The Ohio State University forever cemented in my mind the importance of the early years of life, and their profound impact upon the remainder of life. My concentration in my Master’s degree program was in early development – the first three years of life – when the foundation for the remainder of a child’s life is laid. The first three to five years set the stage for a lifetime. Development must be maximized during that brief time in childhood.
As I raised my two sons, I did so with the “end in mind.” By this I mean that I made decisions based upon the kind of men that I wanted my sons to become, not by the immediate circumstances of their childhoods. I painted a detailed picture in my mind of my sons as grown men. I held a vision. I created a mental list of desired character traits and qualities, and then I trained for them.
I consciously trained my boys in these traits, which are listed in no particular order:
- Faithful (faith in God)
- Integrous (having integrity)
- Respectful of all people, especially women
- Appreciative of cultural, religious, racial, ethnic and other diversity
- Intelligent, and possessing a long attention span
- Healthy, both physically and mentally
- Free from addiction
- Brave, “upstanders,” as opposed to bystanders when witnessing wrong-doing such as bullying
- Well rounded
- Family Oriented
- Best friends as brothers
- Wonderful husbands, if they choose to marry
- Wonderful fathers, if they choose to bring a child into the world
- Self-sacrificial, when needed; Capable of Agape love (Agape love is that which holds a marriage—and a family—together through life’s challenges. It’s the selfless, unconditional type of love that helps people to forgive one another, to respect one another, and to serve one another, day in and day out.)
- Upstanding citizens
- Possessing a strong work ethic
- Physically fit
- Well read
- Well traveled
- Appreciative of the arts
- Joyful, Fun, Silly
I looked at their lives from an aerial view, from 30,000 feet, if you will. Even at age two, I took a lifespan perspective. I imagined that they would live to be 90-years-old. I reminded myself that life is long. Childhood is short. I looked at each decision and experience from the vantage point of my sons’ lifespans, and asked, “What kind of men do I want them to become?” I selected toys, books, clothing, experiences, schools, churches (We moved often), extra-curricular activities, adventures, travel destinations – you name it – based upon the lessons that I wanted to instill…and the character that I wanted to develop.
I made a lot of mistakes in raising my sons, God knows. But, anyone who knows Patrick and Tom would say that they are men of outstanding character. The list above, while not 100%, describes them well. I could not be more proud of their character. My sons are among the finest people that I know.
My point? Setting an intention to create character traits and skills in a child is essential. So, here we go. I want to create in you a consciousness that will allow you to model for your children and develop skills in your children to increase their chance of success in marriage and family relationships.