Jack Welch, the legendary former leader of GE, had a rule that each of his business units had to be number one or two in its industry in order to remain a part of GE. In order to do this, the businesses had to solve a consumer need that no one else could.
In my business experience, my mentor Michael Rapino pushed me relentlessly to identify the one key metric that, when achieved, would insure success. He would tell me over and over that you get what you measure and that my job was to figure out the right thing to measure and then to rally our team around it.
I was thinking about these business lessons the other day as it pertains to parenting. I often co-mingle the lessons I learned in business with my experiences with spirituality or health or family. I have learned that a good lesson is applicable in all areas of life the way a timeless love song touches the hearts of generation after generation of lovers.
So there I was playing mental mash up with the various lessons of my life when I realized this concept of finding the key metric is exactly what is needed in parenting. The rationale behind finding just one thing to rally the troops around is that it’s very difficult for people to win when they’re aiming at a multiple moving targets. Your efforts begin to feel like shotgun spray and no one is ever quite sure how to succeed; and in most cases, neither is the leader.
Isn’t this also the case in our homes with our families? As parents, doesn’t it feel like there is no way we can get ahead of the endless demands on our time and focus? Wake up on time, get beds made, shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, make lunch, get homework and backpacks, hop in the car, maneuver through traffic and make it to school by the time the bell rings, all without any argument or incident … and that’s only the first few hours of the day. Exhausting, right? And how is that experience for our kids, who then have to go off to a revolving classroom of teachers who all have their own lists for perfection? By the time the day is over, our children have received so many different instructions, orders, and rules for success that there is no way they can succeed in hitting all the targets. And so, destined for failure by our system, they are always in trouble with someone … or something … for some reason.
The challenge for us in evaluating our children’s growth is that we say we are doing so to prepare them for the real world, so they can get a job and be someone … right? But if our work required us to follow the number of rules, with the multitude of bosses and metrics our kids endure between home, school, and sports, we would all go crazy, quit, or both.
If we revisit Jack Welch and Michael Rapino and their principles of business, and if we had to simplify our job as parents down to one metric, the one thing that we, and only we, are uniquely qualified to teach our children … what would that be?
Be careful? Get to school on time? Don’t talk back? Do your homework? Stand up straight? Eat your veggies?
Do any of these and most of the others we spend the day telling our kids really represent the one, unique message we have to share? Will any of them rally our family? Would we take any one of those instructions and say that’s the one metric on which I’m willing to be judged as a parent? Or the metric on which I’m willing to have my child judged?
I will answer for us all by saying NO!
So what is it? What’s the one thing that only I can teach my child, the one thing that I am solely able to share, that no one else can?
There is one thing that you are uniquely qualified to teach with your child. It is so special that NO ONE else but you can share it. And that is simply:
“Mommy / Daddy loves you.”
Take a deep breath and take that in. Those exact words spoken deep from the heart.
Say it again, “I love you.”
That is our special message for our children, the one lesson that only we can teach them. Every other lesson someone else can teach them, and will. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t teach more. But it is to say, resolutely, that if in the course of teaching all the other life lessons, we dilute, contradict, or make our unique teaching that we love our children less than clear, then we have failed. Because if our children don’t grow up knowing 100% for certain that we love them, what good does it do that they know how to read and write? How many times in your life have you been willing to trade everything just to feel truly loved … even for a moment?
There are so many rules for being a good parent. So many different metrics on which we are judged by our friends, our families, our own parents, the teachers at school, and on and on and on. I remember so many times when I felt it was impossible to succeed as a dad. During the years I was a single father, I feared that I was surely wrecking my children’s lives and so layered on more and more rules for myself and them. Looking back now, I know the most important moment of the day had nothing to do with getting to school, making breakfast, or even playing games. It was the quiet moment at the end of each day when I would lie down with my kids, hold them tight, often holding back tears of insecurity and fear, and tell them simply, “Daddy loves you.” And if I had it all to do over again, I would stop at that and trust that everything else would find its way to them. All of the lessons. All of the learnings. Everything that seemed so important at the time really were not mine to teach. Life would take care of that. The most important thing, really the only thing, that no one else could provide was the ability to lean over my babies, tuck them snugly into their beds, and whisper again and again, “Daddy loves you.”
Big hugs of love,