Conscientious parents and teachers can cite a laundry list of specific ways in which they routinely provide the children they care about with the core needs of leadership, love, laughter, and learning. None of the ways these adults actively motivate kids is mysterious or magical to them.
Instead, every word and deed that comes from these adults can be directly traced to one or more of the following four fundamental means of commitment:
Leadership supplies the appropriate guidelines and guidance children require in order to feel a soothing sense of security, structure, and stability.
Love offers the attention, encouragement, and acceptance that create a strong bond of trust and open communication between adult and child.
Laughter adds the joy, excitement, and adventure that embolden and assist a child’s personal exploration of meaning, purpose, and self-expression.
Learning develops and reinforces children’s knowledge, wisdom, and skills vital for a contributing, self-sufficient life.
Highly-effective parents and teachers each use these four essential approaches in order to positively influence children as they all at once capture kids’ hearts, hopes, minds, and manners. This focus upon the whole child progressively increases a child’s cooperation and courtesy, confidence and contribution, creativity and contentment, as well as their comprehension and capabilities.
As a result, these savvy, successful parents and teachers can easily explain how they interact with kids precisely because they are always so intentional with what they say and do around children. These adults are routinely proactive, self-reflective, and consciously refining the art of both nurturing and educating children. They take their responsibility to children seriously and enthusiastically.
Commitment Expects and Accepts Both the Happy and the Hard Times
Of course, responsibility requires real commitment. Without reliability, adult responsibility loses much of its powerful influence to comfort and to command respect.
Whether it pertains to parenting, marriage, friendship, or teaching, commitment means that from the very beginning you freely entered into a relationship knowing full well—nay, expecting—there would be tribulations, trials, and temptations that would at times lure you away from your obligation to this bond.
As far as parenting, you entered this commitment with your eyes wide open because you were well aware of the hardships and hankerings that would inevitably come along. You even knew that these seductive temptations to just give up or give in can cause even the strongest of parents to question or falter.
Of course, what you also knew and what ultimately enticed you enter this compact with another human being was that there would be enough joy, belonging, and adventure shared between you and your child to see you both through the occasional tough times.
Committed Relationships are Always Win-Win
What you may not have known is that whenever you feel like this commitment to your children is too much of or too frequent a sacrifice—and every parent and teacher has moments of doubt or despair—it is always wrong to become resentful towards your children for how much relentless work this relationship actually requires.
You see, in any committed relationship, all obligations you fulfill and sacrifices you make are not made exclusively for the other people in that relationship. The truth is that you are never doing something dutifully or selflessly for your children. Instead, you are always contributing to the relationship itself.
And remember that this relationship always includes you! You are just as big a part of this as anyone else, with just as much to gain and just as much to lose.
Everything you do for your children is also done for you because it is done for the relationship. You are simply giving to something much greater than just yourself or just your children. Maintaining this perspective of the true meaning of commitment transforms parental giving into a pleasure and an eager generosity because all parties always reap and share equally in all benefits.
In all of your relationships, forget forever the insidious internal debates about whose needs are more important, who is giving more, or who comes first and when. In reality, there is no such thing as sacrifice in a true commitment. Approached in the right way, all committed relationships are constantly win-win—even during those times when you fall under the illusion that you are on the losing end.
Filling Your Home with Leadership, Love, Laughter, and Learning
In all families—big or small, single parent or two mommies, blended or traditional, nuclear or divided, fostered or adopted, guardian or surrogate, and everywhere in between—love makes a family. Of course, true love requires true commitment.
Love, however, is just one of four fundamental needs a parent must fulfill for their child. Since someone must be the leader, that responsibility falls squarely on the adults in the house. Once that leadership and love is in place, that house becomes a home.
When the parents also provide laughter and learning to their kids, that home becomes a haven—not just for the children but for the parents as well.
Also, always remember that this family you entered into and worked so hard to build was done to fulfill a deep longing within you. You craved connection, closeness, and devotion with another human being. You were irresistibly enticed by the joys you knew this commitment would bring, happiness that nothing else in your life would or could ever bring.
Therefore, approach your children and your crucial role as parent with all the graciousness, glee, and giddiness as when you first held that infant in your arms or when you first welcomed that new child into your home. Not only is it never too late to get those feelings back and to make up for lost time, it is this relationship with your children that you have always truly wanted and what you need most.
What does parental commitment mean to you? Please share your insights and experiences in the comments section below. Successes, struggles, and suggestions create empathy and community, so please keep this conversation going!
This article is adapted from Chapter 8: Avoiding Extremes, Insufficiencies, and Inconsistencies in A Teacher’s Inside Advice to Parents: How Children Thrive with Leadership, Love, Laughter, and Learning by Robert Ward and published by Rowman & Littlefield.