What mindsets and character strengths do you most want your children to have? Honesty? Kindness? Hard work? A sense of humor?
Whatever your answer, you’re probably thinking that it’s your job to inculcate these mindsets. Apart from providing food, shelter and safety, there’s nothing more important for parents to do than help children discover what is good and true and beautiful in this world, and what kind of person they want to be.
But, if you’re like most parents, you may not have given much thought to the role your friends could play in this process.
The Council of Dads
The author Bruce Feiler hadn’t, either, until he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and it wasn’t clear whether he’d survive. Bruce and his wife had two young daughters, and if Bruce didn’t make it, his daughters would grow up without knowing their father. He wouldn’t be there to watch their soccer games or cheer at their graduations. He wouldn’t be able to pass down his ideas about what matters most in life — his core values. His girls would miss the benefit of his anchoring presence.
Soon after his diagnosis, an idea struck him. He would ask the men in his life who knew him best to stand in for him as surrogate fathers. These were men with whom he shared core values as well as deep bonds. If the worst happened — if Bruce didn’t make it — they could help replace what would be missing in his girls’ lives. They could show up now and then to cheer on the girls, buy them a cool electronic gadget, and, as the girls got older, convey some of the values that Bruce held dear.
Thus was born the Feiler family “Council of Dads.” You may have read the book or seen the NBC miniseries.
Few of us are staring death in the face like Bruce Feiler. Yet, we have the same opportunity to identify friends who exemplify values that we hold dear and ask them to play a modest role in helping our child find their way.
I regret that I haven’t done more of this with my own children.
Invite your friends to teach your children
I have friends who play important roles in my children’s lives, for sure. My friend Justin has made an impression on my daughters with his wide-ranging curiosity and irreverent sense of humor. My daughters have heard my friend Greg quote the plays of William Shakespeare and the poetry of Robert Service; his love of literature has surely rubbed off on them. My friend Jeff is terrific at asking just the right kind of questions of my kids—personal and “real,” but not too intrusive.
But they could have played an even more important and valuable role. What if, 15 years ago, my wife and I had identified these and other friends as important partners in raising our children, told them what they mean to us, and asked them to impart their unique perspective and values to our children, in an age-appropriate way?
If I’d done this, my friends would have known that we welcomed their engagement and influence in our children’s lives. I could have more intentionally introduced my friends and my children in a warm and enthusiastic way, sharing with each what makes the other amazing. I could have encouraged my friends to spend focused time with my children, once or a few times each year, in a group or alone, as they and my children desired.
The quality of our children’s lives will depend a great deal on the mindsets and values they internalize, the roots they grow. You can’t directly control the strength and depth of those roots, but you can cultivate the soil carefully and consistently, and you can invite your closest and most important friends to give you a helping hand now and then. Your children, you, and your friends all stand to benefit.
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