CHAPTER TEN: Prepare for Departure: Launch with Enthusiasm – Duct Tape Parenting: A Less is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible, and Resilient Kids

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Prepare for Departure: Launch with Enthusiasm

To reach a port we must sail, sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it. But we must not drift or lie at anchor.

—Oliver Wendell Holmes

The real success of parenting comes from knowing that our children will throw open the doors at eighteen and walk into their lives with confidence and enthusiasm.

—Vicki Hoefle

I believe that it is our responsibility as parents to ensure that our children throw open the doors at age eighteen, pause, turn, take one last look at us, and, with a smile on their face and excitement in their eyes, cross over the threshold and step into adulthood with confidence and enthusiasm. If this is to happen, it is essential that parents shift their view of parenting from a hands-on, quick-fix, micromanaging, damage-control approach to a hands-off, intentional, proactive relationship-focused approach.

Eighteen years isn’t a lot of time when you consider all the things our kids will be required to do when they leave our homes (see chapter 8). Doesn’t it seem reasonable that we take advantage of every opportunity, every learning situation, and every experience possible to invite our children into their own lives and give them time to practice navigating the ups and downs life provides each of us on a regular basis?

Imagine the confidence, excitement, and enthusiasm your children would experience if they were given the chance to “practice” navigating the ins and outs of everyday life with your guidance and support.

Imagine how you will feel, knowing that you prepared your children for the most important part of their lives—life beyond your threshold. Holding on to children as if they are ours—pretending that they will be with us forever—is indulgent on our part and is a disservice to our children. It is not about pushing them toward adulthood, rather it’s about showing them how to get there confidently.

What Are Parenting Roadmaps?

Parenting Roadmaps offer a powerful, easy-to-use tool for tracking where your family is today, where you would like it to be in a week, a month, or a year, and how to use the strategies introduced in earlier chapters to reach your goal. Roadmaps are used to create family mission statements that help instill values in children and help them develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime. They are used to assist children in identifying changes they would like to make in their own lives in the areas of academics, athletics, social life, and community, and to prepare them for life beyond our thresholds.

Roadmaps take those monumental changes we want to make in ourselves and in our families and break them down into manageable, measurable, realistic bits, so they can be more easily applied within the family dynamic, ensuring an enjoyable journey and a successful outcome for everyone.

Duct Tape Moment

Take your roll of tape and stick your family’s roadmap where you can see it and study it. If you are working toward a short-term goal (ie, getting out the door in the morning) and you notice you’re nagging about who left the bikes in the backyard, it’s time to put a piece of tape over your mouth. If you are working on a long-term goal (ie, raising independent global kids), cover your mouth when you get into a tizzy over your child’s refusal to play in the T-ball squirt league. If it’s not moving you toward your goal, cover your mouth! Otherwise, you’ll be engaged in power struggles and discord in five directions.

Roadmaps help parents realize they have time to readjust the dynamics, which releases the pressure to “fix” kids right away. They help nurture and support steady growth that happens over time. Roadmaps enable parents to shift their focus onto the child’s future and away from the mismatched clothes, lost mittens, messy rooms, meltdowns, stubbornness, and pushback we see in day to day parenting.

There are four types of roadmaps that can be introduced into your family today to bring about lasting, sustainable change. You’ll find that even when you’ve trained yourself to take a more hand-off approach to parenting (your duct tape helped with that), sometimes a visual reminder—an indicator or guide to let you know if you’re working in the right direction—comes in handy.

The Four Parenting Roadmaps:

• Personal Parenting Roadmap: Who do I (the parent) want to be and how will I get there?

• Family Roadmap: What do I want for my family?

• Short-Term Roadmap: How do we develop useful skills and helpful habits?

• Kids’ Roadmap: Who do I (the child) want to be and how will I get there?

We’re In: Now, How Do We Create a Roadmap?

To create a Roadmap, we’ll use the information and thinking we’ve gathered from the previous chapters and create a framework that will guide us on the journey with our children. We will map out with a marker and paper all sorts of key factors to:

• Identify core values that can be used to develop a mission statement that supports, guides, and empowers the entire family and teaches children how to live into those values, even when it’s tempting to squash them. We are a family who believes in mutual respect and we show this to each other when we:

° Listen when someone is talking.

° Consider each other’s point of view.

° Find solutions that consider everyone’s needs.

° Make agreements and follow through.

• Identify where you are today as a parent. I am a parent who is frequently frustrated with my children for not helping out and as a result I find myself nagging, reminding, directing, and giving in.

• Identify where you would like to be in a week, a month, or a year. I want to be a more encouraging, patient, and confident parent who has a more hands-off approach to parenting with a focus on developing a strong relationship with my child and allowing her to become an independent person.

• Identify where your children are today, no matter how old they are. My child has difficulty in the morning managing his time and the tasks necessary to get out of the house on time. He uses temper tantrums to engage me in power struggles.

• Identify where you would like to see your child in a week, a month, or a year. My child is able to manage his morning with little or no help from me and has the confidence to take on new challenges with enthusiasm and a sense of curiosity.

• Navigate the distance between where you, your child, and your family are today and where you want to be in a week, six weeks, six months, or six years.

• Set reasonable expectations so you and your kids can experience more success by making incremental changes and leveraging that success to try new things, develop new traits, conquer challenges, and work together more cooperatively and with more fun.

• Celebrate the daily progress and improvement the family experiences instead of waiting for the perfect result. Yesterday we were ten minutes behind schedule. Today we were on time and prepared.

• Teach your children how to set goals, identify priorities, create healthy habits, and monitor progress.

The best part is, the Roadmap is a tool you can use from the time your kids are two until they leave home at eighteen. Here is an example for you.

FIGURE 10-1

Creating a Personal Parenting Roadmap

I admit it. I have dictator tendencies. And I could imagine myself as a dictating mother, which was an image I found distasteful. I knew that proclaiming “I will not be a dictator when I become a mother,” would have been as useless as saying I will never have a cup of coffee again! What I needed was to decide for myself who I wanted to be (if not a dictator) and how I would become that person. It occurred to me that in other areas of our lives, when we want to make a change, we set goals and measure our progress, and this was the beginning of my idea to use a Roadmap to plot my course.

I started by asking myself one big, beefy question: What do I want my kids to say about me when they are twenty-five?

Imagine this scenario: Your twenty-five-year-old son comes home for dinner and brings his best friend. Maybe the friend is his college roommate, a coworker, a love interest, or a spouse. This person turns to your son and says, “In one word, describe what your mom was like when you were growing up.” There is a pause. What do you want your child to say about you? Do you want him to say, “That’s easy. My mom was a dictator through and through. There was no doubt that she made the rules and made sure everyone lived by them.” And there you would sit, knowing that what your son said was the truth. You were the dictator. And if you could do it again differently, you would.

If you could choose a word right now—a word or phrase you want your child to use to describe you as a parent—what would that word be? For me, it was “radical faith.” I wanted my kids to look at the friend and say, “My mom had radical faith. She had faith in herself, faith in her kids, and faith in the world. She demonstrated that faith each and every day.”

And that’s when I realized that unless I had a roadmap that would help me become a mother of radical faith, in all likelihood I would default to a mother who dictated. The choice was mine.

Here is how it works. Draw your map and then fill in the boxes.

1. Use one word to describe the parent you are today. Dictator

2. How do you do that word? I boss, direct, remind, nag, threaten, and lecture.

3. What words would you like your kids to use when they describe you to their friends? What is the final destination on this map? My mother had radical faith.

4. What must I do, each and every day, regardless of the circumstances, to demonstrate to my children that I am a mother of radical faith?

I will use the Timeline for Training to help my children become independent, self-reliant people who are able to manage their lives and know without a doubt how much trust and faith I have in their abilities.

I will use duct tape as needed to manage my dictating ways and take a more hands-off approach to parenting, sending the message to my kids that I believe they have what it takes to overcome frustrations, work things out with siblings, and find solutions to their problems.

I will focus my attention on using relationship strategies to support my child’s growth and confidence in her own abilities and to solidify our relationship.

I knew what I had to do and now I had a way of creating an action plan for myself, a way of holding myself accountable, a way of tracking my progress and improvement, and a way to celebrate when I took two steps closer to my goal of being a mother who showed radical faith in her children. Was it easy? What do you think? But I had nothing else to do in my life that was more important than this, so it was easy to make the decision to do the work. I just needed a Roadmap to help me take the next baby step in my journey.

This was my long-term Roadmap. Once I had the big picture clearly in my mind, I broke it down into weekly mini-roadmaps that helped me execute my plan. This kept me moving steadily forward, and with each success I harnessed my enthusiasm and confidence and applied it to the next week. Did I slip up? You bet, but it didn’t take me long to regroup and get back on track. You will read later in this book how my decision to become a mother of radical faith affected each of my children.

We are responsible for how our children describe us when they are twenty-five. And they will choose a word that best captures the attitude, the words, and the behavior their parents demonstrated most consistently. We don’t have the luxury of turning into stellar parents two weeks before our eighteen-year-old leaves home and expect that all of the other lousy parenting traits will be wiped away. Our children will remember the daily interactions and the daily atmosphere and this will be what solidifies their image of us.

Kristin’s Aha Moment

Here is a note I received from a parent who was initially very resistant to the idea of creating a roadmap, until she actually made one.

“I’ll admit I didn’t really get why creating a Roadmap was so important. It wasn’t until I found myself doing exactly what I swore I would never do that I realized just saying ‘I absolutely refuse to be the control freak’ or ‘I don’t want my kids describing me the way I describe my mom,’ is not enough to bring about change. In the beginning, I hadn’t decided who I wanted to be and even if I had, I had no idea how to behave in a way that supported who I wanted to be. I had been trained to be a control freak. It’s what I knew. It’s how I defined myself. It’s what I resorted to when I didn’t know what else to do.

So, after the twenty-third do-over, I decided to create my first Roadmap. It changed my life and the lives of my kids in ways I can’t even begin to explain. I use Roadmaps for everything now. It’s such an easy tool to use once you get the hang of it. I know it might be awkward at first, but believe me when I say that if every parent was taught how to use this tool, life with kids would be the amazing journey it’s supposed to be and not the one we so often dread.”

Creating a Family Roadmap

You create a Family Roadmap in much the same way you create your personal one. My husband and I each wrote down our top three values and began a conversation about each of these values and how they might impact our children and our family. We decided together to choose “mutual respect” as a place to start.

We made a list of all the ways that we would demonstrate that value each and every day. Because the kids were young, we chose three areas from the list to focus on. Any more than that and it could have seemed an insurmountable task to them. We wrote out a Family Mission Statement and posted it in plain view as a way to inspire us and influence our parenting decisions:

“We are a family that values mutual respect and we demonstrate this value by:

• Speaking with respect to each other.

• Showing respect for each other’s opinions, preferences, likes, and dislikes.

• Including everyone in the decision-making process.”

As we began to speak more respectfully to each other and developed this as the norm in our family, we added another area to work on. As the kids got older we included more ways to demonstrate our mutual respect for each other. Do you know what you get when you create a Roadmap and a Mission Statement that are based on showing every member of the family respect? You get a respectful home with respectful people who embody what mutual respect is. It’s no mystery that people commented on how much respect we showed each other. We worked on it.

Sample Family Mission Statements

Here are a few examples from other families who used the Roadmap to create Mission Statements to guide their families.

Mission Statement Number One: This Family Values Family Time

Mom and dad were both distracted with life. When they were with the kids they were distant, annoyed, frustrated, and felt disconnected from them. They wanted to change the family dynamic, but nothing they tried worked for more than a day or two. We sat down together and they created a Mission Statement and a Family Roadmap to help them make the changes that would reconnect the family and create an atmosphere of love and appreciation:

“We are a family that values family time and we demonstrate this by:

• Spending two hours each week participating in an activity we all enjoy.

• Taking fifteen minutes each day with each child to share our day and make a connection.

• Eating breakfast together three times a week.”

This was a great place to start, but this couple didn’t know how to actually implement these action items. We had to drill down so they could make this a reality in a family that didn’t think they had any extra time to spare. Here is how they did it.

• What will it take for you to carve out two hours every week to invest in family time?

° Mom and dad quit their jobs as the family maids and used the Timeline for Training to train the kids and redistribute the chores so they would all have more time for each other. They kept their expectations realistic, gave the kids ample time to practice, and acknowledged the progress and improvement the kids were making.

° Mom and dad invited the children into the process of choosing the time together and what activities they would enjoy. They decided to try new things that none of them had done before, and this brought the family closer together.

• What will it take to carve out fifteen minutes each day to connect with the kids?

° Identify times of the day that the parents allowed themselves to get distracted, and instead use this time to intentionally connect with the kids. Both parents identified three or four times a day when they could indeed spend time with the kids, and within days they were looking forward to the fifteen-minute connections.

° Focus more on connecting with the kids and less on trying to entertain them. With this new focus, the couple realized the possibilities for how to connect were unlimited.

° Ask the children if they would like to be taught how to use the sewing machine, the food processor, or the table saw (at appropriate ages, of course).

° Stay focused on the connection and not on trying to teach one more little lesson when you are together.

• What will it take to eat breakfast together three times a week?

° Use the Timeline for Training to make sure the kids feel confident and competent in the kitchen.

° Use the Duct Tape Method as needed to stay quiet and allow the pancakes to burn, the blender to overflow, and the dishes to wait until after dinner.

° Focus on relationship strategies, in particular acknowledging strengths, during the family’s time in the kitchen to avoid falling back into useless Band-Aid tactics.

Joanie shared the following story with me when we met for coffee six months after her family created their Roadmap.

Eating breakfast together three times a week proved challenging for a few weeks, but it wasn’t long before we began to treasure these morning meals, and now they have become a kind of family tradition. There is laughter, people are relaxed, and the kids take turns surprising us with new recipes. It’s amazing. Something so simple has the power to so significantly change a family.

Mission Statement Number Two: This Family Values Trust

Mom is bossy because she is afraid of what will happen if she isn’t in charge. The message she is sending to her kids is that she doesn’t trust them, and at the same time she doesn’t have much trust in herself when it comes to her parenting decisions. What she wants most in the world is for her kids to trust themselves, and she’d like to develop a bit of faith in herself in the process.

“We are a family that values trust and we demonstrate this value by:

• Allowing our children to make decisions for themselves that are safe and respectful.

• Saying yes before we say no.

• Proving to ourselves and others that we can be trusted by talking with each other respectfully.”

Again, I worked with mom and dad to develop these action items further.

• What will it take for you to allow your kids to make decisions for themselves that are safe and respectful?

° Use the Timeline for Training to evaluate what the kids can do that we haven’t been letting them do and start acknowledging what they can do to help them gain confidence.

° Use the Duct Tape Method to stay quiet as they develop more confidence in their abilities and to show we have faith in them and trust them and that it’s okay if they make mistakes while they are learning.

° Focus our attention on the relationship with the kids instead of using underhanded strategies to boss them around.

• What will it take to say yes more than you say no?

° Try it and gather information that could be helpful in reframing what the kids are really capable of doing without direction from us.

° Say yes one more time each day.

• What will it take for us to speak respectfully to each other?

° We will apply the duct tape until we can learn to hold our tongues, think about what we really want to say, and then say it in an open, honest, and respectful way.

° Speak to our kids as if we are speaking to trusted and respected friends.

Karen shared her story with a group of parents I was working with who were skeptical about the power this simple tool had at transforming the family dynamic:

Even this was too open ended for us. Vicki worked with us to create a very specific seven-day Roadmap with actionable items for us to do during the morning, afternoon, and evening. At first, we thought that this would be a completely overwhelming and burdensome process, and instead we found that as we wrote down how and what we would do, we were inspired and invigorated and we could feel the passion for our parenting return. This turned out to be the most powerful tool in completely transforming our family. Friends and family commented over and over again that they didn’t recognize us. It was some powerful stuff.

Short-Term Roadmaps

Short-Term Roadmaps are useful when trying to navigate a busy life, meet your daily obligations, and raise your kids in a loving, nurturing, organized home. Here are just three examples of how families incorporated Short-Term Roadmaps into family life.

Short-Term Goal Number One: Nag Less This Week

Sandy brought the kids together for a conversation: “Here is what the morning routine looks like today. I am yelling and nagging you kids. And you seem to stall out and get distracted. At the end of the week, how would we like the morning to be? Let’s make one change, do something different this week, and see what happens.”

The kids agreed.

Sandy got out the Roadmap and they worked on it together.

• Mom: I will stay quiet at least two mornings this week and allow my kids a chance to step up and take ownership of the morning.

• Kids: I will take responsibility for making my lunch and getting my stuff together and if I choose to play Legos instead, then I won’t be mad at Mom because it wasn’t her fault that I didn’t have my stuff.

Sandy added more to her Roadmap because she wanted more than to just get out of the house in the morning. She wanted her kids to feel confident and more engaged in life and she knew she would have to keep working throughout the day to ensure she got the kind of change in her family that she was looking for.

On her Roadmap she added things for her to do:

• Continue to train the kids in one new task each week.

• Keep the duct tape handy and when I am tempted to nag, remind, and yell, use it to stay quiet and give the kids a chance to figure out a solution that will work for them.

• Allow the kids to make mistakes without criticizing or correcting them.

• Find a time to connect with each child for just a few minutes that sends the message that I love them and care about them.

• Keep my focus on the relationship with my kids, not on my to-do list.

• Inform the teacher that I am raising thinking kids and thinking kids are messy and make mistakes. Ask her to support my efforts and not save the kids when they forget something for school.

Sandy took the time to write down all of these action items and each night she reviewed how she did:

I had to remind myself over and over again that if I didn’t have a plan for how I was going to prepare my kids for life on their own then they would never be ready. The first few weeks were hard and I was tempted to throw the whole thing away until one of my kids, out of the blue, announced at breakfast that she was so pleased about how things were going and that she was so lucky because she knew how to do things that her friends did not.

I was hooked. We use the Roadmap for just about everything now. The kids are part of the process and, as a result, they take more ownership of their lives and they let me know when they are ready to take on more. Because I am changing my behavior, they are willing to take more responsibility for theirs.

Short-Term Goal Number Two: Get Out of the House on Time

Susan and Paul are both dictators. Both of their children are disorganized and easily distracted, or so it seems to them. They cannot for the life of them get out of the house in the morning on time with any regularity and without someone being upset.

Their long-term goal is to have calm, pleasant, and connected mornings with children who are organized and able to manage on their own so they can all leave the house on time, smiling. Their short-term goal is to leave the house calm, pleasant, and connected once this week.

Does a Family Roadmap often feed into a Short-Term Roadmap? You bet. That’s the beauty of it. The Roadmap is a multilayered approach.

The goal was for the family to leave the house one day that week feeling calm, pleasant, and connected. Here is the action plan:

• Monday morning: Ask the kids to show us what they can do on their own and take notes.

• Monday evening: Use relationship strategies to focus on the boys’ strengths and to make a connection with them. Use the Duct Tape Method to manage our mouths and invite the kids to come into the kitchen to visit with us or help with dinner prep if they are interested.

• Tuesday morning: Show the kids how to take over two self skills (information gathered from the Timeline for Training exercise) and then give them a chance to practice for the rest of the week.

• Tuesday evening: Notice what has been going well and acknowledge the boys for their focus and hard work.

• Wednesday: Keep going. Make connections. Notice and acknowledge improvement. Use duct tape to stay quiet and keep from interfering.

Susan and Paul created a Roadmap for the week and used different-colored sticky notes to remind them of what they were going to do each day. As they finished an “action item” they crossed it off, feeling a sense of pride and purpose in their commitment to their kids.

On Sunday evening, the family gathered together and mom and dad acknowledged all the progress they made over the course of the week. They asked the boys if they noticed anything different about the week and both boys announced, “You aren’t bossing us around as much and we like that.” Mom and dad shared what they noticed about the boys and how much they were doing for themselves. At the end of the conversation, they merely asked the boys if they wanted to try these changes for another week. The boys were completely on board. Mom and dad took out a sheet of paper and they wrote down what they would do differently the following week. The boys were quick to ask their parents to continue to be quiet and maybe even stay out of the kitchen, so they wouldn’t be so worried about making a mistake. They agreed, and again mom and dad returned to their room to create a very specific Roadmap for the week that would help guide their parenting decisions and keep them moving toward their long-range goals.

This couple took the time to evaluate the week, build on what was working, and tweak the parts where they had gotten tripped up. They wrote a new Roadmap for the week that built on what they started the week before.

Here is what they shared with me:

Yes, I know this isn’t a “sexy” way to parent. It isn’t instinctual and natural and spontaneous. However, it is a framework to build structure where freedom can flourish. Structure without freedom is jail for the kids, freedom without structure is hell for the parents. The Roadmap creates balance that can be maintained for years. I’ll take this over what we had any day.

Short-Term Goal Number Three: Let the Child Get Ready by Herself

Jennifer acknowledged that, in an attempt to get out of the door on time each day, she was crippling her children’s desire and ability to take on more responsibility. As a result, they had begun to fight more and her kids seemed more distracted and discouraged with each day. She wanted a way out of this dynamic and she was willing to do whatever it took to change course. Here’s where they started and where they ended up.

Child’s starting point: “Can’t” get out the door on time.

Parent’s starting point: Jennifer nagged, reminded, helped, bribed, threatened, counted, then picked child up and moved her to the car.

Child’s final destination in seven days: The child was able to get herself ready and be on time once in that week.

Parent’s final destination: She used her Mission Statement to help stay respectful, used the Timeline for Training to set realistic expectations, and took every opportunity to notice and acknowledge progress and improvement.

Result: They reached their goal. In Jennifer’s words:

I wrote down all of the things that would help me succeed and then each time I did them, I ran into the bedroom and put it on the Roadmap. I loved the feeling of anchoring it at the moment. It seemed to motivate me to do it again, to be creative with another relationship strategy or find another way to duct tape myself out of a situation. I started looking for ways to invite my kids to help me out, or just visit with me while I was peeling carrots. Before I knew it, my kids were asking to help. It wasn’t long before I was happy, smiling, more relaxed, and looking forward to running into my room to make a quick note. I kept thinking to myself, every day that I waste is a day closer to my kids failing when they leave home at eighteen. It was a huge motivator for me. I stopped focusing on changing the kids and realized that I was the power behind all the changes in the house. I love that.

Be Patient and Realistic

With Short-Term Roadmaps, it’s important to create realistic expectations. Part of the reason families get caught in the cul-de-sac syndrome is because of unrealistic expectations. For instance: “I will give up all my nagging and my child will never noodle again and we will accomplish this in less than thirty days.” We all know that isn’t going to happen. When we slow down, when we create an intentional Roadmap with clear and reasonable expectations, our chances of success are multiplied exponentially. Slow, steady progress is what creates lasting, sustainable change.

A realistic expectation sounds like this: “I will cut the nagging by 20 percent and I will do this during the morning routine. My child will have learned how to take care of two things I am currently doing for him because I took the time to train him and we will only be late for school three days instead of five.”

A Roadmap can also help parents answer questions like:

• Why isn’t this situation any better than it was a week ago?

• What is it that is tripping us up?

• What do I have to change or consider if I want a different outcome?

• What am I doing or not doing that is contributing to a negative outcome in this situation?

Helping Kids Create Roadmaps

We worked with Roadmaps so often that our kids finally decided they wanted their own. We thought it was a brilliant idea and encouraged them to go for it.

When our kids were in the seventh, eighth, ninth, and eleventh grades, they decided to create one Personal Roadmap that would track four areas of their lives during each quarter of the school year:

• Academics

• Athletics

• Social life

• Community service

I want to mention here that the Roadmap is not a to-do list. To-do lists are static. Roadmaps are dynamic. They point the way and they make it possible to arrive at your desired destination in the time you planned, with a sense of accomplishment and joy. They also allow kids to make adjustments as needed, something a mom or dad with a to-do list might be reluctant to do. So use your duct tape to keep your mitts off your kids’ Roadmaps.

Example: My Daughter’s First Roadmap

My youngest daughter, Kiera, agreed to let me share the first Roadmap she made for herself:

• I want to raise my grade from a C to a B+ in math, which will bring my GPA up to a 3.8. I will do that by:

° Finding a tutor

° Having my brother check my work

° Talking to the teacher if I am confused after class

• I want to get ten more minutes of playing time during each soccer game. I will do that by:

° Running sprints, because I am slow

° Dribbling the ball thirty minutes a night in the yard

° Asking the coach what I have to work on and then getting to work on it

• I want to practice eating with other people at school and not just the friends I’ve had since preschool. I will do this by:

° Finding a group of kids who look nice and asking them if I can join them

° Asking someone from one of my classes if they want to eat with me at lunch

• I want to find a new volunteer project that works with the elderly. I will do this by:

° Calling Project Independence and finding out what the requirements are for volunteering

° Calling the hospital and seeing if they have volunteer positions to work with the elderly who are recovering from surgery

° Talking to my neighbor and asking if I can help her with household chores or outside pickup

My daughter reached her goals. By writing them out, creating actionable items, monitoring her progress without pressure from her parents, and talking with her siblings when she hit roadblocks to her success, she was able to tap into her creative nature, develop the discipline to accomplish tough things, and cultivate the “can do” attitude she still embodies today.

It wasn’t uncommon for my husband and me to hear one of the kids saying that she realized that playing on the varsity squad wasn’t as important as she thought it would be and that she was happier with more playing time on the JV squad. Or that she met someone at school she really liked and that never would have happened if she hadn’t written it down on the Roadmap.

At the end of each quarter, the kids would bring down their Roadmaps, we would have a family celebration, and they would share their experiences. My husband and I quickly realized that it made no difference to us whether a grade improved or whether they actually accomplished any of their goals. The real growth we saw was in their ability to access, to discern, to predict, to prioritize, to recognize, and to make adjustments in their lives. They were becoming thoughtful, reflective, curious, industrious, and resilient people, and that is what we wanted for our kids.

Today, all of the kids are out of the house and either in college or working. They live 3,500 miles from home, and part of what makes their lives work so well is their ability to return to the Roadmap and identify their goals for the coming year and know what it will take to meet those goals.

Because the Roadmap is personal and self-directed, kids are willing to do the work it takes to reach their goals, they are able to set realistic expectations, they know how to set up the necessary resources they might need in order to meet their Roadmap goals, and they know what trips them up (I didn’t know what tripped me up until I was well into my thirties).

Example: A Father Helps His Fourth-Grade Daughter Set a Roadmap

With younger children, it’s easier to focus on one area at a time. Here is an example where a parent helps his young child create an Academic Roadmap.

Father: Is there an area in your school life you would like to see some improvement in?

Daughter: I would say I am a C student in spelling, so maybe I could improve in this area..

Father: Where would you like to be at the end of the marking period?

Daughter: I would like to be a B student.

Father: What will it take for you to get there? What will you have to do each day to accomplish that goal?

Daughter: I would have to study thirty minutes every night.

Father: And when would you like to study?

Daughter: After dinner, because my tummy is full.

Father: And how will you remember to study after dinner when your tummy is full?

Daughter: Oh, I don’t know, maybe you could remind me.

Father: No, I will not remind you, because then we will end up fighting against each other, not working together. How can you remember?

Daughter: Can we put some music on and that will remind me it’s time?

Father: Yes. We can try that for a week and see how it goes.

This conversation continued until dad asked enough questions to help his daughter create a simple Roadmap for herself. She wrote down everything she would do to accomplish her goal and hung the Roadmap in her room.

Dad reported in several months later:

The first few weeks were awful. I was so tempted to jump back in and take control of her homework. I realized only after we overcame that hurdle that she was testing me to see if I would really let her take ownership of her Roadmap. Once I had convinced her I wouldn’t use it against her as a way to manipulate her into doing her homework, she took complete ownership of the goal and used the Roadmap masterfully. It proved to me, once again, that my kids do care about their grades, as well as the relationships they have with their parents and siblings, and about helping out around the house, but when I butt in, when I try and take over, it pushes them out of the way and they retreat. I know now that if they retreat, it’s because I am being overbearing again. This is a great reminder for me to stay in the backseat.

Example: A Kid’s Bucket List Roadmap

The Bucket List Roadmap became our favorite. Here is one story (we have dozens of these, and the kids still use the Bucket List Roadmap to plot their next adventure).

Our son Colin created a Bucket List for himself shortly after his return from Chile during his junior year of high school. He knew he wanted to return to Chile, and we encouraged him to follow his heart and his dream. However, as his parents, we needed to feel confident that he had a thoughtful plan and could show us he was ready for the adventure. I want to add that he already had the financial responsibility taken care of. All of the kids were working from the time they were fourteen years old, and he knew that securing a second job might be required if he planned to travel for a year.

Colin’s Bucket List read something like this:

• Start the year abroad by becoming TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certified so that I can find employment and make money while I am abroad.

• Spend three months on an organic farm where I can practice the language, live with a family in country, work for my room and board, and become familiar with the culture, the country, and my surroundings.

• Spend three months traveling from Patagonia to northern Chile by bus.

• Secure a job in a beach resort using the skills I picked up on the farm and learn to surf.

• Spend three months in the Andes teaching English and skiing, and using my carpentry skills to make additional income.

• Make connections with people who can further my education and interest in living abroad.

Colin achieved almost everything on this list and more. He was in Chile during the recent earthquake and helped out in the hardest-hit villages. He did indeed learn to surf, he taught English and skiing, and he traveled extensively. The only reason he returned to the States is because of a knee injury. Within weeks of his return and post-surgery, he had another Roadmap underway.

Roadmaps Are Not To-Do Lists, They Are Live-It Lists

Roadmaps are more than to-do lists. They are tools, available to anyone who is looking to create an intentional life filled with meaning, fulfillment, and joy.

Are Roadmaps difficult? No, but they can be challenging as you learn to create and use them. I ask all the parents I work with, “Is creating a Parenting Roadmap any more difficult than the dictating, controlling, micromanaging, and punishing you are currently doing, or more difficult than living with kids who whine, fight, noodle, blame, and mess around all the time?” Of course not.

We are at choice. We can put our time and energy into anything we want. We can create the lives we want or we can allow circumstances to determine the quality of our lives.

It is also worth remembering that we are asking our children to try new things every day and, personally, I think it helps every parent become more empathetic and understanding if they themselves are engaged in learning new things, being challenged to think differently and to act in new ways.

If we remember that our job is to prepare our children to leave our home ready to face the challenges of life beyond our threshold and with the ability to navigate an ever-changing landscape with confidence and enthusiasm, then using a tool to help us track our journey is a logical, rewarding approach.

Why Make a Roadmap for Your Family?

The truth is that one day your freckle-faced, wide-eyed, toddling cherub will leave your home and enter the real world. The other truth is that she may or may not be ready for life beyond your threshold, or to meet the challenges life throws her way, or to take care of her needs, or set goals, or create a satisfying and fulfilling life for herself. She may or may not know how to recover from a setback or failure or come up with plan B or C or even D when life throws her a curveball. It is your job to make sure that she is ready to leave home at eighteen with the skills to walk into her life with confidence and enthusiasm.

This path to living a confident life, to knowing who we are and what we want, with the necessary skills to create and navigate our life, takes more than hard work. It takes a plan, a Roadmap; otherwise, we may just find ourselves feeling stuck, lost, and helpless.