Have you ever had the nagging sense that you were just floating through life? Stuck in a dead-end job, perhaps? Wasting your abilities, but unsure what to do about it?
Almost everyone I know has felt that way at least once. But let me ask you another question: Has that dissatisfaction caused you to spend too much money, as sort of a band-aid on a stagnant life?
I've been there, but I'm doing everything I can to prevent my children from ending up in the same place.
The responsibility you feel
Since my husband and I have had children, our lives are more complicated. Before kids, we considered the kind of retirement we wanted and saved accordingly. When we had spare time, we did what we felt like doing.
Now we wonder what's best for our extra cash since we have three little people that count on us. Our savings account for emergencies? Funding their college educations? Making sure our retirement accounts are as full as possible? (Now that we have more needs for our extra cash, we have less extra cash. It figures.)
But no matter how we spend our money or our time, we want our kids to be healthy adults.
How do you get there?
In my opinion, the happiest, most fulfilled adults are those who lead a life with a clear sense of purpose, using their full potential, but always having a thirst to improve, along with realistic expectations of themselves and others.
They know who they are.
Parenting is already daunting. I mean, you have to feed and clothe them; teach them how to cook, clean, and manage money; support their education; teach them kindness and manners; help them to serve and love their fellow human beings; and everything else. But that's not all.
Helping them reach their full potential could be the beginning of their long and successful life. Healthy (and by “healthy,” I mean healthy in all aspects of their lives — physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial) adults are more likely to have satisfying lives. And since dissatisfaction can cause people to spend more money than they should or to experience other financial difficulties, preventing it in the first place could have a significant impact on children.
I favor a holistic approach to developing a child's full potential. (And by the way, my kids are not teenagers yet, so I don't know much about parenting. Besides that, one child — just yesterday! — told me he was going to sue me when he becomes an adult for adopting him. So there's that.)
Notice their interests
Recently, I have been reading blog posts and books that focus on one thing: How can we accomplish anything if we are trying to do too many things? You don't have enough time in the day to become really great at a bunch of different things — and neither does your child.
So what to do?
Well, the longer you observe your children, the more you'll notice their natural abilities. Listen to what they talk about, and how much enthusiasm is displayed when they talk about different activities or school subjects. Watch what they do when they have free time. Then? Do more of that.
Balance educational pursuits
When I was a child in school, I pushed myself to excel at my classes. My grades were very important to me. That's why I am surprised that my children's grades are not — important to me, that is.
See, while they are both bright kids, English is their second language. I can't realistically expect a child who rather recently started learning this second language to spell well. At least, not right now.
As I get to know my children's academic abilities, I can see areas where they are doing their best and areas where they are not. Even if your child does not speak a different language, maybe they have other challenges that affect their academic progress. Some sort of learning disability? A medical condition?
As parents, we must walk the line between having high expectations and being realistic. While we should all do our best, not everyone can (or should) go to Harvard. Maybe our parenting energy should be focused on helping our children get the best education they possibly can, but to leave plenty of energy in reserve to spend time on pursuits outside of school.
And do you know who asks about my grades anymore? Nobody. Yes, they probably earned me a few scholarships, but I don't even care about them anymore. Maybe I should have focused some energy elsewhere a couple of decades ago.
Maintain good health
We all want the energy to do the things we want to do. Start with good nutrition. You know which foods are healthy and which are not.
I know as well as anyone how easily I fall into the processed food trap when I am tired, overwhelmed, and stressed. But if I consider how our food choices affect the family's overall energy levels, I am a little more likely to find a healthy, simple option.
Health is more than what we eat, though. Physical activity can release those feel-good chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. It improves morale, calms us, and relieves stress.
By eating healthy food as a family and making time to exercise, you can help your child cement good health habits that can help them develop their full potential.
Although cognitive development can be affected by other factors in this list, I wanted to consider it separately.
Helping your child reach his full potential starts early. Responding to his needs as an infant, continuing to interact with the child as he grows, singing and reading to him, and playing with him all help develop a healthy brain.
Exposing your child to music, taking music or second language lessons is also good for her brain.
Although it is best to do these things for your children when they are young, the brain isn't the completely static organ in adults it was once believed to be. Eating better, exercising, doing mental exercises, among other things, can actually improve cognitive function … even in adults. So, wherever you find yourself (and your children) today, start there.
Following these tips will not guarantee financial success — not at all. And even if you do your best, life is unpredictable. Your child may develop a catastrophic illness. He or she may make really bad choices that affect his or her life forever. So much of their lives is out of our control.
But by giving them the best tools we possibly can, they may be able to build satisfying lives.
How do you develop your child's interests and support his or her education? What does a successful foundation look like and how does it help children reach their full potential?
Lisa Aberle is a college professor by day and a freelance writer by night. Always an aspiring writer with an interest in money, she once ironically misspelled “mortgage” during a spelling bee. Most of her current adventures take place on the four-acre mini-farm she shares with her husband in the rural Midwest (where she writes with gel pens whenever possible).