By Gary Stern
As I look in the mirror and witness the natural aging process, more and more I find myself turning into my parents. Not just my physical resemblance to both my father and my mother but, more importantly, my character, values, passions and interests. In the mirror of life, I can clearly see how my parents shaped who I am as a person.
Recently, I have pondered the experiences that helped turn me into my parents (in a good way, of course!): My love of education and children came from my mother. She was a middle school home economics teacher and, for many years, a professor of child development at Los Angeles Valley College. I remember the family dinner table conversations where my mother would share her daily stories at school. She was passionate. She loved what she did. She was making a profound impact on the world. She was changing lives and the world for the better, one student at a time. So, professionally, I decided to follow my mother’s career path rather than use my law degree to practice law. As the saying goes, imitation is the greatest form of flattery.
And my father lives within me in my love of sports and the stock market. My father and I sat in the nose-bleed seats at Dodger Stadium and cheered for the Lakers during their magical championship run in the 1980s; such times together cemented my lifelong love of sports. Then too, my father read the Wall Street Journal every day, and our finance-related discussions that followed stimulated my interest in investments and the magic of compound interest.
Both of my parents were working professionals. Both worked hard and dedicated long hours to their professional pursuits. They instilled within me an insatiable work ethic, a desire to always try my best, and the grit to never give up no matter the obstacles.
But as hard as my parents worked, they always carved out precious time to be with me. My mother prioritized the importance of the entire family eating dinner together each night. Our family dinner table conversations were an invaluable venue in which stories were shared and values were passed from one generation to the next. I also have beautiful memories of my parents reading bedtime stories to me. These magical moments taught me not only to love learning, but deepened the emotional bond between my parents and me. Yet, as busy as my parents’ schedules were, they always found a way to attend my special events and activities and share in my successes and challenges. My award ceremonies, my Cub Scout meetings, the religious training for my Bar Mitzvah—my parents were always there, and it meant everything to me.
Today, it is harder for parents to be there for their children. Not just physically there, but fully present and engaged, both emotionally and psychologically. As a parent of two high schoolers, I completely understand: The world moves faster today. Technology has changed the world and has changed all of us in the process; we are expected to be “on,” 24/7. Although we may be home with our families, we are constantly tempted to remain connected to our devices instead of connected to one another. Our children face that same temptation. But we cannot allow technology to raise our children, instead of us.
So, what can we, as parents in the digital age, do to really and truly be there for our children? To avoid distractions and be fully present? Intuitively, we know it is the right thing to do. We know that, as parents, we are our children’s first teachers and their most profound role models and mentors. Here are a few suggestions:
Always prioritize eating dinner together as a family. The dinner should be device-free and full of rich conversation and communication that will encourage story sharing and impart timeless customs, traditions, and values to your children.
Take time to read to your children every night, if possible. As your children get older, encourage your children to read to you, if they wish. There is no better time to bond and share a mutual love of reading.
Juggle your busy schedules so that you can attend your children’s special events. Then, do your very best to disengage from your devices and immerse yourself in the magic of the event itself.
Carve out a device-free time in your home that is dedicated exclusively to communication among family members.
Encourage your children to participate in extracurricular activities and summer programs in which they have a genuine interest: athletics, art, theater, music, etc. But choose quality of activity over quantity of signups. In this way, you will empower your children to focus on pursuing their passions and avoid over-scheduling them for activities in which they have little or no interest.
Remain in ongoing communication with your children’s teachers and school. Remember: Your children spend more time at school than at home, and teachers have important insights about their students.
To put it simply, children need their parents now, as never before. Today’s ever-changing world is increasingly complicated and complex. Children are inundated with information from multiple sources and in ways we never could have imagined during our own childhoods. In the hustle and bustle of the modern world, our parental love, nurturance, and guidance are more essential than ever, if we hope to raise our children with the customs, tradition, values, and passions that will form the foundation for their future happiness and, ultimately, personal and professional success.