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One Part of Your Child’s Future You CAN Control

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I remember meeting my friend Amy my sophomore year of college. She told me she was going to become an architect, which I thought was unique. She said, “Well, my father and grandfather are architects and my parents told me in fifth grade that the family business would be mine if I wanted it.” Wow. Talk about setting your kids up for success—maybe. As a parent, you might wonder how to prepare your child for life and give him or her a good future. You might think that’s what Amy’s parents did, but there’s no guarantee our kids will follow the paths we lay for them.

But here’s some really great news. Parents actually do get to determine one very important aspect of their child’s future. Here’s what it is and how you can do it starting today.

You get to help your child make good memories.

Cognitive scientist and psychologist Alison Gopnik found that a person’s adult identity is largely influenced by the childhood memories he or she brings into adulthood. That means our kids are becoming their future selves right now. These moments, today, are shaping the people they will be in 20 years.

This should be a gut-check moment for all of us. How much of your focus with your kids falls into the “tomorrow” category? Sure, it’s kind of the nature of the job. I have to practice multiplication facts with my third grader or he’s going to fail his test. I tell my sons to hold the door so they know how to treat girlfriends. But are we putting just as much effort into banking good memories?

Be a gardener, not a carpenter.

In Gopnik’s book The Gardener and the Carpenter, she says parents should aim to be gardeners rather than carpenters with their children. A carpenter’s job, essentially, is to shape materials into a final product that will fit the scheme he had in mind to begin with. He can assess how good a job he’s done by looking at the finished product.

Meanwhile, a gardener spends more time and effort cultivating a safe, secure, varied, or rich environment. The crop that pops up doesn’t always look the way he expected or grow in the direction he had in mind, but he did what he could at the time to create good soil and an environment where it could thrive.

It’s a goal you can achieve day after day.

You can try to construct your child’s future by giving her tools to be a doctor or a librarian or by giving him tools to be a teacher or a plumber, but you won’t see the outcome for years. And no matter what you do, there are no guarantees. My husband has a friend whose son was steps away from a baseball scholarship when he decided he was done with the sport. All the miles they traveled and money they invested thinking this was his ticket were now merely receipts.

On the other hand, giving your child good memories is something you can do right now, with a 100 percent success rate. Think of it like working on that garden. Every activity, conversation, or engagement with your kiddo is nurturing what exists now, even if it’s just a seed, a tiny bud, or unseen roots reaching down deeper into the soil. So grab a box of mix and make brownies together, crank up the music and have a dance party until you’re sweating, or look your daughter in the eyes and tell her there’s no other kid whose mom you’d rather be. Bam! Great memory made.

Giving your child good memories is something you can do right now, with a 100 percent success rate. Click To Tweet

What is one of your favorite memories from childhood? What do you think your son or daughter will remember from this past week?


Would you rather go 30 years ahead in time or 30 years back in time?

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