I headed back to school last week (I teach college) and I always kick off the first day of class with some introductions because I want to learn names and take the pulse on each class. I’ve had a few classes that actually didn’t have a pulse – those were rough semesters. In one class this semester I asked each student to share his or her name and a book they’d recently read or a book they just really liked. This was a writing class, and I was leading up to a point about the importance of reading in being a good writer. One student introduced himself and said he was reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. I was a bit shocked. Don’t get me wrong, that book is iconic. But Covey published the 25th anniversary edition of this book in 2013, so it’s 30 years old. The kid in my class was born in the late ‘90s.
It’s been years since I read that book, so I went back to take a look at what made this so relevant to my college student 30 years after publication. Here are Covey’s seven habits.
And then I had a parenting epiphany. I would like to RAISE highly effective people – assuming I can stretch the business-y word “effective” to mean productive and impactful. So couldn’t I apply these principles at home and begin developing my kids in a better way now?
Kristie and I talk about wanting to raise kids with character more than we want to raise happy kids (she put this concept into words and I just agreed.) I had some great models in my life and I think I’ve done some things right so far, but I’ve also screwed up plenty. Kristie says she started saving money for their therapy when they were born. As Type A moms, we fangirled over the ideas of using the tested framework of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People as a step-by-step guide to raising kids with character. Then we layered on wisdom from people we know and trust as well as experts in parenting, psychology and teaching. And now I present to you: The 7 Habits of Incredibly Impactful Parents.
Covey’s first habit deals with attitude. It throws out excuses and adopts an “I can” spirit. It means you accept that you can be a great parent even if the parenting modeled to you growing up only showed you what not to do. You believe you can overcome parenting challenges as they come up. We talked more about break unhealthy cycles instead of allowing them to perpetuate through future generations in our blog on family dysfunction.
See more on Covey’s habit: Be Proactive
2. Begin with the End in Mind
Companies strategically consider who they are and where they want to go when they establish their guiding values. Kristie argues that families should do the same thing – identify values and then use them to make decisions easier and ensure you keep your main things in sight. (Check out her post to learn more about what this looks like, or grab our freebie Family Values Worksheet that will walk you through how to identify your family’s values!)
Kristie and her husband set values years ago, and my family created ours this week based on the how-to exercise. The bottom line is that stopping to identify your family’s guiding principles forces you to take a long-term view at the legacy you hope to leave through your kids. My family landed on the following values:
- Live Faith
- Love Family/Friends
- Embrace Learning
- Help Others
- Seek Adventure
The goal was five, so we grouped family and friends into one, which I fully admit is a cheat move – but I’m talking here about the friends who are the family we chose. Remember I’m new to these, but I plan to place them somewhere visible in our home. I want to make them part of our decision-making process in ways our kids hear so they know they are living values and not just words. I also think they’re the starting point as I create the standard of “character” we expect from our kids.
With your family values in front of you, next consider the character traits you value most for your kids. It might even vary by child depending on personality. I’ll give you some options to jumpstart your brainstorm, but be warned I challenge you (and myself) to pick a top three. It doesn’t mean we don’t care about the others, or that we can’t choose a couple runners-up options, but THESE THREE character traits are the non-negotiables. The ones that fill in the blank when we shout, “If you’ve learned nothing in this house, you should have learned that ____________ is important.”
Developing three character traits over time will create a solid core. And 7 Habits author Covey says “People can’t live with change if there’s not a changeless core inside them.” In today’s world more than ever, I need to raise kids who can live with change while still knowing who they are and what they stand for. Those can last in the midst of an ever-changing world.
See more on Covey’s habit: Begin With the End in Mind
3. Put First Things First
This translates to: set priorities and boundaries. Those family values and character traits in mind will help us pick our battles, because it helps us keep in mind what really matters most.
The cardinal sin in my home growing up was asking one parent permission to do something, getting a “no” and then asking the other parent. My dad made it clear that if you made that mistake once, you wouldn’t live to repeat it. Deception and defiance flew in the face of the character they wanted to build in us. Which is slightly hilarious considering I was – what’s the word for it – oh, yes: strong-willed. Telling the stories of my parents dragging me out of stores screaming and “seeing red” during our head-to-heads brought my grandparents endless mirth.
I guarantee I can walk into my parents’ bedroom TODAY and find a copy of the original version of this book – now “rewritten and updated for a new generation of parents.” Thanks for keeping them sane, Dr. Dobson.
But in general, my parents knew what truly important traits they wanted to develop in me, and they picked their battles based on those. My bedroom always looked like a landfill, I spent hours every night on the phone in my room (but I didn’t have my own line – the dream of all teen girls in the 90s) and my curfew wasn’t until 12:30 a.m.. But I also got my first job in eighth grade working Saturday mornings as a receptionist for a family friend’s veterinarian clinic. I went to church every Sunday. I traveled on trips with through college. I painted faces at block parties in lower income neighborhood and served meals for the organizations my mom worked with as a social worker. I tried all kind of sports and instruments and other activities when I showed an interest.
Fast forward to the adult version of me. I foster authentic relationships with family and close friends. I give back. I work hard and travel often and try to appreciate all the great things life has to offer. I also live in a usually-cluttered house and over-schedule and over-plan the other humans living in my house. Ah well, I come by all of it honestly.
It’s like Where’s Waldo – can you pick out my red laptop workstation from the lego/puzzle/junk pile?
I took this quick 7 Traits of Effective Parenting Assessment from Focus on the Family. Interesting snapshot of how I ranked in the following categories: intentionality, love, gratitude, respect, boundaries, adaptability and grace & forgiveness.
See more on Covey’s habit: Put First Things First
4. Think Win-Win
“When one side benefits more than the other, that’s a win-lose situation. To the winner it might look like success for a while, but in the long run, it breeds resentment and distrust.”
-Dr. Stephen R. Covey
As a parent, there will be times you need to win. You’ve established boundaries and you need to enforce them. I can’t resist adding this Mean Girls meme – the mom delivering Jell-o shots, wanting to be part of the high school gang and getting eyerolls and a healthy dose of disrespect in return.
Some rules are firm. Little kids learn you’ll keep putting them back into time out if they choose to get out. Older kids realize you’ll drive across town on an icy night to pick them up if they claim they need to break curfew and stay at their boyfriend’s house because it’s the safe thing to do (thanks, Dad). But taking the dictator role in every conversation and circumstance puts us and our kids on opposite teams, when there are many times it’s probably more beneficial to be on the same team.
For my 40th birthday, my sisters compiled a list of Mary’s 40 favorite things. #9 on the list was being right. Oh, how true. I need to work on the thin line between being in charge, and trying to win.
See more on Covey’s habit: Think Win-Win
5. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Listen more than you talk.
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
-Dr. Stephen R. Covey
Kristie and I agreed one thing we both want to work on is being better listeners when it comes to our kids. It may or may not change whether we let them do what they want, but even being heard can be a win for our kids. In this clip from Everybody Loves Raymond, the role of me is played by Patricia Heaton:
I need to do more homework on active listening, especially with my years as a parent of teenagers knocking on my door. One place to start if you’re thinking the same thing is this Boston University active listening worksheet.
See more on Covey’s habit: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Synergy is the power of working together rather than trying to go it alone. We create this by being part of the journey in our families, in both the big events and the small moments. If we’re there, we can be a cheerleader when family members succeed and a coach or a shoulder to cry on when they stumble. Doing live together is just better. Period.
See more on Covey’s habit: Synergize
- Sharpen the Saw
This might be the toughest idea of all: sticking with all of these other habits over the long haul. And not just maintaining, but working to grow and improve. Kristie and I teach with another mom whose kids are grown and out of the house. Her kids turned out pretty great, so we’re constantly asking for her advice and reassurance that we’re not doing permanent damage in our families. So I asked her what wisdom she had to drop about playing the long game as a parent, and here’s what she had to say:
“Now with adult children we are reaping the benefits of lots of prayer and the ‘we are on your side’ theme of parenting. I’m sure it didn’t feel like we were on their side at times, but I think they understand it now.”
See more on Covey’s habit: Sharpen the Saw