Image credit: Nenad Stojkovic
People love to talk about living in the present, and for a good reason: it’s undeniably important. You won’t get a chance to revisit the key moments of your life once they’ve receded into the past. And it’s even more important for parents, because raising children is difficult and they grow so quickly. You’ll open your eyes one morning and discover that your job is mostly done, leaving you only with the memories of their childhood you keep lovingly in your mind.
But the present isn’t the only time that matters, and it’s perfectly possible to place so much emphasis on seizing the day that you don’t give enough thought to all the days to come. In truth, one of the keys to being a great parent is splitting your effort fairly evenly between helping your children now and laying the groundwork to help them later. Here’s why.
Preparation pays off later
Kids are incredibly hard to keep up with. They go from furious to calm in seconds, and show incredible enthusiasm about certain tasks shortly before they exhibit near-total apathy. And the parental desire to keep them happy can inspire you to allow them to set the pace. You might read stories when they want them, or bring their toys when they decide it’s time to play.
The issue there is that the time you have during the early years is extremely precious. Preparation has a compounding effect: in other words, an hour you put into something now can make more of a difference than hundreds of hours down the line. In many ways, children are blank slates, ready to absorb knowledge and have their destinies shaped.
It isn’t necessarily true that a child’s brain is better at the process of learning, but there are clear reasons why they learn faster than adults (Victor Espigares has a good piece on this). In addition to delighting in the moment, you should think carefully about how their experiences now will assist them in the future. If you can encourage them to expand their skills without putting them under excessive pressure, you’ll achieve the ideal balance.
You won’t always be around to help them
No parent likes to think about their mortality. It isn’t an enjoyable topic for anyone, admittedly, but a parent is chiefly motivated by their desire to protect their children, and leaving them permanently seems like a fundamental betrayal. Yet it’s the price you pay for raising healthy and well-adjusted children. One day, you will disappear from their lives.
The question you need to ask now is this: what are you going to leave behind aside from your absence? If you obsess about the present, you’ll never address this matter, and you’ll insist that you’re not going anywhere right up until the point at which you do. So you need to start getting your kids ready for life without you. Teach them to be strong and independent.
Additionally, since we just covered preparation having a compounding effect, we also need to touch upon compounding financial investment. One of the best things you can leave behind is money. It doesn’t guarantee anyone contentment, but it inarguably provides options and security. The sooner you start building up funds for when you’re gone, the better: at a minimum, you should have a savings account and a life insurance policy (Post Office life insurance packages are scalable, allowing you to adjust coverage based on your health).
You should do everything you can to live for as long as you can, of course. Maintain a healthy weight and diet, get regular exercise, check in with a doctor on occasion: it will all help you remain in your role as protector and mentor for as long as possible. But don’t make the mistake of convincing yourself that you’re immortal. Take precautions, and you’ll be happier for it.
Dreamers tend to lead happier lives
Lastly, but not least importantly, you need to think about how happy your children will be in their lives. Is it those who live fully in the present who attain the greatest contentment? It’s actually more likely that a focus on the future will produce life satisfaction. Why? Because the future is rich with possibilities. The future has yet to be lived, yet to be shaped — and we can exert our agency to build a future that exceeds all expectations.
The present, meanwhile, is relatively set. It’s the product of decisions long-since made, and can only be tweaked to some extent. So if you can raise your children to believe in the possibilities of the future and work towards long-term goals (including remaining healthy, which is one of the most valuable things they can do), you’ll give them reliable motivation that keeps them feeling fulfilled even when life gets tough (as it surely will).