Leaving a Legacy for Your Child

The old, silver-haired man slowly stood and turned his back to the tombstone where he had been kneeling. Rising to stare his wife in the eyes, he wailed, “Tell me I’ve lived a good life.” These words come from the last scene of the blockbuster movie, Saving Private Ryan.

The old man was reacting to a dying request made by a soldier assigned to rescue him. He was the sole survivor of five adult children. The war had taken the lives of his four brothers, and the war department was bent on not allowing the fifth son to fall victim. So the military sent a specially chosen group of men to the front lines to bring him out of harm’s way. The commander of the group, having been shot and knowing he wouldn’t make it, left a dying request for Private Ryan to see that he made his life count. Kneeling at the commander’s grave fifty years later, Private Ryan wanted someone to tell him that his life was worth the sacrifice those soldiers had made for him.

Isn’t that the wish of almost everyone: that our lives count for the good of something or someone? It is a wonderful moment when a couple has a child. The heritage process begins immediately. But are you making today’s decisions with their impact on tomorrow in mind? When you’re arranging your priorities and forming your habits, do you think about your children, your grandchildren, about the kind of character they’ll remember about you and inherit from you? When you spend your money, or sport your fashion sense, or speak your piece, or spare your time, does it occur to you that you’re not just making a choice for yourself in the moment? But that you’re making a choice which impacts people who are following behind you?

Most of us might equate a legacy with an inheritance of gifts of money or property and possessions. But legacy of compassion, perseverance, forgiveness, patience and love should be carefully crafted and then purposefully lived out and passed on as well. Children are being powerfully influenced today by various set of values that comes hurtling at them daily on full speed. Just consider the influence of TV, the movies, music and social media. Not all of it is good clean fun.

But how do we come alongside our children to position ourselves to make a lasting impact?

Children want unconditional love and a feeling of connection
Most children feel they must earn their parents’ love. We have a performance-based, meritocratic, fast-paced culture which has resulted in children feeling emotionally abandoned by adults. But children desperately want more time and better communication with their parents. Many parents think “quality time” is more important than quantity. But the reality is that children long for the quantity.

Model appropriate behavior

Passing on a legacy requires transmitting consistent messages in words as well as in actions. Children don’t miss a thing. They observe and internalize. They are quick to pick up on inconsistencies between what they are being told and what they are seeing. The best way to influence children is to be a great role model. When we fail, we fail. We need not be afraid. Admit it, ask for forgiveness and move on.

Seize the teachable moments, listen aggressively, and communicate effectively
High up on the list of children’s frustrations with parents and adults is the fact that they just don’t seem to listen. Sometimes, as adults, we underestimate a child’s thought process ability or wisdom. Rather than nag, preach, tell or scold, parents can use everyday life experiences or examples to speak life lessons. It requires wisdom and discernment to identify and use these teachable moments.

Expect nothing in return

Words like “KPI,” “value-add,” “return on investment” are common lingo we are too familiar with. We adults are so bottom-line oriented that if there isn’t a quick return, or appear large enough, we begin to question the value of what we’re putting into the cause. Yet the ultimate goal of legacy building is the opposite of self-interest. If children think we’re more interested in our own glory than in them as human beings, they will end up declining our offers of guidance. It is important that we focus on the child and not just the end results.

Adapted from Extending Your Heritage, a Focus on the Family book. Copyright © 2000 J. Otis Ledbetter and Randy Scott and The Resolution for Women. Copyright © 2011 Kendrick Bros. All rights reserved.

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