The other afternoon while having a conversation with a client, the trajectory of the conversation changed a bit from financial planning to parenting. Rather than talking exclusively about what I do in “the real world”, my client asked “how did you select the right people to care for your child”.
I have to admit the question caught me a bit off guard. We went from discussing financial strategies to choosing surrogate parents. For such an important topic, I had to collect my thoughts before responding.
Just Like the Scarecrow “If I Only Had A Brain”
The pause to collect my thoughts felt unnaturally long – so long that I had concerns that my client would look at my forehead and see that I was trying to think of a response. My greater fear was that in looking at my forehead she would see that my brain was empty. I don’t know if you recognize this but having someone look to you for advice and finding out that your brain is empty is never a good thing.
Fortunately, she was polite enough not to comment on my empty brain while granting me a moment to process a response. And still the question remained unanswered – “how did I select the right people to care for my child”.
We Are Family
On the surface, the answer appears simple – family. The unfortunate truth is that while choosing family is an easy response, choosing family is not always the best solution. Truth be told, we all have at least one person in our family that we wouldn’t select as a relative if the choice was solely ours to make. If we are really honest, we all could likely attest that there are more than a few who share our DNA that we would happily deny any and all connection. I call this moment of candor the mutant DNA rule.
DNA is a great way to choose blood donors, learn about genealogy and discover genetic issues but DNA is not a failsafe method for choosing those who are best suited to be “temporary guardians” for your children. When deciding who will be your substitute consider finding functional people instead of family members who might be examples of the mutant DNA rule.
Functional people are those who will care for your child with a focus on what’s exclusively in the best interest of your child as predetermined by you. Functional people are an extension of you and your parenting methodology. Functional people don’t try to usurp and replace your parenting goals with their own agenda. Functional people are those who will care for your children in no less than the same deliberate, considerate, enduring and purposeful manner as you care for your children.
It’s great if our parenting substitute happens to be a family member but what is most important is that you never forget these words “Functionality trumps DNA every time”.
Not So Fast My Friend
Some parents are fortunate exceptions to the mutant DNA rule. In other words, some families are statistical anomalies, possessing no family members who behave bizarrely or live contrary to societal norms. If you are a member to such a clan consider yourself blessed because the rest of us are not so lucky.
Yet as blessed as you might be, the odds are that at some point in your child’s maturation you will require the assistance of someone other than a family member to fill in for you as a “temporary guardian”. How and who you choose to fill in for you should not be done without serious consideration.
The logical progression when selecting a surrogate parent for your child would seem to be family and then friend. However, just as DNA is no failsafe method for choosing a fill-in parent, friendship can be an equally unreliable way of determining who will be a good stand-in.
Before you leave your child with a “friend” make sure you can reply affirmatively to the following six statements:
- I trust my friend with my car – I know that they will drive my car responsibly and return it in the same condition as it was when I loaned it to them (no scratches and equal gas).
- I trust my friend in my home – While residing in my house I have absolute confidence that they would pick up after themselves and that upon my return I would find my home in the exact condition if not better than when I departed.
- I trust my friend with my money – I am confident that I could give them access to all my financial resources, give them the passwords to my accounts, leave money laying around on the floor and never once would I have to worry about one cent being missing.
- I trust my friend to be reciprocal – I never feel slighted by my friend’s misunderstanding or lack of awareness in accepting and appreciating the profound joy and exceptional benefit provided by the principle of “give and take”. My friend never takes nor expects more from others than they are willing and able to give of themselves.
- I trust my friend to be consistent – I never have to worry about my friend being present in my life one day and absent the next. My friend can never be associated with the words temperamental and impermanence.
- I trust my friend to be altruistic – I know that in all things my friend is selfless and self-sacrificing. At no point do I ever worry that my best interests will be compromised by narcissism.
If you can’t reply affirmatively to the six aforementioned statements, you don’t have a friend trustworthy of caring for your most prized possession – your child.
Just Don’t Die
At the end of the conversation with my client, I told her to do what I decided to do many years ago. I decided not to die. She laughed. I suspect her laughter was her kind way of ignoring my assertion and probably further evidence for her that like the Scarecrow I really didn’t have a brain.
In hindsight, as ridiculous as it may sound, I actually said those words when my son was an infant – “I can’t afford to die”. I realized very early that my standards for a stand-in parent for my infant child were so high that no one was going to meet my expectations so I affirmed that I would live long enough to see him grow up.
However, now that I am a few years older and wiser, I know that there are ways to select the right people to care for your child. More importantly, I know that you can’t predict the day you will die so you better have a process to select the right people to care for your child.
What process do you use to choose the right person to care for your child?