Rewarding what matters

December 20th, 2009 by Jason

Shannon and I were talking the other day about parenting. We were talking about what kinds of things we want to try to train into our son, and what kinds of values we would want him to have. We were wondering for the ump-teenth time what he will be like, and what his interests will be. Will he like sports? Will he be interested in science? Will he be musical, artistic, a writer? Shannon and I were both quite academic in nature growing up, and so one of us made the comment that it might be challenging for us if our child wasn’t academic. How will we encourage him to reach his full potential, yet not punish him or make him feel bad for bringing home a C on his report card if he tried his best and just had a hard time in that subject?

And then, Shannon said something that I thought was very profound, and that I’ve been thinking about for several days. She said, “What if we were to reward character over acheivement?” That totally clicked with me. Although we would want to celebrate if our son gets an A in some class, why not get even MORE excited if he stood up for a friend who was being picked on, even if it wasn’t popular? Why not give “gold stars” not just for doing chores around the house, but for the attitude with which they are done? Why not recognize hard work and diligence, even if the results aren’t quite what had been hoped for? Why not make it ok to fail, as long as you are doing things honestly and with integrity? Why not get the most excited, give the most praise, and give the highest rewards to the things that really matter?

My sense is, that could totally turn our son’s value system up-side-down from that of the culture’s around us – in a good way! He wouldn’t cheat to try to get a better mark, because it’s honesty that counts more than the grades. He wouldn’t feel worthless or like he had done something wrong if he failed at a project or an endeavor, because success isn’t what matters most. He wouldn’t feel that the ends justify the means, because the way you get somewhere really does matter.

This was especially challenging to me lately because I’ve been reading the book “Outliers”, by Malcom Gladwell. It’s been a fascinating read about what makes someone rise above the crowd to be exceptionally successful. He mentions a number of examples where particular upbringings or parenting styles provided children with a tremendous advantage in becoming an “outlier”. And, I find myself thinking, I want to do those things to give my child the best chance at success. I want him to stand above the rest! And yet, as much as success is great, I have to remind myself, what really matters? What do I have as my definition of success?

In the end, I believe that character does matter over acheivement. Why? Because I believe that’s the value system God has. We usually ask God to remove the problems we have in life, but I’m starting to understand that they are often tools He is using to refine our character. Think of what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13. If I can speak in the tongues of men and angels, or have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries, or even if I give all I have to the poor, but I don’t have love, I’ve gained nothing. The character and motivation behind our achievements is perhaps the only thing that counts! 

And so, my hope and prayer is that by rewarding character over acheivement, we’ll be able to instill that value in our son as well.

6 Responses to “Rewarding what matters”

  1. Cheryl Says:

    Wow, great stuff, Jason. You guys are going to be terrific parents. 🙂

  2. Chris MS Says:

    I really like Shannon’s thought and how you’ve described it practically. It can be tough to fight being result-oriented on the one hand and being complacent on the other. The concept of the correct attitude really is so vital, not just for youngsters but for us all. Thanks for the challenging post.

  3. Kevin Says:

    Yeah, you guys are gonna be like….. Amazing parents…. I’m excited to see the little guy, and how awesome he’ll be as you guys raise him…

    Very insightful, and helped me as well….. Goooood stuff….

  4. Josh W Says:

    Great post! That is a great shift. You guys will be amazing parents! I will keep this in mind as Deb and I raise Mischaela. Let us know if you figure out a way to practically award character! Seems like an intangible thing to do, but who knows? =D

  5. Stephen Davies Says:

    I’m so excited for you both. Our daughter Liberty is 4 weeks old now and this post has provided me with some food for thought.

    Have a happy Christmas, and enjoy your final weeks of freedom.

    With love.

  6. Jacob Says:

    Prior to the grand social engineering of character vs. Achivement, you must consider prior items, like can he/she sleep? will he/she cry when the diaper is wet, or will the red rash go away now, or tomorrow…

    once these are covered, things really heat up like, after human milk, what should he/she consume? Will processed, rotting baby food from the grocery store be good, or is real, fresh actual food better? What about diapers, disposable, or waste of water, time, and electricity “natural” be better?

    How about toys? … is a box with dots on it better, or is it better to spend $ on refined oils like plastic, manufactured by people in another country? … what about bibs… how many are enough, is there such a thing as too many “receiving blankets”?

    This is all before he/she can talk, or move, roll, sit, stand… oh the joys of the 1st six months…

    call some time, I’d love to discuss all the fun you’re about to encounter! you know I’m a huge believer in absolute truth and standards, interesting things to consider… 403 280 4769