04/25/2014 02:17 pm ET | Updated Jun 25, 2014

What's Your Family's Priorities?

Written by Jan Cloninger

Do you ever find yourself asking the BIG questions about life? Why am I here? How can I make a difference? Do you set your priorities accordingly? Do you find the answers change as your life unfolds?

I recently heard an interview with Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life. He finds that people often prioritize their lives by these categories: survival, success, or significance.

In survival mode we're focused on getting by. One day blurs into the other and we're often numb to our feelings or experiences.

In success mode we're focused on the "good" life -- looking good, feeling good, and having the goods.

He challenges people to move into the third phase of finding significance -- asking the questions or why am I here? What is my purpose?

Yet, he also pointed out that sometimes even with our best intentions, life may throw us a curve that causes us to shift our focus.

His premise overlaps with Maslow's hierarchy of needs which is used in modern-day psychology illustrating the journey towards self-actualization. Maslow proposed that as our basic needs are met we are able to move forward in meeting more complex needs until self-actualization is realized. He also premised that even if we're moving towards or achieving the higher levels of needs, if some of our basic needs are threatened we will return to those levels in order to get those needs met.

What struck me as I listened, is that often people think about and go on this journey on a personal level, but how many people stop to think about this process when parenting their children?

Think about your parenting process. How much of your time is spent:

  • In survival mode? Focusing on getting through each day. Feeling there's never enough time to really experience our children, our experiences with them, or thinking about the messages we are sending or examples we're setting?

  • In success mode? Focusing on creating the "good" life for your children by making sure they look good, feel good about themselves, and have all the latest gadgets and hot items in their possession?
  • Helping your children find significance in this world? Focusing on identifying their gifts and passions, ensuring they have a strong value system, helping them develop empathy, the desire to give, and finding ways they can make the world a better place?
  • If all our energies and resources are in survival mode, then can we help our children move towards success and/or finding significance? If we focus all our energies on success, are we delaying or preventing their journey towards significance? If we haven't found our personal answers about significance can we guide our children in finding those answers for themselves?

    It's an interesting way to think about our parenting process.

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