4 Metrics of Child Rearing

Sep 05, 2023

A recent conversation with a friend about business recruiting actually highlighted a couple of parenting insights.

I was meeting with a CEO who was evaluating his internship program. In determining whom to hire out of this program, he looks for only three capabilities:

Work ethic

Problem solving ability

Relational skills

GPA is not on the list. A list of athletic awards is not on the list. Generations of family success are not on the list. A certain personality is not on the list.

The more I thought about it, the more universal I thought those three capabilities really were. As I often do, I discussed this theory with my family and with some other empty nesters. The more we looked at these factors as measures of success for parents, the more we liked them.

Let’s look at each in turn and possibly give you an insight or two on recruiting or parenting.

Work Ethic

Mike Rowe, the host of Dirty Jobs, cautions, “We’re churning out a generation of poorly educated people with no skill, no ambition, no guidance, and no realistic expectations of what it means to go to work.”

It’s tempting to read that quote and throw more ridicule at Millennials or Gen Z. But notice in his quote where the fault lies—with those who are “churning out” these individuals.

As parents, we must instill work ethic in our kids. If work is a four-letter word in your house, your kids pick up on that. If you do all the work around the house while they play video games, they likely will have low initiative. If you carry all the weight, they will forever be weak. Give them jobs and projects that will take time and effort. And then don’t intervene when it gets heavy, messy, or inconvenient.

Beware: If your children don’t learn the value, honor, and utility of hard work while they are under your tutelage, they will be handicapped for life.

Problem Solving Ability

Have you seen any remarkable problem solving lately? In the movie, The Martian, Matt Damon plays a NASA botanist stranded on the Red Planet after an unexpected sandstorm forces his crewmates to abort. Damon is mistakenly left behind and his only chance for survival is to “cultivate” Mars. Although he doesn’t have much of the ordinary astronaut training, he has one incredible muscle—problem solving—and he took that into space with him.

In other words, you want kids and employees who can think outside of the box in order to solve a problem. Problem solving channels initiative, risk, and creativity. Problem solving makes us sort and prioritize, and then eventually make choices. Although problem solving comes more natural to some people, it is a trait anyone can cultivate.

Every life and every job is full of problems. Some problems are massive roadblocks. Others are small struggles. Some touch money and some touch relationships. Some have both.

One executive I know says problem solving is the thing that has been lost more than any other trait in the last generation. I will leave it to others to tell us why, but I might agree with the assessment.

Relational Skills

When I advise clients on hiring, I always tell them to look at character, competence, and chemistry. In my experience, it’s chemistry that is most often overlooked. We forget how big of a benefit it is to hire people who, quite simply, are enjoyable to be around and “play well with others.” Instead, we wrongly focus on their hard skill abilities.

I am afraid we parents often make the same mistake. Often we concentrate on our children’s athletic abilities and their intellectual achievements while neglecting their relational skills. We forget to teach them how to do things like have good conversations, be an active listener, develop empathy, and be a good friend.

There was an old Harvard Business Review article called "5 Steps to Building Great Relationships" that points out that good relationships must supersede any business relationship. Relationship means caring for a person and not just what they can get you or give you.

Spiritual Vitality

I added this one to my friend’s list. I think any view of a successful life must include the spiritual component, and I’ve always tried to implant that value into my children. I don’t want them to have their dad’s faith, but I also don’t want them to ignore my faith.

The book of Proverbs is one of my favorite books of the Bible, and it’s mainly advice from a parent to a son or daughter. The book pretty much starts out with these lines: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. … Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.”

Imparting spiritual vitality is core to God’s evaluation of our parenting.


These four metrics are the broadest, most universal assignments of childrearing. Get these four done and you’ll never be disappointed with your kids. Sure, you may have some frustrations and pain, but on a macro level, you’ll be satisfied, perhaps thrilled, and hopefully grateful.

Be aware, you need all four. If you have only three, there are major consequences—like a car with a brand new battery, a solid starter, top-of-the-line brakes but no gas. Therefore, you have to pay attention to the neglected element.

What about you? Which of the four do you need to buckle down on with your son or daughter?

  • Work ethic?  How can you give her more responsibility this year?
  • Problem solving ability? What are his three biggest problems and how can you take a step back and let him learn to solve those problems himself?
  • Relational skills? If he’s too cautious relationally, encourage him to come prepared for conversations. If he’s overconfident, challenge him to take on the role of the active listener.
  • Spiritual vitality? Pick a book of the Bible and read it together, with a weekly discussion over breakfast.

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