The Best Way to Ensure Your Children’s Success

There is no shortage of advice on what it takes to be a good parent and, specifically, on how to help your child be “successful.”  For example, a quick Google search for the phrase “being the best parent” revealed the following tips:

  • “Give lots of hugs and some kisses.”[1]
  •  “[A]llow ourselves to be the parent we inherently need to be.”[2]
  • “Be involved in your child’s life.”[3]

Admittedly, this is not exactly earth-shattering in terms of its insightfulness.  Nonetheless, it is advice we welcome, because it is vague and simple enough to not expose any of our shortcomings or selfishness.

A search for “prepare your child to succeed” generated results including:

  • Dr. Phil’s advice that parents encourage their children to pursue their dreams, while also being sure to “socialize” them.[4]
  • The U.S. Department of Education’s blueprint for success, which included tips such as “Encourage Your Child to Read,” “Talk with Your Child,” and “Monitor Homework.”[5]
  • Psychology Today’s report on the role that character plays in academic success.[6]

These general platitudes, combined with the ever-present tips to read to your child and keep open the lines of communication, while certainly valid and at least marginally instructive, hardly set forth a detailed roadmap for success.  Amazingly, almost entirely absent from these sources was any meaningful discussion regarding what is perhaps the single greatest indicator of future success for children. [7]

If this particular marker is present in a child’s life, the child will be:

  • 65 percent less likely to drop out of high school before graduating;
  • More likely to complete college;
  • 50 percent less likely to be treated for emotional and behavioral problems;
  • 82 percent less likely to live in poverty;
  • Less likely to experience health problems;
  • 50 percent less likely to be arrested for a juvenile crime;
  • 65 percent less likely to be in jail by the age of thirty. [8]

What is this super-vitamin for success, you ask?  Perhaps pre-preschool, or Baby Einstein, or the latest intensive tutoring program for tots?  Maybe it involves hiring Super Nanny?  Actually, it’s none of these things.  It turns out that perhaps the greatest single thing you can do for your children is this:

  • Dads: Be married, and stay married, to your child’s mom.
  • Moms: Be married, and stay married, to your child’s dad.

The fact is, children have the best chance for success if they were raised in intact married families by their mother and father.  Each of the statistics listed above are true of children whose mother and father are married to each other.

Let me take a moment to address the elephant.  For some of you, this blueprint for success may come across as offensive.  I realize it is possible you may consider it to be judgmental, outdated, puritanical, bigoted, or even hateful.  But what you cannot label it—if you are being intellectually honest—is false.  Marriage matters, and it has a tangible impact on the future of children.  This does not mean that the children of single parents or blended families are doomed to a life of poverty, sickness, low education levels, depression, and crime.  We all know delightful men and women who have been raised by a single parent, or whose parents are divorced, individuals who have accomplished amazing things both professionally and personally.  Beyond that, we know or know of individuals who endured unspeakable hardship as children–abuse, neglect, homelessness, abandonment–and attained great success.   But there is a reason those stories are noteworthy; simply stated, they are the exception, and not the rule.  

The bottom line is this: if you are married to the father or mother of your children, do everything in your power to nourish that relationship, and to strengthen it.  If for no other reason—and there are a myriad of reasons to protect your marriage—it may be the single greatest gift you can give to your children, both in their present and for their future.


[1] This little nugget came from WikiHow, as part of a list of nine tips for being a good parent.  It was accompanied by other insights, including, “express love and affection;” “spend[] quality time with your children;” and “be[] a role model.”  See http://www.wikihow.com/Be-a-Good-Parent (last visited on Nov. 10, 2013).

[2] This blogger’s advice was aspirational, if not vague. See http://themodernparent.net/being-the-best-parent-you-can-be/ (last visited on Nov. 10, 2013).

[3] Jeanie Lerche Davis, “The 10 Commandments of Good Parenting,” WebMD Feature. See http://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/10-commandments-good-parenting.

[5] “The Basics – Helping Your Child Succeed in School,” http://www2.ed.gov/parents/academic/help/succeed/part4.html (last visited on Nov. 10, 2013).

[6] Kenneth Barish, Ph.D., “Helping Children Succeed,” October 15, 2012.  See http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/pride-and-joy/201210/helping-children-succeed (last visited on Nov. 10, 2013).

[7] Dr. Phil included one paragraph, at the bottom of his article, generally addressing this topic.

[8] See, e.g., Mary Parke, “Are Married Parents Really Better for Children? What Research Says About the Effects of Family Structure on Child Well-Being,” Center for Law and Social Policy.  http://www.clasp.org/admin/site/publications_states/files/0086.pdf (last visited on Nov. 10, 2013); Family Structure and Children’s Education, available at http://www.familyfacts.org/briefs/35/family-structure-and-childrens-education (last visited on Nov. 10, 2013);  Robert Rector, Marriage: America’s Greatest Weapon Against Child Poverty.  See http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2012/09/marriage-americas-greatest-weapon-against-child-poverty (last visited on Nov. 10, 2013).

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5 thoughts on “The Best Way to Ensure Your Children’s Success”

    1. Absolutely. Of course, as I’m sure you know, correlational studies are nonetheless valuable and informative.

      As I note in the article, “We all know delightful men and women who have been raised by a single parent, or whose parents are divorced, individuals who have accomplished amazing things both professionally and personally.” It is also true that there are individuals who come from two-parent homes that have many problems in life.

      If a child comes from a home where his parents are married, does that mean they will go to Harvard, or they will never be arrested? Of course not. Nor does it mean that a child whose parents are divorced won’t go to Harvard and is destined for a life of crime. However, I believe reasonable minds can agree that a healthy, thriving marriage relationship between a child’s parents is highly likely to have a positive impact on the child.

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