I looked out the window of my office and saw a herd of goats at the bottom of the Oakland Hills. Goats of varying sizes, ages, colors and coat patterns, moving aimlessly within a confined space, all with their heads down, grazing on the brush and weeds of their preference. After about 15 minutes or so, I saw them all pop their heads up and look in one direction. Those that were aimless now had a purpose.
I found myself looking in the same direction and as I did I saw what they saw. A man walking towards the goats — the goat herder. He walked deliberately and — like the Red Sea — the goats parted, allowing the herder to walk in their midst; and now, with heads up and eyes focused on the herder, they ascended the hill. He guided them and they strolled in unison like birds flying in the sky, turning and darting on the waves of the wind. Soon, the herder disappeared, and so did the goats, who followed him into the trees.
In the far distance, bringing up the rear, I saw her: a black border collie crouching and watching the goats, ensuring that not one was left behind. It was a beautiful sight. The border collie is bred specifically for herding animals, to control their movements in large numbers and serve as the helper to the herder. Dogs of this breed naturally herd from the side and from the back of the animals, and their style is to crouch, stare, stalk, gather and control. Border collies are problem solvers, and because goats, who are very intelligent, may decide they don’t want to move in the direction the collie suggests, the collie may nip at the goats to ensure compliance.
Our children hang out with their friends with heads down, all sitting in the same area looking at their phones. Not indulging in the green grass of conversation but opting for the brush of Snapchat and streaks, living their relationship in huddles. The phones of today not only mesmerize our children, they also mesmerize adults. A good leader recognizes his or her own weaknesses and actively works to strengthen them. Parents, we must put down the phone sometimes and engage with our children.
There is no surefire way to raise children. And my way and your way are as different as our children. However, what we can do is to understand that, as parents, we might need to find a goat herder. The goat herder can be your child’s teacher, his older sibling, his aunt/uncle, another relative, his pastor or a coach. This person must have a vision and a direction compatible with your vision of the child, and therefore you as the parent must spend time to get to know who is in relationship with your child. Is that person committed to their success, and will they guide them in the direction that will lead to a life of possibilities?
This relationship requires the knowledge that the parent — the border collie — be ever vigilant, ensuring that the child is guided safely and taught to focus on learning. The parent cannot be timid and cannot leave the child to wander aimlessly. The parent solves problems and, in love, crouches and watches from the sides and the back and, when the child needs to be moved away from danger, gently nips to allow the child to overcome obstacles and achieve something better.