As parents, we often dream, or wonder about what our child will be like when they reach adulthood–whether that means age eighteen, twenty-one, or older in the case of college or graduate students (who sometimes have an extended adolescence). We keep our fingers crossed and sometimes pray that this child, who often seems deaf to what we are trying to teach, will nonetheless grow to be the person we hope to have as our—and the world’s—adult child. Next question is, how do we tip the odds in our favor that this is going to happen?

If we have a job other than parenting and/or running a household, we know that any new project requires planning. Say your dream has been to open a bakery. You love the idea of running your own business, with satisfied customers and mouth-watering aromas wafting in and out all day. Problem is, you don’t really know how to bake. You may have whipped up a couple of box cakes, or some brownies for a friend at one time or another, but those weren’t difficult recipes, and one of your cakes was a little lopsided. So where do you start?

Not by dreaming and hoping that it will happen by itself. On the contrary, you know that there must be a defined set of procedures to follow, not unlike a recipe to bake a cake from scratch. If you want to increase the likelihood that your cakes will be the envy of the neighborhood, you could find a reputable cooking school and sign up for a few courses. Or you could find a good, basic recipe from a trusted resource, perfect it and then follow the recipe. Someone else has already done the hard work of figuring out the best way in which to obtain (most of the time) good results. You don’t always have to reinvent the wheel.

Now that you’re an expert at this basic recipe, could you throw the recipe away, just do what your gut tells you, and still come up with a great cake? Or perhaps a better cake? Absolutely–if you happen to be blessed with a gift for intuitively knowing how to add and blend ingredients for the desired results. I, for one, couldn’t make Jell-O, and most of us are not master bakers or master parents–at least not when we begin. So we follow the directions until we know enough, learn and get more skilled, and then we become the baker who writes her own recipes.

Raising a child is the seven-tiered wedding cake of recipes, yet many parents never even look at a cookbook. They dream and they hope, and in an offhanded way, they may make decisions about how they should parent their child. However, this parenting “plan” is often no more than what they remember of their own parents raising them, and almost always without ever evaluating the results their parents got with their children.

Time and time again I have had adults—now parents themselves—who survived less-than-ideal childhoods tell me, ‘Well, I turned out okay.’ Excuse me, but you are not the best judge of how okay you turned out. And think of the person you might have grown to be if you had had more effective parents. Everyone has heard the adage, “Crazy is doing the same thing, over and over, and expecting different results each time.” Well, amazing as it seems, many parents continue certain parenting behaviors despite a clear lack of positive results, simply because it is what they know to do, or because they think that’s what a good parent should do, and if they don’t see the change they hoped for, well, that must be because they have a difficult child. And often, they never take the time to think about it.

So, let’s think about it; let’s bake a kid! What are the qualities and values you want to see in your child when they are eighteen? And what ‘ingredients’ and actions do you need to include to increase the odds of that happening?

Here are some positive character traits that are frequently mentioned by parents when they are asked to describe the adult they want their child to grow up to be.

They want their child to have integrity, to be honest, respectful, loyal and humble. Their child should have compassion for others and be kind and fair. Parents want their children to be able to handle responsibility, have courage, and not be afraid to be their authentic selves; to be forgiving, loving and polite. A sense of humor and optimism are always on the list, as are perseverance, conscientiousness, and self-discipline. And often, parents say that they want their adult child to be independent, have a job and a solid work ethic.

Wow! That’s some great kid! And it will take a considerable amount of effort to produce such a child, but as parents, we know that already. In following chapters, I will discuss how to increase the chance that you will obtain the desired result and offer some suggestions about how to make your child’s adolescence easier on you and them—starting when they are pre-school age.