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posted: 7/24/2014 11:16 AM

How much influence do parents really have on their children?

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How much difference do we parents really make in the lives of our children?

That's a tough one. When we consider all the influences on kids today -- television, music, the movies, the Internet, friends, coaches, schools, gangs -- it's awfully hard to figure out just how much impact our efforts as parents have.

A few weeks ago I attended a meeting at which a retiring member of the organization's board of directors was honored. He had served as a board member for 27 years and been quite active, holding a number of leadership posts and doing a universally acknowledged excellent job in each.

As most of us would do in such a situation, when it came time for him to respond to the accolades he had just received, he mentioned the people in his life whom he felt were most responsible for the positive qualities that we so much appreciated. First on his list were his parents.

Not surprisingly, he credited his mother and father with his sense of values, his dedication, his commitment. In his memory they were obviously the key figures in his growth and development, and, in fact, deserved much of the praise which we had given to him.

I was touched by the high regard in which he held his parents and the reverence with which he spoke of them. And what made his remarks even more poignant, and striking, is that he was 100 years, 4 months, and 21 days old at the time at which he gave them.

Imagine all the people whom this man had encountered in that length of time who had influenced him in one way or the other. Imagine, also, the history he had lived through, the challenges, struggles, failures and triumphs he had faced and which had shaped who he was.

And imagine how many times he had to face life on his own and make decisions, for better or worse, that only he could be held accountable for.

Yet, as he sought to pay tribute to the foundational experience which underlay his exemplary character, he thought first of his parents and the role they played in his becoming who he was.

Later that weekend I had occasion to have a long and rather difficult conversation with my own son. As I struggled to be the parent he needed, I couldn't help remembering just how important I was to him.

A hundred years is a long time, and if my words and deeds may be remembered that long, I need to be especially careful as I choose them.

• Dr. Ken Potts is on the staff of Samaritan Counseling Center in Naperville and Downers Grove. He is the author of "Mix Don't Blend, A Guide to Dating, Engagement and Remarriage With Children."

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