Don’t lie to your children. Don’t tell them they can grow up to be anything they want. It’s simply not true. If it were, what would we do with the surplus of firefighters, astronauts, and video game developers? How can “any kid grow up to be president” when there are only 18 presidential elections in the average lifetime?

Instead of asking kids what they dream of becoming, ask them what they are curious about. Cultivate in them a joy of learning new things. See to it that they are rewarded for hard work. Teach them by example – with empathy and compassion. Then don’t worry about their future. Instead of being frustrated by unattainable dreams, they will gradually discover what fascinates them the most, work hard to excel in that field, and use those skills to live a meaningful and impactful life.

When I was in my 20s and 30s I found shopping for a mother’s day card to be a frustrating experience. The cards would say things like, “Thank you for being the one who always believed in my dreams even when nobody else did.” That didn’t fit her. She wasn’t that kind of mother, even though I desperately wished she was.

She was practical. Practical to a fault, I thought. Hers wasn’t a world of dreams and ambitions. Her world revolved around daily doing what needed to be done. And she did so through faithful, dependable service to those close to home, as well as to some who will remain total strangers, perhaps until they meet in Heaven.

It’s not that she spoke disparagingly of ambitions—it was more that she would always turn the subject to what she saw as worthwhile pursuits. For example, rather than sympathizing when I lamented a dead-end job, she would point out that that job was my opportunity to serve my wife and children, boss and customers, with Christ-like, sacrificial love.

Over the years, my perception of my mother and her view of life has gradually changed. What I once found frustrating, I now find comforting. Dreams disappoint; ambitions crumble. More than midway through life, we can find ourselves irreconcilably separated from the accomplishments we thought we were destined to fulfill.

But faithful, compassionate service is an investment that will never disappoint. Proverbs says, “he who gives to the poor, lends to the Lord.” Mama showed us, by example, how to store up treasures in Heaven where “neither rust, nor moth” nor even our own miscalculations, can destroy.

Years ago, when we lived in California, my mother met an elderly lady. She was well into her 80’s, but she introduced herself like this: “Hi, I’m Mrs. C., I take care of old people!” Mama was really tickled by that and often mentioned this dear saint. I think Mama wanted to emulate her, serving rather than being served, even in advanced age.

The health setbacks that increasingly took away her abilities to interact with others must have been heartbreaking to Mama and among the toughest challenges of her lifetime. Yet even these she handled with perseverance, patience, and grace. She, of course, did not want to be a burden to anyone. But what we were able to do for her was not a burden at all, but a privilege. And it came nowhere close to repaying a lifetime of kindness, generosity and selfless love.

Eleanor Harder