Kids don’t know what they don’t know. Let me repeat, kids don’t know what they don’t know. They simply don’t. In fact, none of us know what we don’t know.

Our children don’t know what obstacles may need to be navigated around on their journey. They don’t need us as friends as much as guides who witness to them as to how we made our journeys – through the dark and the light.

Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in 2002:

“As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

As funny as that statement sounds — read it aloud; it’s almost Dr. Seuss-like — it is insightful when you dig into it.

Every moment of life, every moment of parenting, is filled with moments of certainty and uncertainty. You may be certain you love your child, however that alone may not protect them. You could do everything in your power to raise a child surrounded with love, surrounded with support, passing along your faith, or every worldly thing that could make life easier, and yet, they could fail.

No one knows what tomorrow brings. We simply don’t know what bumps in the road lay ahead. Luckily, the bumps and patches (scars) help us prepare better for obstacles and allow us to be seen as battle-hardened guides for others along their journeys.

The bumps and patches can be called “wisdom.” Wisdom is a collection of all the lessons passed along to us from our guides, teachers, pastors and parents. If as a parent you intentionally tap into this vast pool of collective wisdom from those who have already ventured down the path, you are, at the very least, being empowered to make thought-filled decisions as you parent yourself.

In the first chapter of my book released this month, I tell about the death of my brother in my arms on my birthday. That “unknown” hit my family and me like a tidal wave.

We are a pretty normal bunch who have experienced highs and lows. We each have our accomplishments that we are proud of, but we also have had our obstacles – obstacles we did not know were coming around the bend. Breast cancer, heart disease, skin conditions, surgeries, divorce, addiction and death were just a few of the unknowns for which we were unprepared.

Out of those unknowns arose purpose and a keener perspective on the preciousness of life. That led to more compassion, empathy, stronger bonds with friends and family, a sweeter shared love, and a deeper faith.

That faith – our shared Christian faith — led each of us to more outreach, community service and volunteerism, inside and outside our home parishes and schools. We encounter others through that outreach. Like us, they are broken individuals loved by God, nurtured by one another in an attempt to become better stewards of our faith. This cycle of knowns and unknowns continues.  

Nov. 27 marks the 50th anniversary of my parents being married. The threads they have spun over those years throughout their family, friends and community have been woven tightly. I am so blessed to have witnessed two unique individuals who have navigated the ups and downs of life — the unknowns.

They have taught all of their friends and family that unknowns are a powerful force to reckon with but that they do not have to dismantle their love or their faith.

As a parent, your greatest gift this holiday season is NOT a toy, it is NOT a vacation, nor a delicious home cooked meal. It is sharing with your children that unknowns are all around us – but that we deal with them as a family, utilizing the wisdom of our elders (our parents, grandparents, teachers, mentors, pastors and saints) and then share the knowledge from this experience with others.

Our kids will surely encounter the unknowns as they come around the bend. We can teach our children how we navigated the unknowns in our own lives. Like my parents navigating the death of a child, I was empowered to appreciate the time I have with my children.

As the saying goes, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, that is why we call it the present.”

This Thanksgiving, and during the Advent we celebrate, I know parenting through all the unknowns life offers is a gift of perspective I can share with my children. That humble spirit will stick with them for life in their knowing they, too, can navigate the unknowns with hope, with family, and with faith.

(Jeff is a motivational speaker and author of the newly released “The Pivotal Life: A Compass for Discovering Purpose, Passion & Perspective.” Jeff is the founding director of Pivotal Directions, Inc., a servant leadership organization for those seeking to make a difference in the world. He is a single father of three wonderful children who attend Lumen Christi Catholic School in Mequon.)