Recently we had some friends over for dinner and conversation. This group is made up of people from our church who have children in the tweens or teens stages and/or have been married 15+ years. We had an agreed upon topic to discuss before hand, and this time it was ‘Handling Success’. There is no curriculum for this group, and no teaching is done; we consult scripture and our own experiences and simply have a conversation that sometimes is more about marriage, but more often parenting.
I don’t think we solved any of the world’s problems that night, but I feel like we identified an important place where we can get mixed up. Handling success isn’t the first issue, defining it is. Each family in the room has at least one driven, self motivated high achiever in the area of academics, and then another who is extremely talented in sports or creative arts and maybe another who has a profound sense of compassion and character. Which child is, or will be successful? As parents we can get confused, believing the child who has answered all the questions right in school will be the most successful, and compare the others to that one. That is as fair as expecting a tone-deaf person to sing beautifully or a non-athletic child to pitch a baseball like his brother. We have always tried to be careful not to compare our children, they are so different that one would be comparing apples to oranges that happen to be in the same fruit bowl, and yet we do it, don’t we?
In our group that night we told stories of children who have stretched our thinking, challenged our plans for them and are showing us what really matters. One family has a teen who is currently in a residential program for depression and anxiety, another has a child who quit college after one year with no real plan for the future, and another scored a near perfect ACT and has multiple universities pursuing their child. And each of these families has more than one child in them, siblings are watching to see how the conversations go. That family with the depressed teen? They want their child to come home and continue living, suddenly academics aren’t the top priority. The parents of the college aged child? They simply want her to find her purpose in life. Expectations of going the ‘usual’ way have been abandoned, replaced with hope for the ‘right’ way. And the family with the high achieving high schooler? They are praying for humility mingled with success in their son. The stress of where he will go has been changed to how he will go. This is just a sampling, there were several more couples in the room, each with their own circumstances.
These days there are so many stresses and distractions placed on our children, that the definition of success is changing. As parents we need to look within ourselves to see how we are guiding our kids, because what we encourage teaches them what is most important to us.