Parents, can I ask a favor?
Can we stop pushing the goalposts back for our kids? Can we stop changing the definition of what success looks like? Can we stop competing with each other for whose kid scores the highest, gets recruited by what team, wins what award?
I get it. I get sucked in, too. I worry about my teenagers surviving in this cutthroat, competitive world.
But I noticed something recently.
When success is only defined as getting on the best team or achieving the highest grade, the opportunity to feel successful is limited.
And when you feel like your opportunities for your kids are limited, you start making crazy decisions—and hoping that other kids will fail.
You see it on the sidelines of youth sports, where every parent only cheers for his or her own kid while secretly wishing another will falter in order to gain a starting spot.
You see it in classrooms when a B is seen as a failure.
You see it during the college admissions process as parents will do nearly anything to get their kids into a brag-worthy school.
You see it on social media with carefully curated posts highlighting snippets of a kid’s journey.
Find a good trainer or tutor? Keep it to yourself because you don’t want anyone else to succeed more than your son or daughter.
This quest for perfection via over-achievement, over-scheduling, over-activity-ing your child in order to keep up is stressing even the most capable kids out.
Why are we overly invested in our children’s performance?
Why do we value results over experience?
Why do we judge our parenting based on their achievements as opposed to their actions?
Teens need to be motivated to find their passions instead of being motivated by minimizing their parents’ worry or stress. They need to figure out what inspires them. They need to fail.
We have become addicted to parenting validation. Like a junkie, many moms and dads are obsessed with our children receiving accolades, so we engineer every aspect of their lives in order to curate an unsustainable image. The need for affirmation causes us to make irrational decisions and set standards that can only be achieved by an elite few.
We need to stop performance based parenting. We need to stop micromanaging their lives. We need to stop acting on fear and anxiety of the unknown.
I get it. I’m in that stage of life where I’m trying to set my kids up for the rest of theirs. We’re about to launch into college tours and SAT prep and the “build-your-resume-up-so-you-look-awesome” phase.
And when you try to take a step back and find some balance, the rest of the world does not make it easy. I had to negotiate with several department chairs in order to move my daughters into “regular” classes instead of honors, received flack from parents when we moved one of my kids to a different soccer team that was closer to our home, and I was told my daughter shouldn’t try out for a sport because, at 12, she was too old to learn it.
I have to remind myself over and over that my kid will get into a college even if she struggles at math. I have to remind myself that sports are about building confidence and physical activity. I have to remind myself to make choices based on what’s best for my family, not on what anyone else deems necessary or important.
And I need to redefine what success looked like for my kids.
You do, too.
Our kids’ mental health—and their lives—are depending on it.