Our culture advocates strong parental involvement in pushing our children to ever-greater heights of success in academics, athletics, drama and music, among other things. However, by the law of averages, not every child will achieve greatness—but that doesn’t mean every child is destined to live an unsuccessful life.

“Our current culture seems to me to be a fame culture: via YouTube, blogs, reality talent shows, American Idol, et al, the show-off message rings loud and clear,” says Elizabeth Spencer, a mother of two girls in Battle Creek, Mich. “We have found it best to limit their role of these influences in our family so as not to fill our girls’ minds and hearts with idea that that they, too, should be famous and that if they’re not, they are failures.”

“I do think we have become too focused on performance and have unrealistic expectations for our children,” says Jean Blackmer, publishing manager for MOPS, and the author of Momsense: A Commonsense Guide to Confident Mothering. “Some parents want their child to become exceptional at something versus a child with well-balanced and rounded life experiences.”

“The temptation for parents to buy into the world’s notion of success is nothing new,” says conference speaker and homeschool consultant Kathy Kuhl, who has written Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner.

Viewing Success Through God’s Eyes

One way to refocus our attention from the wrong emphasis on success is to redefine what success looks like. Kuhl recommends enjoying everything we have as a gift from God and that includes talents and abilities. “I think it’s good to remind children that just because you’re on top now, doesn’t mean you’ll be on top later, and the flip side is that just because you’re on the bottom now doesn’t mean you’ll have to stay on the bottom,” she says.

“One of the major problems I see in our culture is that parents are measuring success in the wrong way, such as growing up to have a good job, nice home and family,” says Dave Boehi, senior editor at FamilyLife. “Even Christians put so much effort into the more secular side of success, but the measures of success for our culture don’t always reflect the values we ought to have as believers in Christ.”

Blackmer also points out that parents become tied to their children’s successes or failures too much. “We view those failures as a reflection of our own abilities as a mother or a father, but there has to be a separation because there are two different individuals,” she says. “We need to separate our own identities from our children. I think so many people feel like they have to define their kids now, but we need to remember that God’s view is so different. It’s not the achievement that’s important, but what is learned through successes and failures that creates character.”

How parents talk about and react to their children’s successes and failures can have a big impact on how their children will view success and failure. Boehi, Kuhl and Blackmer all recommend focusing not on the transient successes of this world but on building godly character in our children.

“No matter what skills or talents your children have, the one thing you can do with each child is to build that child’s character, to make them trustworthy, honest, hardworking,” says Boehi.

Curbing our own tendencies as parents for resentment when other children win and our kids don’t also can teach valuable lessons. “We need to draw near to God to learn to be content in our circumstances, and so we can show our children how to be content. We need to enjoy the gifts they do have--that smile, that cheerfulness, that humor, that creativity--whatever other good things we see in them,” says Kuhl.