Parents – Avoid the "Success Trap"
- Thursday, May 25, 2006
Let’s take a quick inventory. You’re going to spend at least 18 years raising each one of your kids. Before they finally slip over the horizon for good, you’re going to lose a lot of sleep, spend a couple of truck loads of money, put some serious wear and tear on your body, and shed a puddle or two of tears. What do you hope happens? What do you want to see as the results of all of your efforts?
If we’re followers of Christ, the next thing out of our mouth is usually some noble statement about our children growing up to have a tender heart for God (or words of equal spiritual significance). But when the actual targets of our parenting priorities are scrutinized what often shows up is the harsh reality that although we are followers of Christ, we are also products of a very compelling western mindset. It’s a philosophy that worships success and measures a person’s significance by how well they embody its superficial and arbitrary standards. It’s a world view that is both intoxicating and contagious. Without realizing it, well-intended parents can easily find themselves repeating its mantra as they aim their kids at the future.
I call it the "success trap." It’s easy to get sucked into as a parent…even if you’re serious about your faith. If I could synthesize the typical goals of parents formatted by our culture’s definition of success, they would sound something like this. I hope my child ends up with a good job. And what’s a good job? One that pays well. Parents get convinced that without the ability to make a significant amount of money; their children have little chance of a happy future. This, therefore, is the first priority of the success trap: wealth.
Okay, what else? I hope they marry someone that looks pretty good in the Christmas photos; someone who is easy to gaze at when you wake up in the morning; someone who can help them make great looking grandchildren. Thus the second priority of the success trap: beauty.
What else? It would be nice if they could assume some command over their destiny; you know, control the bulk of the forces that surround them. Which is the third priority of the success trap: power.
Anything else? Yes, I’d love to see them get some recognition for all of their hard earned efforts. Ah, yes, the final priority of the success trap: fame.
The average parent may not articulate these priorities in such a succinct way. But that doesn’t overwrite the true impact of the values we accentuate whether we want to admit them or not. Our true priorities are seldom what we say they are, but rather what we emphasize when we’re mentoring our children through the daily challenges of their lives.
The things that are truly important to us often slip out between the seams of our conversations with the folks back home or over a latte with a friend at Starbucks, "He’s captain of this. She’s president of that. He got a 1400 on his SAT. She’s going to a Division I school. His fiancé looks like Jessica Alba. She’s got a full ride to Stanford. He has three different Fortune 500 companies chasing after him."
Question: is there anything wrong with being proud of our children’s accomplishments? Of course not. While we’re at it, is there anything fundamentally wrong with wealth, beauty, power, and fame? Not a bit…unless you need any of these things to feel significant or complete. If a person grows up measuring himself or herself by these four standards, they’re never going to be content. But more importantly, they’re going to miss a huge opportunity to live the life God meant for them to live.
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