TIP #1 Don’t Make the Grade the Goal
Who determines success?
We all want our children to be successful. But what does that mean exactly? Who determines the expectations? Who determines whether our child is a success or a failure?
We live in a culture where everyone places expectations on everyone else. Everyone creates standards for themselves and others. But who really has the right to do that? If you try to live up to everyone’s expectations (even your own), you will have massive therapy bills.
Obviously we want our children to be productive in life, and isn’t it our job as parents to shape our children’s perspective about responsibility and contribution to society? This is true, but somehow in the process we have taught our children that their performance equates to their value as a person.
From the bleachers…
I once watched, at a high school football game, as a father continually berated his son on the field when he didn’t “perform”. I cringed every moment, because I knew his son and really liked him. The son desperately craved his father’s affirmation, but it never came. The father was deeply insecure in his identity, needing his son to perform so the that he, the father, could feel good about himself. As a result, the son had very low self esteem and continually strove to prove his worth to his father to no avail. It was so sad.
Imagine if the father didn’t make the “goal” the “goal”, but had simply taught his son to enjoy the game and to do his best. Imagine how different it would be for the son if the father affirmed him, even when he fumbled the ball. Imagine the son growing into a confident young man who didn’t feel he had to prove anything to anyone. It didn’t happen.
Be content with your best…
Teach your children simply to strive to do the best they can with the resources and time that they have. If your daughter got a 40% but worked hard on the project – celebrate that she worked hard and did her best. If your son got 40% because he slacked off and wasn’t responsible – encourage him to do his best, not to increase his worth, but to fully express who he is.
There is a qualitative difference when people strive hard out of fear and anxiety, as opposed to when they are free to simply enjoy life and do the best they can.
It’s the difference between Olympic athletes who are proud that they competed well and came in seventh, versus the ones who cry because they only made silver. The former feel good about the experience, the latter will go back and strive harder, distorting their lives, missing out on life and fulfillment, because they are nothing if they do not win. Even once they do win…what do they do next? The performance treadmill never stops.
One of the best gifts we can give our children is a secure identity that frees them to enjoy life.
God is not impressed with how well we can do something. He is not impressed with how much we accomplish. He could do it all with a word, and do it far better. That’s why God is more interested in you, than your performance. He is most concerned about your heart relationship with him and that’s why the greatest commands in the Bible are Love God and Love Others.
When my kids drew pictures at age 4, the drawings were terrible (don’t tell them that). They were a bunch a squiggly lines creating barely recognizable shapes of our house and family. But I still have them…why? They drew the pictures for me, because they loved their dad. I treasure those pictures, because I treasure their heart response to me. They didn’t need to measure up to any artistic standard.
That’s how God is with us. He wants to know that we love him; everything else will flow from that relationship. When we are loving God, then we understand that our identity and significance come from him. I don’t have to prove myself, measure up, meet expectations to make me fell good about who I am – He does that. As a result, I live freely and joyfully, doing whatever I can out of the joy of that relationship.
Whenever I turn to something else to give me life or significance other than God, that thing becomes a false idol in my life that will always disappoint. I know this is happening because there is a distinct decrease in my joy and peace. It’s at those times that I find I start to stress, control and manipulate so that I can feel good about myself, but it never works.
So scripture says change your perspective – do everything you do as piece of art, lovingly created for your creator, who loves you deeply. He doesn’t critique your school grade, your sport team’s wins vs. losses. He created you to enjoy life in deep, intimate relationship with him. When we have that type of relationship, he then promises to take care of all our needs, so we don’t have to stress about controlling or measuring up.
Colossians 3:17 (ESV)
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
My ultimate job as a parent, is to help my children understand how much God loves them and show them how that frees them from living life on the stressful, unrelenting, performance treadmill.
All Posts in this Series
Developing Your Child’s Sense of Worth: Defeating the Performance Lie