For the Sake of our Children: Redefining the Legacy of Success

I wrote this for the Huffington Post last year at the request of Arianna Huffington in reply to an email I sent her responding to a new discussion she is holding on how to redefine success for women.  Make sense?  :)

The current definition of success, in which we drive ourselves into the ground, if  not the grave, and in which working to the point of exhaustion and burnout is considered a badge of honor, was created by men. It’s a model of success that’s not working for women, and it’s not working for men either. (Arianna Huffington)

I would also add that it’s not working for our children.

For decades the “legacy of success” for far too many boys and girls has been an Absent Father Wound.  Driven, in part, by “climbing the corporate ladder,” and/or success and/or the desire to provide for their families, many dads failed to connect with their children.  Worn out from work, they often had nothing left for their children in terms of time, emotional capital, play, and guidance.  Dads often confused “providing for their children” with “raising their children.”  As a result, many dads found themselves distanced from their children later in life.  Looking back on their “successful” lives they experienced regret at time lost with their children.  And many of their children grew up wounded by the lack of dad’s time, nurture, masculine energy, and blessing (his affirmation).

In the 21st Century children are increasingly in danger of a new wound: the Absent Mother Wound, as women try to figure out what it means to lean in to all of the new opportunities in this new world.  As women, and moms in particular, try to navigate success, they wrestle with a variety of compelling questions: Can I have it all?  Do I have to sacrifice my career for my children/family?  Can I lean in and raise my children at the same time?  Many women now find themselves in the same place as men: looking back on their “successful” lives with regret at time lost with their children.  As many of us men know to our own heartache, it’s time you can’t get back.  Ever.  And it’s time our children can’t get back, either.  

Deep in our souls we parents know that there is no greater, no more sacred call in life than raising children.  At the end of my life it’s not going to be about the number of sermons I preached or books I wrote, but about the kind of dad and grandpa I was.  My kids and grandkids (and marriage) are my greatest legacy.

But…at the same time, I love my work.  I feel I have a specific message and skill set I can bring to the world to help make the world a better place.  My child raising years lasted about 20.  My career will last 40+ years.  My sermons and books are an important part of my legacy as well.

So how do I make it all work?

As we look to redefine success, moving beyond money and power (and stress and exhaustion…):

  • What’s the ultimate legacy I want to leave behind and how does that impact my definition of success?
  • What might it look like for men/dads and women/moms to root our definition of success in the noble call of raising our children?
  • If my children are my priority, how does my call as a parent set the agenda for my understanding of success?
  • What new models do we need to look at home and in the workplace—models that value more flex time, better vacation plans, family days, maternity plans that include dad?
  • What am I willing to sacrifice in terms of parenting for my career?  What am I willing to sacrifice in terms of my career for my kids?

These are not simple questions.  Cultural shifts, emerging roles, personal choice, family systems, and finances, among other things, complicate our view of success and family.  But success always demands certain decisions.  It demands give and take.  It means setting priorities.

For too long success has been defined by money and power and getting as far ahead as we can.  And many of our kids have suffered because of it.  (Let’s face it—many of us adults have suffered because of it as well, living with our own absent father and mother wounds.)

What might it look like to chart a new definition of success, one that starts with leaving a legacy of love of, commitment to, and involvement in our children? One centered on how well we raise the next generation and then builds from there? It will take personal courage, wisdom, tenacity, a commitment from men and women, and societal change to make it happen.  But for the sake of our kids, let’s get at it.

(I don’t normally recommend books that I’ve not read but Arianna Huffington recently released a book called, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom and Wonder.  Again, I have not read it…But I’m intrigued with the discussion she’s had so far and a friend is reading the book and so far so good!  So perhaps someone can check it out and let us know…)

 

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About Tim Wright

I've been a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America since 1984, currently serving as the founding pastor of Community of Grace in Peoria, AZ. My wife, Jan and I, were married in 1979. We raised two kids and currently have 3 grandkids. I love to ride my bike, travel, read British Mysteries, and Disneyland. I have written 6 books, including my newest--Searching for Tom Sawyer: How Parents and Congregations Can Stop the Exodus of Boys From Church. My website: www.TimWrightMinistries.org


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