What is success anyways?

What is success anyways? March 31, 2010

I hear it all the time.

A woman gushing on and on about her grown children. She has a daughter who is a surgeon, she works with young cancer patients, she has so much talent and gives so much! Oh! And her son composes music for some of the big time singers, he even lives in Nashville with his wife and 2 children, it looks like his kids are going to be gifted in music too. And then there is her other son. He is a plumber. That’s all I know about him, she has never shared anything more.

Or the woman who is embarrassed to admit that her daughter is a single mom who works as a waitress. Of course her daughter wanted to be a stay at home mom, but that’s just not possible now. Or the daughter that disappointed everyone by never getting married and giving them grandchildren, she must be so selfish. Its almost as if their success as a parent is wrapped up in how “successful” their child becomes.

Or the obnoxious Christmas letters that ramble on and on about the son that gets good grades and “wants to be an engineer” and barely mentions the son that hasn’t done so well in school and is studying to be a mechanic. The letters that tack the mom on the end with a cheery “oh yes, and mom continues to be a happy stay at home mom” as if there is nothing more to convey about stay at home moms.

The classism bothers me, the materialism bothers me, and I can see where this attitude starts.

I hear it from my fellow young parents.

 “I want my child to have everything!”

 “My children will have every opportunity!”

It’s good to have dreams. I also want my children to have a wealth of opportunity and choice when it comes to their life journeys. I have already come to the conclusion that I don’t want my child to have everything, there are not very many people that have everything in this world, and the ones that do, haven’t seemed too happy to me.

But having every opportunity seems like a good desire, telling our child “you can be anything you want to be!” seems to be the theme of today’s parenting. Some parents are reacting to their own upbringing that they feel may have denied them opportunity, they want it to be different for their child. Their child is going to be able to do anything, try anything, and become anything. Reach for the stars!

And that is a good thing in many ways.

But what if you can’t be “anything”. What if, after all the opportunity and encouragement and money and time and extra classes, all your child really wants to do is be a plumber? What if your daughter gets pregnant, and decides to drop out of college? What if your son becomes an engineer, but later decides he hates it and goes back to school to become a hairdresser? What if, your daughter leaves her hot career path to become a stay at home mom. Or maybe she never finds the right person and doesn’t end up getting married after all?

This challenged me to think about my vision of success for my own children. I don’t want to be the parent who enrolls my child in classes for ballet and basketball and art and karate and then expects them to be the best at all of them. I don’t want to be the parent that encourages only white-collar-business-class job choices and treats others as second rate choices. I don’t want to be the parent that says, “You can be anything you want to be” but deep down only means “You can be anything that makes alot of money and makes you and me look good”.

Life happens. And while most of us have some opportunity, most of us won’t have every opportunity. While God calls each and every one of us to serve him and others, often through a specific vocation, He doesn’t call us to be everything. Mary was called to simply be the mother of our Lord. I suppose she could have been another powerful leader like Deborah from the book of Judges. Or why not be as beautiful and talented and wealthy as Esther? That would have been a more “successful” image for the Mother of God. But no, she was just a mom.

How often do we define our children’s success by what makes us as parents happy? Maybe I can’t imagine a job as a bank executive being that rewarding, but it could be someone’s dream job. Maybe being the garbage man looks like drudgery, but in actuality the guy loves it. How much pressure are we putting on our kids to conform to what looks successful to us? Do I want to give my kids a loving home? Yes! Do I want to give them a good education and prepare them to live life serving God and others? Yes! Do I care whether they live in a big house or a trailer, drive 3 luxury cars or ride the bus, marry or stay single? NO!

And I hope that I will never be that mid-forties mom who writes the Christmas letter bragging about my white-collar kids and ignoring my blue-collar ones.

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