Trophy Parenting

One of my favorite things about having a blog is when people share something they have found. I’m inspired and touched each and every time. Which as I’m typing, I’m reminded to thank each one of you that have sent a pic and/or testimonial about your kiddos helping around the house and around town. Please keep them coming!! I hope to share them in our KIDCANDO section. To me that’s the best inspiration of all. Learning from each other and spurring each other on to good things.

I’ve got a couple things in the hopper that I’d love to share, but this one really caught my eye. I had just read it in Focus on the Family’s Thriving Family about the time a friend emailed it to me. Here’s a snippet, but click on Does Performance Drive Parenting by Ted Cunningham to read the rest. Check out the other stuff they’ve got going on while you’re there. But first, are we inadvertently (if not openly) started making parenting about us?

My grandparents’ generation did not raise trophy children. Grandma and Grandpa had different concerns, like providing the basics of food, shelter, clothes and education. Success in these areas brought them to their knees in thanks to God. Kids worked hard to do their part. The home did not revolve around their activities. Responsibility and duty were the primary goals of parenting.

I believe the shift toward “trophy children” started with my generation, and it is rooted in our privileged society and a desire to ensure that our kids succeed, which sometimes means protecting them from failure. Around the 1980s, our culture’s parenting style became more encouraging and nurturing. Hovering even. We did not want our kids to feel like losers. Instead of “Three strikes and you’re out,” we allowed kids to stay in the batter’s box until they hit the ball. We affixed gold stars to every assignment to boost self-esteem. We overindulged them with excessive praise for every attempt, regardless of outcome, to help them all feel like winners.

Other parents have gone a different direction, obsessing over their kids’ achievements and looking for big moments on the stage and field. We accelerate progress with preschool reading programs and year-round sports and activities, pursing marks of excellence that often have no relation to the real-world milestones needed later in life.

I was recently teaching on this subject at a summer camp. After one session, a parent came up and spoke for awhile. At one point, venting, he said, “I feel like we’re all on the same bus together, but it’s so hard to stop.” I agreed with that father. So many of us are barreling toward a future in which our kids may miss out on the life and possibilities that God has for them.

But I believe we can stop this bus. To do so, we must first take an honest look at our performance-driven tendencies. It may feel like a punch in the gut, but it’s worth it.

The many faces of trophy parenting

I believe performance-driven parenting can be divided into a number of different categories. Like me, you may struggle with some or many of the following parenting tendencies. Let’s look at each of these behaviors, and then we’ll discuss some solutions that can help us stop the bus.

Vanity Parenting means using a child’s accomplishments and attributes to impress family and friends. It only takes a few minutes on Facebook to see this parent in full swing. Her status updates are carefully crafted to present an image she wants the world to see. If her children appear successful, then she will look successful.

Perfection Parenting raises the bar too high. This parent experiences frequent irritation and frustration when his children make mistakes or don’t measure up. The issue is not that his kids are “not getting it,” but rather that his expectations are misplaced.

Competitive Parenting compares the strengths and weaknesses of her child to that of other children. When we compare our child’s weaknesses to the strengths of another, we live in defeat and discouragement. Comparing a child’s strengths to another’s weaknesses will give the child an overinflated view of himself. Each child is unique, so no comparing necessary.

ROI Parenting looks for a “return on investment” from sports and activities. The hope is that one day the time and money spent on activities will be paid back in the form of college scholarships or a career in that particular activity. There is nothing wrong with signing kids up for organized leagues, but when we commit them to specific activities at early ages, they miss out on other opportunities, not to mention valuable playground time and neighborhood pickup games.

Gifted Parenting believes God did something extra special in the birth of her child. This tendency is often seen in parents who struggled with infertility or endured a long adoption process. Parents who believe their child is extra special look for extra special opportunities and activities for their child.

Companion Parenting has parents shifting their performance expectations of kids to be relational in nature. This can happen in a home where the parent needs a buddy to participate in sports or hobbies. It can also happen in a strained marriage (or single-parent home) where the child takes on the emotional burdens of a spouse.

Rescue Parenting takes an unexpected route toward success. These parents create “successful” environment for their kids by protecting them from loss, pain and struggle. This is the hovering parent who nurses them through challenging situations by simply removing failure as an option. This parent forgets that character is built more on the bench than on the field. We all have stories of trials that shaped us into who we are today.

… Ted goes on to tell us ways to change course, ending with truth:

It doesn’t matter if we have toddlers, tweens or teens; there is hope. No performing, perfecting or comparing is necessary. …

“I am not a perfect parent. Jesus Christ was the only perfect person to walk this planet. I will make mistakes along the way. By the grace of God, I will love, teach, correct and discipline my children.”

Thanks for walking the road with me.


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