Opinion: We Want Our Kids to Succeed, But What Does ‘Success’ Really Mean?

What does "success" really mean? And more importantly, will our children be happy?Parents today feel enormous pressure to ensure that their children succeed, but what does this really mean? And more importantly, will our children be happy?

The New York Times recently reported on a working paper exploring the reasons why more and more college-educated women are quitting their jobs when they become mothers. The short answer is because parenting is now a higher priority for them than trying to balance both motherhood and their career.

Rather than leaving it at that, though, the paper concludes that mothers are dropping out of the workforce in droves because they are “caught off guard by the time and effort it takes to raise children” as the responsibilities of parenting are now more demanding than ever before.

While I disagree with the article’s overall negative tone toward what is undoubtedly seen by the reporter as a waste of ambition and opportunity among the former career women who choose to become stay-at-home mothers, I agree with the point that, yes, raising children is harder today than probably any other time in modern history.

Related: It’s Okay if Our Children Want to Be Stay-at-Home Parents When They Grow Up

Almost as soon as we see those two little lines on the pregnancy test, we feel the mounting pressure to try to get our child ahead on the curve, to be the best, to get into the best schools, to get the best test scores, to do every extracurricular activity under the sun… But what are we aiming for?

If you ask almost any parent what they want most for their child as an adult, “happiness” would be the answer.

What quantifies happiness in a child?

Our Western society would have us believe its awards and prestige, top grades, admission to the best colleges, rigorous study programs, and high-paying jobs with ample opportunity for advancement. But does this equate with being happy? Are money and distinction what’s needed for lifelong contentment?

Related: Less is More: What Children DON’T Need to be Happy

We live in a competitive society, and this drive to be the best at anything and everything starts so young. As parents, we want the best for our children but we don’t want them to equate being loved and being happy with requiring them to be “the best.” Our society’s definition of success as an adult is muddling exactly what is necessary for a child to grow up to live a happy adult life:

  1. Warm, nurturing relationships with parents
  2. Healthy stress-coping skills
  3. Health-promoting habits
  4. Time with loved ones.

Nowhere on that list does it say “graduate with honors” or “acquire an impressive job.” In effect, your child could never go to college and end up working for minimum wage, and yet still be happy…because happiness instead centers around the ability to form emotionally close relationships in our families, rather than how far up the career ladder we’re able to climb.

Instead of pushing our children toward our society’s definition of success, maybe we all should be spending more time nurturing and having fun with our kids, modeling healthy habits, and teaching positive stress management so that they can fulfill what we really want for them as adults: to be happy.

Photo Credit: Tatyana Vyc / Shutterstock


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