The concept of success remains a broad, complex, and very subjective one–all the more so when it comes to assessing one’s parenting skills. For example, I can define a successful parent as something you will consider completely unimportant.
But even if we don’t agree with a certain definition of success, some of them still generate in us behaviours indicating that we just might, after all, give it more weight that we’d like to admit. When it comes to parenting, one that I am coming to understand is quite insidious is that of comparison. Most people say that we shouldn’t compare children to each other, as each is unique and develops according to his or her own timeline. And yet, most people will compare children to one another, and will act deferential to parents whose children they deem “more advanced”.
It feels like this confusion occurs more when things like ego and pride are involved. It becomes even easier to become confused when we don’t really think profoundly about what we believe successful parenting is and don’t take the time to go though the mental exercise of figuring it out. I can’t blame anyone for not wanting to do this; it is painful and exhausting to analyse our patterns of thought and behaviour, all the more so when one is exerting so much energy on raising one’s children.
Yet again, I do not have a straightforward answer. I only have the current state of my thoughts to share with you, based on tons of conversations with individuals who have had children for years, thoughts that have not yet matured within my own personal experience as a parent. For now, I think that, when it comes to successful parenting, there are two types: the ‘relative’ successes in our parenting and the ‘overall’ success in our parenting.
To me, ‘relative’ success is when you are successful within a narrow niche. You are, indeed, successful when you accomplish something for your child—but you are only successful in the niche of what you have accomplished. When impressive enough, relative success seems to be often mistaken for ‘overall’ success.
‘Overall’ success has to do with fulfilling the purpose of our parenting. I believe this purpose to be giving opportunities to our children to build on their inherent capacities to become spiritually empowered adults able to pursue their own personal spiritual and material development while contributing decisively to the spiritual and material progress of their community.
Being successful therefore means that our children will become the adults that they are meant to be–and not the adults we want them to be. It can mean that we as parents can have all the relative success in the world and yet fail to achieve overall success. We can also do nothing and achieve overall success because of factors external to us.
I wish I could say that having made this distinction helps me not fall into the trap of mistaking relative success for overall success. Ha. Quite the contrary! It’s so easy to forget this distinction when living in a social environment that celebrates relative success to such an excess.
There are three relative successes in parenting that I feel oftentimes get confused for overall success. The first is achieving milestones early; the second is teaching children to do what we want them to do; the third is encouraging or allowing behaviour limited to our understanding of gender (think of “boys will be boys” or “good girl” situations).
It feels like the number one factor that creates this confusion is the ego. We want to prove to ourselves and to others that we are good parents, not satisfied with what our child naturally achieves but always wanting more. And I feel that this contributes to mixing up education with teaching.
The big problem is that the ego is never happy. It always wants more. And if you feed it, it wants more and more, until your entire focus becomes feeding that insatiable little beast. This makes us pressure our children beyond their capacity, pushing them into apathy. However, if you don’t feed it, you might feel the discomfort of its hunger; but this hunger abates and the overall sense of well-being you will feel will make it well worth it. Managing one’s ego seems then to be very important in becoming truly successful parents, one in which we are educating our children in such a way that their inherent capacities can shine through rather than teaching them things that will make us feel better about ourselves.