By Jasjit Sangha @jasjit_sangha
How do you measure your children’s success?
As the school year comes to a close it is a good time to reflect on how we measure “success” for our children. Is it based on academic achievement alone – as Sanober Bukhari writes about so thoughtfully in her article on report cards? Or do we measure success based on how many trophies, ribbons or medals our children may have received in a competition that they entered or a sports team they played on? In other words, how much is our idea of success based on the recognition our children attain from others?
How often do we pay attention to the success our children may have that cannot be measured or evaluated? The kind that may further their social and emotional development yet go unnoticed by their teachers, peers, Aunties and Uncles? As a stepmother in a mixed family my idea of “success” has evolved from focusing on traditional markers of achievement to a more holistic understanding of success.
By a more holistic understanding I mean thinking about my children and stepdaughters as whole people and recognizing how hard it can be to do things such as bounce back after a failure, work hard on achieving a goal that does not go as planned, find the courage to venture out of their peer group and make new friends, stay true to who they are despite extensive peer pressure from friends, let go of a grudge against someone who bullied them in the past, take risks with their learning, take a chance on trying out a new idea, or simply continue to be positive despite the cynicism they may face in the world. Achieving any of these goals is a form of success for them because it is building their resiliency and their ability to live in their hearts – something that will bring them much more joy in life than only focusing on attaining status, power or material wealth.
This issue is particularly important to me now as my daughter is finishing grade 8 and heading into high school in the fall. I wish I had spent less time focusing on her academic achievements and becoming tense when homework was not completed on time or to the standard that I expect from her, and more time recognizing all the other ways she was growing and learning as a person. As a stepmother I know the teenage years will go by very fast and I have only a short time left to maintain as strong influence on her life before she becomes a more independent adult.
I think many parents, especially South Asian parents, concentrate too much of our energy on a narrow vision of success and this can get in the way of us developing meaningful relationships with our children and really understanding them. Most importantly, it can contribute to the stress our children already have in their lives and exacerbate their own worries about the future.
As a stepmother, I used to adhere to a more traditional idea of success and it was one of the biggest sources of contention between my stepdaughters and I. I was not even conscious of why it mattered to me so much, all I knew was they had to do study, they had to bring in high marks, they had to do well in school. As a result my limited ideas of success were very much at odds with their own ideas for their future.
So instead of spending the teen years being someone they felt close to or could come to with a problem, I was seen as someone who was judging them or placing unrealistic expectations on them. As a result, I did not see all the other “successes” in their lives and I did not get to know them deeply as young people at that time.
From this experience I learned that ideas that we may see as “common sense” are not always the best approach for our family. Sometimes we need to challenge these ideas. I am hoping to do this by redefining what “success” means for me and my family.
How do you define success in your family?
Have you ever questioned why you adhere to these ideas of success?
Have they ever led to conflict or contention with your children?
How do you deal with other people judging you for not following their ideas of success?
I would love to get your feedback!
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