Why I “Pressure” My Children to Achieve

Newsflash! Parenting is hard.

I’m the mother of teens and in many ways, parenting has gotten much, MUCH easier. So I’m not talking about hard in the way that sleepless nights are hard or not being able to have two minutes to yourself is hard or being smeared in baby vomit and diaper dootie is hard. Those parts of parenting are crazy hard–physically and mentally exhausting.

I’m well past that kind of hard. In fact, life with teens has been mostly “easy”. Our boys can bathe and dress themselves, cook for themselves, walk, bike or drive where they need to go, and on most days, they’re pretty darn fun to have around.

shocked-mom-faceBut our oldest is getting to that almost a grown-up stage and I have little idea what’s going on in his brain. Sometimes, when he does confess what he’s thinking, my eyes widen with fear and I’m sure I’ve done everything all wrong.

For example, while on a ski trip to Colorado in February, more than one restaurant server admitted to spending their lives skiing by day and waiting tables by night. Our son said, “That actually sounds like a pretty great life.”

Another time when I must have been talking about the importance of doing well in school so he could get a good job, our son said, “Not everything is about the money.”

It’s these types of statements that make me think… um, yes, not “everything” is about money. But if you’ve ever been broke, if you’ve ever cried yourself to sleep at night wondering how you’re going to pay the rent, suddenly, it’s ALL about the money.

Granted, I’m not talking about luxury or excess. I am talking about shit’s expensive! Rent, utilities, food, clothes, entertainment, vacations, skiing for goodness sake! It’s all expensive. And yes, your dad doesn’t go to work each day vibrating with positive energy because he’s living his dream. He likes his job and his work benefits the world. But it’s difficult work and he certainly wouldn’t do it for free. It’s about the money.

Where I grew up, people worked in factories. Hot, loud, monotonous factories. These were considered dream jobs by the way. Why? Because of the money. Because these jobs offered folks a way to obtain hearth and home and maybe a lake cabin and a snowmobile. But today, those jobs are gone, gone, gone. Wanna live anywhere close to a middle class life? Guess what kiddo? You’re gonna have to eventually think for more than a hot second about the money.

Some say this is too stressful on young people. All that pressure to perform in high school to get into college. Welp, part of life is learning how to manage stress, how to solve problems and how to work for what’s important. I’m no Tiger Mother in the true sense. I let the kids quit piano lessons. There was no math camp or traveling sports teams. They’ve mostly been able to pave their own way. Ultimately, we’ll let them decide their own futures too. But that doesn’t mean they won’t hear from us about what their decisions now mean for the future. It’s time. It’s time to get serious about the groundwork for what is to come. I know that’s a lot to ask of a seventeen year old. Fine. Don’t know what you wanna do? No problem. Just work hard and get a degree in something “useful” and then let fate take it from there.

broke-trans-300x225For now, my kid doesn’t seem to appreciate my style of parenting. But I’m pretty sure he’ll see the light one day when he’s sick of being broke.

In the meantime, I don’t need anybody fueling my kid’s thoughts of me as some kind of pressure monster. Like when a pastor recently told a group of teens something along the lines of, “if your parents are causing you stress with pressure to perform in school, you should know that you’re good enough just the way you are.” Okay. Yes. Of course all humans are created in the image of God and are good enough. Of course I’m not asking my kids to earn my love or God’s love. I’ll always love them no matter how they perform or what they achieve. As human beings and my beloved offspring, they are most definitely good enough.

But as productive members of society, they’ll need to dig a little deeper. Video games and afternoon naps are not even close to good enough. In fact, I’m curious if that pastor ever asked a teenage boy what he’d do with his time if not pressured by their parent to do his homework or study for a test. Because I know the answer. Most parents know this answer. That’s kinda why we pressure them. Cause we know the answer and it’s not good enough.

lazinesshomerWe are created to serve and glorify God. Sloth does not serve or glorify anyone–the self included–even though it can feel good. Trust me. I know. I fight the urge to laze about almost daily. But I want to live a useful life and I believe our kids should too.

God created my wonderful children with certain gifts. And I do try my best to discern what those gifts are and help them move in those directions. But no direction is unacceptable. No choice is a choice. So I’ll continue to “pressure” (their word, not mine) our children to be the best they can be–not because they’re not good enough. I love them for who and what they are and have worked alongside their father to provide them a loving and nurturing home. But one day, they’ll likely want a home of their own. That means at some point they’re going to have to come to terms with what things cost and the “pressure” associated with achievement because… as vulgar as it sounds, it’s very much about the money.


4 thoughts on “Why I “Pressure” My Children to Achieve

  1. Donna Trump says:

    Great post, as always, Angela.
    I think the revelation of my parenting life was when I understood there were fundamental differences in the way I grew up and the way my kids grew up. I worried about money. My kids did not. My life was influenced by fear my family wouldn’t be able to pay for something I thought was important–clothes I wanted, something all the other kids had. Then when I went to college my life was influenced by fear I wouldn’t be able to pay for things that really were important–tuition, rent, books, the phone bill, a trip home. My kids’ lives were simply never influenced by this fear. Sometimes their behavior would floor me, and, frankly, disappoint me. Why did I have to tell them it was important to have a job/wake up early/make their beds/stop wasting time? The answer, I figured out, is because they weren’t driven by fear, at least not fear of destitution. Which is of course what we wanted, right? But it’s got some side effects I hadn’t counted on.
    I think hounding and pressuring are functional to a degree, especially as long as your kids are under your roof. One thing I’ve learned from my kids’ experience is that it’s smart to encourage them to figure out what they’re good at that few other people are. Waiting tables and skiing all day? Maybe a lot of people can do that. Answering phones in Hollywood? They’ll eat you and the next person and the next person alive. Some people love to work and some people love to play, but work will always be easier to come by if you get an education in something other people find difficult.
    And the only other thing I’ve found that works to motivate kids who’ve never really been afraid of no money is to make it clear that your money stops being their money at a specific point of time. People make different decisions about what that time is, and I think a gradual introduction to financial independence is best (e.g., they pay for everything at college besides tuition and room and board?) This one is tough to enforce and exceptions will always arise, but if kids know the gravy train stops–really stops–at some point, they will be more motivated by our old pal fear of no money, which somehow has the ability to get even the most lackadaisical rears in gear.

  2. Nancy Kapernick says:

    I agree with Donna about helping/encouraging your kids to find their gifts but don’t forget to let THEM talk and process it all along the way and don’t forget to encourage them to find what they are passionate about. Ideally their talents and passion combined will lead to their career. Using your gifts God has given you is the goal – I don’t know if I would focus on the money so much. Would we have teachers, for example, if the goal was income based! NO!
    My dad encouraged me to get the well rounded business degree. I did. I NEVER felt happy or fulfilled in that world and eventually switched to teaching preschoolers – my first passion and where my gifts lie. Hindsight I wished I had spent my college years in Education and NOT business. I know the cost of things but I don’t think it should be what is the driver in helping our children discover what God is calling them to do.

  3. “I’m not talking about luxury or excess. I am talking about shit’s expensive! ”

    That was awesome. Yes, it’s easy to say one doesn’t care about money when one has never had to worry about it. Very important distinction.

    • And yet, I don’t intend to make life, work or the world all about money. I just marvel at the seeming lack of understanding on behalf of my children of how hard one must work to obtain even the most basic of luxuries. Sure. Pick a job that brings you joy so long as it also brings you a paycheck. I love my job. But let’s be honest. I am privileged to have a spouse who can cover most of the household expenses. Cause Lord knows my job would never pay the bills. Just trying to keep it real.

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