When you ask most kids what success is, they share the views their parents have given them – money, nice house, vacations, good job. Without the prompting, what would your kids have said success or a great life means, and how do they see it in their lives?
Parents think they know what is best for their kids – and they do about many things. But thinking they know what makes a great and happy life for their kids is not one of them. Each of us is different – that naturally means that what constitutes success, happiness and a great life will be different for each one.
Now just because you shouldn’t define success for your kids, doesn’t mean you should avoid guiding and supporting them as they do this work for themselves. One of your greatest roles as a parent is to act as a guide and coach – to help your kids understand and translate their world. You have been on the planet longer and have greater wisdom in how to navigate your way, but that just serves as the guidance you can offer your kids – not the paving of a road you encourage or push them on.
As you start to see what they are good at and interested in, you then can connect them to opportunities, ideas and directions that may appeal. As they get more passionate about things, you get more information to use to help them find their unique way and to define success in their own terms.
It is not unusual for a parent to downplay a goal, vision or dream of a child, reminding them it is unreasonable, unrealistic or not practical. Stealing a vision of a great and happy life from your kids encourages them not to dream – not to define what they really want and go after it. Because it may be out of your interests, experience or belief system, doesn’t mean it isn’t exactly right for your son or daughter.
I grew up in a family with 6 kids – all of us are about a year apart. No two of us studied the same things, have the same jobs or have the same hobbies. We are each different and success for one may be having a vacation home to retire to and another may be working with underrepresented youth. Both constitute successes but neither were the exact definition of success my parents had for themselves. They were wise enough to help us define how our lives should be – what matters, what we want and how we want to live. They were guides, coaches and interpreters – preparing us to understand ourselves and our world, then to own our decisions, our choices and our lives.
Appreciating that the only person who can define a great and happy life (aka a successful life) is us – me for me, you for you, your kids for your kids – reminds us as parents not to force our requirements or our dreams on our kids. We had our turn – their lives are for them to have their turn. Guide, support, coach and interpret. Then your kids will have the information and support they need to create their definition of success and get your help in devising a plan to achieve it.