When the biggest US college admissions scandal hit the fan last week - I found myself thinking - “Lori Loughlin paid $500,000 to be sure her daughters got into USC? A wealthy CEO paid $3 million so his kids got into Yale? What parent in their right mind would do this? It’s wrong and so unfair. They stole a spot from a deserving kid. I would never do that!”
Or would I?
How many of us have stepped in to “help” our kids? Many of us would say “I’d do anything for my kids.” But should we? What is our Duty as a parent? What is the difference between guidance and interference? How far is too far when we are trying to be a good parent?
I know I wrestled through these questions. The love I have for my kids tempted me to want to make life easier for them. My twins just turned 22 years old this month. Even though they are adults who are about to graduate from college, the temptation to step in is still there. Who doesn’t want to help their kid get a leg up or avoid the problems they faced? We want to see them win because honestly, it is a reflection of how well we did raising them.
We may not be paying $500,000, but did we threaten a teacher when our kid came home with a grade we felt they did not deserve? Or did we pull our company’s sponsorship or switch schools when our kid did not make the varsity baseball team? Maybe we stopped serving on the PTA when our child did not qualify for advanced classes? It starts small - yelling at a parent teacher conference, moving a kid to a new class, talking to the principal when we don’t like the teacher’s response. We may have changed a circumstance in the short term, but what does it say about our character? To go one step further, how does that change affect what type of character we are developing in our children?
Who we are as parents is a reflection of our character that seeps into other areas of our life. When we interfere we may actually get the result we want - their grades go up, they become a starter on the varsity team, etc. - but our children just received recognition and advantages they didn’t earn. So, how are the root issues of the actions listed above different from what these celebrities did? They aren’t.
Your kids can handle disappointment. Not getting into an Ivy League School is a tough blow,but you teach them HOW to respond when they don’t get what they want. It is the building blocks of character. It is the difference between interfering vs.guiding our children.
We define Duty as taking action based on our assigned tasks and our moral obligations. This leads us to ask, “What are our moral obligations to our children?”
Is it to make their life as easy as possible, or is it to prepare them for the world they are going to face?
Is it to be sure they have good grades, or is it to be sure they become adults of character?
Parenting with Character
A Parent’s Duty - To prepare the kid for the path, not the path for the kid.
Most of the important lessons in life are the result of the consequences of our own poor choices. If a child never faces the consequences of their choices – large or small – then the parent has stolen their child’s opportunity to learn. We have to allow our children to fail so they will learn and grow. No matter what their age, if someone never faces the consequences of their actions, they won’t grow in character.
If a child does not work up to their potential in school, the consequences are lower grades and not qualifying for certain colleges.
Are those consequences disappointing? Yes. But, going to a less prestigious school may be exactly the lesson the child needs in order to change their work ethic. If we allow them to learn this lesson in their teens, they won’t have to learn it later in their future job when their parents aren’t there to save their career after a series of poor choices.
What do we do if we realize we have interfered in our kids’ lives? Where do we go from here?
First, own it with your family. Let your family know you love them and you are no longer going to steal their opportunity to learn. Let them know your goal is to prepare them for the real world and for leading a life of character. Moving obstacles out of their way does not do that. But, you will always be there for them to help them learn those important lessons.
Second, own it with your schools/teachers/coaches etc. We need to exercise Humility to go back to the adults we undermined by our behaviors and ask for forgiveness. More is caught than taught. When our children see us step up, this is the type of character we as parents want our children to catch.
As parents, it is our Duty to lead our families well. The character of our family is truly the most important legacy we leave. Most of us want to look at our adult children in the future and see young men and women of character who are prepared to face the realities of this world. This is how we parent with character. And that impact can last for generations.