Standing backstage in the dressing room of my preteen daughter’s first play, the new version of the American Dream—providing all the best possible opportunities for our children—descended on me like a thick fog. We’d been back in the States for three months, resettling here for a season after being overseas missionaries since before the kids were born.
My head swirled as the moms around me compared charter schools, private voice coaches, and paths to the best collegiate drama programs. Our family was experiencing the great American buffet of options available to our kids in schools, sports, and activities.
I found myself sifting through websites, calling friends, and sighing to neighbors that I’ve no idea what I’m doing here.
Wait, What’s the Goal?
Overseas we had few options for the kids’ schooling and activities. We adjusted to that reality, but I confess often skimming Facebook with a twinge of jealousy as I saw my friends’ kids in ballet, piano recitals, sports games, school plays, and summer camps. Now that we were back in the States, I wanted them to have all of those experiences to make up for lost time.
So in the dressing room that day, I battled multiple voices in my head. One was frantic and shouting, You’ve robbed your children of these activities and now they’re way behind! Get them enrolled in everything. Another voice wondered, What’s the goal here? What are these moms—and me, for that matter—so worried about? What are we striving for? Is it worth it? And a third voice just kept lamenting, This conversation is out of whack, but I can’t put my finger on why.
I was surprised when I discovered that other moms—moms who’d lived here all along—felt the same way. It turns out those voices are in other heads, too. After the elusive “best” for our kids, we seem to be sprinting in relatively the same direction, trying to make it to the goal line of school enrollment, team tryouts, play auditions, the best church youth experience, and more. We respond to one another with knowing nods and furrowed brows, indicating it’s tough to stay on top of it all, but we have to, right? It’s how we give our kids the best.
But I sense we all question our goals and methods. When I share with others that we’ve never had so many options before, they whisper that it’s better that way. In hushed tones they say, “Don’t buy into this American way of life.”
Somewhere in our souls we all know that parents building their lives around their children isn’t good. Many are quick to confess they’ve wrongly put their kids at the center. But what can be done?