Redefining What Success Looks Like for our Kids

Raising successful kids is a driving factor for most parents; yet, have we really defined what that means?

The drive to “do”, to strive to achieve and leave a mark on this world is as old as time itself.

Having goals and a path to achieving them is not the problem.

Achieving goals as a foolproof means to happiness IS. 

Our whole culture is built upon the notion that we must raise our kids to become successful adults – and what we usually mean is, “I want my kids to make good money.”

What success should mean and what it does not

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Changing times call for new perspectives

From grade school, we’re taught that education is key, and the more education, the better chance of success.

But most of us can see that we’re living in a changing world.

College isn’t the same as what it used to be.

No career is bulletproof.

And how often does the demands of a lucrative career contrast poorly with the life we had really hoped for?

When we talk to our kids about their future, I think we need to look beyond their financial outlook and broaden the picture of what makes a successful adult.

There are at least four important questions we should ask our kids, if we really want them to feel successful – and be successful – as they grow into adulthood. 

Because the truth is, they have a lot of life ahead to live after they leave our nest and we need to prepare them in more than one way.

Read next: Our First-Year Homeschooling Reflections

What do you want your life to look like as an adult?

It’s a question I wish someone would have asked me years ago.

And it’s is a MUCH better question to ask instead of, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Based on the current statistics, it’s likely our kids will change careers about FOUR times before age 32.  That’s a lot of change ahead.

Someone once said, “Why did I let a 17-year-old decide the rest of my life, anyhow?”

That quote has stuck with me for a long time now.

Successful kids- what does success look like?

Why do we expect our kids to have enough life experience or real-world knowledge to know what they want to do for the next 47 years professionally?

They’ll likely change their mind 47 days after entering college, much less stick to the same career for half a century.

Our little fledglings can’t possibly know all the details that a career will entail, and if we haven’t done that particular job we probably can’t tell them, either.

Realistic expectations lead to more “successful” outcomes.

I think we’re far better off guiding them to look into the future and think about what they want life to look like.

For instance, if your son has his sights set on a high-powered business job – is he prepared to travel?

Is he ok with moving across the country if that type of job doesn’t exist locally?

Does he understand what type of working hours that job requires?  

This is an especially important question for our girls, who may become mothers someday.

Raising successful kids to be successful adults

While we can’t predict those details, we can guide them to think about how their career plan may or may not mesh at all with a balanced family life.

How many women do you know who changed from a nursing career, or a teaching career or another noble profession, to become a stay-at-home mom?

We need for our kids (boys OR girls) to understand that if life changes – it’s ok, and it may be necessary to pivot.

You can follow a new plan, and that doesn’t mean you’re a failure.

It means you’ve learned the value of adaptation.

What do you hope to gain from college?

Again, this is a better question to ask than simply pinning down a career that sounds fun or cool.

All the college-readiness assessments in the world can’t predict whether college will really pay off for you.

Kids can look at college as an opportunity to explore career ideas, learn from professionals in the field they’re interested in, and learn alongside kids from around the country.

But if we’re telling them that going to a four-year college is the only true path to happiness or success, that simply isn’t true.

What success looks like for teens after high school

We can’t even guarantee they’ll be able to find desirable jobs once they’ve graduated.  

The only guarantee we can give them is they will learn something valuable if they put in the effort.

Some of those lessons will help them in their future jobs, some will help them in life.  (Like learning how to get along with people, and how to manage their time and how to sift through LOTS of differing opinions.)

Related: Raising Kids Rural: What to Know about Small-Town Family Life

What things are most important to you?

Kids are just starting to really develop their own values in the teen years.

By the time they’re finishing high school, we should be asking questions that will help them think about their impact on the world.

If they’re ever going to find satisfaction in a job or career, it won’t simply be from making the most money possible.

Real satisfaction will come from discovering they have something to offer to others – and seeing that impact.

Teen thinking - what does success look like - raising successful kids

Now, it’s important to note that having values like “being able to pay my bills and put gas in my car” are not terrible values at all.  😉

And I don’t write all this with rose-colored glasses.  We need to gear our kids towards responsibility, and to have the ability to take care of themselves as adults, according to their ability.

But let’s give our kids enough credit to help them think about their own talents and passions God has given them.

It might take some creativity to consider there might be more than one way to pay those bills- while still doing work that really matters.

Have you thought about all the options?

On that note, I think it’s important to let our kids research alternatives to college.

I’m including ideas like trade school, technical schools and apprenticeships, gap years, and plain old “getting a job”.

(P.S., Did you know that there is a severe shortage of blue-collar workers?) 

It’s important to realize that every kid is different.  And we shouldn’t expect kids to follow the same path, even within the same family.

When I graduated high school, I knew for sure that I was not cut out for living on-campus and having roommates.

So I signed up for evening and online classes and finished college in 3 years while I worked a full-time job.

(Of course, I got married in there too…but that’s another story.)

To be honest, I don’t think having the college degree made that much difference for me in the long-run.

Working that full-time job did, however.

Learning opportunities are everywhere

You might think I’m totally against college, or am bitter about student loans (that part might be true).

The truth is, I’m ok with sending my kids to college – if they can pay their way or work their way through.

Raising successful kids in a career driven world

But I’ve talked to my girls, especially my creative 14-year-old, about keeping her options open.

I’ve encouraged her to pray about her future and let God lead her decisions.  

I’m even ok with her staying at home a little longer, if she’s not totally sure of what to do right after high school.

It would be much better to have explored different options than to just go with the status quo and rack up a bunch of debt while she “finds herself” at college.

In today’s changing job market, there are new jobs being created all the time, and many of them are online.

Being a work-at-home entrepreneur myself, I can see the value in encouraging my kids to consider non-traditional jobs that might not even require a degree.

Lately, I’ve been encouraging my older girls to brainstorm businesses they could start now, with the possibility of reinvesting that income into a longer-term business in the future.

What we do now can predict future success

In the meantime between childhood and launching our kids into the world, there are a few things we can do that actually can predict their future success.

First, we can pray for them.  We can entrust their futures to God and ask him to guide their steps.

Second, we can teach them that change is inevitable.  Becoming lifelong learners (in or outside of a classroom) can help them to see change as an opportunity to grow.

Lastly, we can work hard as parents in promoting good character.

At the end of the day, I’d rather my child be known for having an admirable character, than being the most “successful” lawyer, doctor or even crop farmer that ever was.

Right now, I’d rather hear their teachers commend my child for kindness than having the highest reading scores.

Traits like integrity, honesty, and genuine empathy will reap more rewards than can be counted on a tax return.

Maybe if we focused more on the kind of person our child will be someday, instead of the title they will bear – they will naturally find the right path that also leads to a successful, fulfilled life.

Really, the kind of success that I hope my kids find is this: a life submitted to God, focused on His plans for them, and one that seeks contentment in a job well done – whatever that job might be.

“…she recognized the beauty of her sister’s life –uneventful, unambitous, yet full of the genuine virtues which ‘smell sweet, and blossom in the dust’, the self-forgetfulness that makes the humblest on earth remembered soonest in heaven, the true success which is possible to all.”

-Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

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