Achievement vs. Winning

Mother’s Day. While I bask in the traditions and rituals of being honored once a year by my sons, my daughter-in-law, and even my husband, I also think that this is a holiday during which I should in turn pay tribute to them! John Carter Cash expresses the reciprocal feelings in his ode to his mom, which he wrote in response to her life-long expression to him of unconditional love.

“Momma Loves Her Little Son” is a celebration in itself of the enduring bond between mother and child, a magical adventure that takes them over mountains and skyscrapers, through forests and streams, sailing on rainbows and dreams. Yes, Mom (June Carter) is always by his side, ready to intervene whenever he needs her.

Oops. I think that’s where we moms (and dads) often run into trouble. It’s that unconditional love “thing” that trips us up. How do we teach our kids to enjoy the challenges and embrace the failures while still making sure they know how durable our love is for them?

Cash compares a mother’s love to the toughness of a rhino’s hide and the eagerness of planted seeds in winter. You know, it occurs to me that we can harness the power of a mother’s love to support our children while not giving them the impression of entitlement.

Jeanne Twenge, author of “Generation Me,” and Keith Campbell have just written a book called “The Narcissistic Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement.” Jeanne explains that the goal should be about achieving, not winning. Unfortunately, our culture has taken the “winning” fork in the road and needs to get back on the “achieving” course before the narcissistic predispositions of today’s children land them at a dead-end. Effort and practice trump self-esteemia (the syndrome that arises from too good a self- image!) and self-admiration.

Jeanne’s advice to parents to avoid narcissism and its accompanying flaws and shortcomings is distilled into four key messages:

  • Say “no” and mean it.
  • Don’t give your child too much.
  • Be careful about the messages you are sending.
  • Don’t buy anything that says how great your child is.

This counsel is not easy to follow against the backdrop of a society where we also are told that we can alter our children’s I.Q., give them stimulants to improve their test scores, and administer standardized tests (albeit with cuddly names) to kindergarteners.

Interestingly, though, Professor Richard Nisbett, who recently demolished the notion that I.Q. is inherited only, provides suggestions for boosting genetic predisposition:

  • Praise efforts more than achievements.
  • Teach delayed gratification.
  • Tell middle school students that they can expand their own intelligence and help shape it.

These tactics are consistent with research from The Greater Good Science Center. Dr. Christine Carter details that “kids who reported facing more challenges in their lives were far happier than the kids who reported fewer (or no) challenges. That means not only is failure critical to success but it’s also a cornerstone of happiness.”

She concludes, “The thing we need to protect our kids from is not failure but a life void of failure.”

Winning, or being the best, or having an inflated sense of self all are symptoms of that dangerous disease – narcissism — that we sometimes, with the best of intentions, confuse with unconditional love.

On Mother’s Day, let’s all raise our glasses to the benefits of making mistakes and learning from failures!

Tuck-in Tips

  • What are some dreams or wishes you can picture in your imagination where a parent is helping you get there?
  • Can you think of something you might achieve on your own, and how do you think that would make you feel?
  • Talk about a time when you had to do something hard. Were you able to do it? If not, what did you learn for the next time you try something similar?