There is a lot of pressure on parents these days. Some of it is legitimate and some of it we put on ourselves. Some of it’s silly—“Is your child potty-trained? Sleep-trained? Can they ride a bike? Do they eat kale?” And some of it, while still pressure inducing, reflects the need for necessary character building. “Do they look adults in the eye? Do they say please and thank you? Have they kicked the biting habit yet?”
It’s a lot. And as a parent, sometimes I wonder if my desire to mold these little boys into better humans is for their own benefit or mine—to make me look better around the people I know.
But then something comes up in the news like it has these past couple of weeks, and I realize the pressure is actually so much greater than I thought it was. And so much more is on the line than I ever imagined.
Brock Turner was a college freshman, extremely talented and on his way to becoming something pretty great (a fact the media won’t let you forget) when he was charged with rape. Rape of an unconscious woman. A rape that only stopped because two people happened to see him and he ran away.
As a mom, this story is terrifying. As a mom to boys, it’s nearly debilitating. How does this happen? How does a little boy, once all giggles and dancing eyes grow up and do something so horrendous and shameful—and then still not fully grasp the magnitude of his wrongdoing?
In recent days, the story has taken a new twist with the letter the defendant’s dad wrote to the judge on behalf of his son, pleading with him to give his boy a lighter sentence. His future is bright, after all. The Olympics may be on the horizon. He has so much potential.
And as many have already pointed out, it’s the father’s letter that details what’s really wrong. If Brock’s dad can’t see the wrongness of his son’s action, how can we expect his son to?
But I think it’s more than that. I think, like this letter demonstrates, we have good intentions for our kids that end up robbing them of the best possible future.
To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with the big dreams Brock’s parents had for him—the big dreams we have for all of our children. We spend lots of time and money trying to pin point their talent and then building into that talent, investing into that skill, so that our kids know the feeling of excelling and succeeding. In fact, it’s easy to imagine how Brock’s parents must have glowed with pride in finding their son excelling in swimming, dreaming of how their little boy might be great one day.
I too know how tempting it is to paint impressive pictures of who our kids can become, telling them they have the world at their fingertips and limitless potential. I know how badly we want to make them believe who they will one day become is important, asking them repeatedly, “What do you want to be when you grow up? Where do you want to go? What do you want to do?”
I understand it because I participate in it. Whether it’s an athletic ability or a an academic ability or a creative ability, I watch with hawk eyes on my little boys to see just where their gifting might lie so I can speak into the sure and certain future they are to have because of it.
But I think it becomes a problem, a disservice, when the focus shifts toward our children’s future performance in a skill, to the detriment of the present development of character. When this happens, stories like the Stanford rape case become more likely. Because if all we’re ever focused on in our child is the possibility of a distant someday, we neglect the necessary and hard work of building into today, who they can start being today.
I believe tomorrow’s future is only as bright as today’s work is hard.
And becoming one-of-a-kind adults who excel in compassion and kindness, in humility and empathy, in respect and gentleness means we must start practicing those things right now.
There was a lot wrong, a lot evil and a lot broken in the Stanford rape case. The details are enough to make knots of your stomach and fists of your hands. It was terrifying and maddening and made all the more so because it didn’t have to happen.
Had Brock grown up knowing the best thing about him wasn’t his potential as a swimmer, but his potential as a man—as a human being made in God’s image, who bears the responsibility of loving and honoring the humanity of God’s image in others—this would have been avoided.
But the problem we witnessed with the Stanford case, among other things, is a kid who did what he wanted, at the expense of someone else, and who believed that was okay. What we witnessed is a kid being sold a future so bright, he became lazy about what was required of him today. And it makes sense. If all we care about is the grandiose someday of our kids, we create entitled and lethargic children—who grow into entitled and lethargic adults with little depth to their character, but sweeping views of their potential.
And that’s a shame. For our kids, but also for society as a whole.
Let’s be honest. The pressure on parents can be ridiculous. But in certain areas, it’s not enough. We are raising future adults who must be capable of making adult decisions in adult circumstances, and who won’t be equipped to make them well if they don’t start feeling the weight of their decisions now.
How do we expect them to become the people who change the world, love their neighbors and serve their friends, if they aren’t practicing those very noble and worthy tasks today?
It won’t happen by accident. It takes purpose and intention. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much purpose and intention to become the opposite—someone who still believes their future potential trumps their present behavior.
I believe we all make mistakes. I believe we are all one bad decision away from making a mess. And I believe that’s true of our kids too. But I also think the values we instill in our kids now, the work we are doing to develop the character that will go the distance in the long run, sets our kids up for more success than any hope in some arbitrary skill will.
Who our kids are becoming matters today, and tomorrow. So I’m going to focus my efforts there. On raising adults.
I’ll fill my boys up with promises of a great future—a future they have an active role in creating. I’ll assure my boys of a hopeful someday—that depends fully on the work they invest today. I’ll tell them tomorrow is bright. But only as bright as they want it to be. I will make every effort to parent with more than just who they can become in mind. I will parent with who they can be right now in mind. And I’ll do it in hopes that the world and the people around them will be better because of it.