How do we define "success" for our children?

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Discus: Parents Forum: 2004 Archive - Part 2: How do we define "success" for our children?
By Constancet (Constancet) on Tuesday, August 03, 2004 - 10:23 am: Edit

I was wondering if anyone had done any research into colleges and universities that might encourage personal growth in addition to academics. I was an attorney before I was a stay at home mom and I knew a lot of miserable human beings who had sterling resumes from the "right places". If anyone knows about John Kerry's brother, Cam, and his campaign to turn St. Paul's school into a more human place you'll know what I'm talking about. I went to good colleges, but I am trying to encourage my children to look into post secondary school experiences that might not be the same old introduction into the rat race...places where they might grow as human beings instead of just experiencing competition and one-upsmanship.
I define "success" for my children as growing up to be happy, well adjusted, kind and caring individuals who know how to think outside the box.

Is there anyone on this website who has worried about this and looked into the subject? What colleges would you recommend?

By Alexandre (Alexandre) on Tuesday, August 03, 2004 - 10:29 am: Edit

I would never rely on a university to teach values or personal growth to my children. I think that's something nobody is better qualified to teach than the child's parents. Just my opinion. Of course, I have no kids to speak of, so what do I know?! LOL

But I agree with your definition of success 100%.

By Patient (Patient) on Tuesday, August 03, 2004 - 10:34 am: Edit

Constancet...reading your post before running off to court (I have always been a "stay-at-home-in-the-afternoon" mom)...

I agree with your definition. You might want to get the book entitled "Cool Colleges" (you can find it on Amazon). It has been a while since I looked at it, but I think that it was written to some extent from this perspective. Also, just allowing your child--and helping them to identify--the right "fit" for your child goes a long way toward encouraging the result you are desiring, rather than looking for prestige or connections.

By Alongfortheride (Alongfortheride) on Tuesday, August 03, 2004 - 10:49 am: Edit

Undergraduate experiences come in all sizes and shapes. Researching schools from that angle can give you all kinds of information. A lot of schools are known for great grad schools, but so so undergrad experiences. Nothing beats sitting down with your kids and asking them what they want from college and really listening to what they have to say. What's great for one may not be great for the other, and don't be surprised if they are interested in some of the same schools you went to!

By Originaloog (Originaloog) on Tuesday, August 03, 2004 - 11:22 am: Edit

Being happy, confident, ethical, diligent, humble and optimistic young adults. Other than wishing my son was a wee bit more diligent, he fills the bill nicely.

By Emeraldkity4 (Emeraldkity4) on Tuesday, August 03, 2004 - 11:24 am: Edit

In Addition to Cool Colleges by Donald Asher which I have because a goodly chunk is written about Reed where my daughter ended up, I would also suggest colleges that change lives by Loren Popeand making a difference college guide by Miriam Weinstein .

By Mom101 (Mom101) on Tuesday, August 03, 2004 - 12:01 pm: Edit

Constancet, can you tell me what this efffort at St. Paul's is or where I can read about it?

By Arizonamom (Arizonamom) on Tuesday, August 03, 2004 - 12:28 pm: Edit

There is a list somewhere called Colleges that build character. I have run across it a few times in various searches. I'm off to work but will look for the resource later this agternoon when I get back

By Emeraldkity4 (Emeraldkity4) on Tuesday, August 03, 2004 - 12:36 pm: Edit

They've left a lot out but it is a good place to start.

By Patient (Patient) on Tuesday, August 03, 2004 - 02:22 pm: Edit

Thanks, Emerald--I knew there was another one and I'd forgotten it (Colleges that change lives).

By Jamimom (Jamimom) on Tuesday, August 03, 2004 - 03:00 pm: Edit

That is a really good question that the OP has asked, and is one with ever so many different answers. Some of us, unfortunately define success in unreasonable terms for our children, and too much in terms of money, academics, jobs and other things that are not really the most central issues in life, though they certainly bear influence .

I think we have been making this definition for many years for our children in how we talk, what we respect and our goals for them. Hopefully, values, character, compassion figure into all of this. At the same time there is an element of pragmatism that comes into the decision as well. A virtuous person who cannot sustain a certain minimum standard of living for himself, and for his dependents is not successful in that regard, which is an important issue.

In many ways, regardless of which college our children choose, college becomes a proving ground for all of the lessons we have been teaching our children, subconsciously as well as deliberately. You may be surprised at what comes up. We had so many negative issues with our boys, and seemed to always be harping on them about some lacking or other, so it was not until they were in college for about a year or so, that we noticed that our kids were quite frugal and watched the finances carefully. Particularly, in contrast to some kids for whom this became an issue. We also saw many lessons unlearned as well, and can only hope that they continue to mature and learn.

By Sybbie719 (Sybbie719) on Tuesday, August 03, 2004 - 03:35 pm: Edit

ITA with some of the characteristics that have been written so far as the definition of a successful person. While I love my child with a passion, she has grown up to be someone who I actually like.

By Archermom (Archermom) on Tuesday, August 03, 2004 - 11:06 pm: Edit

Constancet...How about small LACs that abide by an honor code and builds "community?" Yes, I do believe there are parents here that believe in the right fit for their children...but, it some students are better suited in larger college communities.

By Outwest5 (Outwest5) on Tuesday, August 03, 2004 - 11:58 pm: Edit

Mills College fits the original posters requirements to a tee and so does Wells College (these are both womens colleges). Pitzer College is also known for this. I think small liberal arts colleges in general fit the bill better than large universities in this regard.

There is that book called "Colleges that change lives" that has a lot of this kind of thing.

I agree that the goal is to have a productive, happy human being.

By Constancet (Constancet) on Wednesday, August 04, 2004 - 10:39 am: Edit

In response to Mom101's question about Cam Kerry's experiences at St. Pauls(you don't have an email address in your profile so I'll post it to the board):

I read about Cam Kerry's mission to turn St. Paul's school into a more human/caring place in the New York Times several months ago. I think it's no secret that John Kerry didn't flourish there socially either.

I read the article with keen interest because although I am a lifelong Episcopalian, my son had a difficult time adjusting to an all-boys Episcopal school (day school) we enrolled him in when we moved to a new city 2 1/2 years ago. While the kids weren't mean to him here, there was an elitism about being from "here" (I won't disclose the city where we now live) and there was an intensely competitive atmosphere at his new school, even on the playground, and he's a very small child. He did great academically but became very withdrawn, emotional and sad.

The Times article quoted some observations that Cam Kerry and his friends had about St. Paul's, which almost word for word captured my opinon of the first school my son attended here. It is my understanding that St. Paul's made some very positive changes as a result of Kerry's efforts.

Everyone thought we were crazy to leave our school last year since everyone was fighting to get in there, and this has led me to give quite a bit of thought to the subject of what makes a child a success. Is being miserable and academically successful in an elite school better than being happy elsewhere?

I also read "Expecting Adam" with my book group around the same time all this was happening...and the writer's descriptions about the competitive and elitist environment at Harvard. I feel this book would give a lot of "thinking" parents pause about what is "success" for their child.

I'm glad to find out there are like minded parents on this board. Thanks for your suggestions.

By Jamimom (Jamimom) on Wednesday, August 04, 2004 - 11:16 am: Edit

"Expecting Adam" is a great book. I really think parents with all sorts of children can learn so much reading about experiences with the handicapped and challenged. I have found that much of the advice in dealing with issues with these children can also successfully used with "normal" kids. Some of my most successful teaching techniques have come from parents who have to work with kids that have to be taught things that are often automatic to children.

"Expecting Adam" also makes one think about this competitive environment that our children are in. A lot of ugly people in that book. I remember one woman where we used to live who fosters Downs children. She went to the airport to meet on of her new charges who was accompanied by the baby's grandmother who was heartbroken about the decision to "give away" this child. The parents were successful, from top school, great jobs, who just did not want to deal with the issues that a Downes child has. They wanted the "perfect" child, and felt the child would be better off placed with someone who was willing to do what was best for him. This was an eye opener for me, as I had thought these children were referred in dire situations. I found out that 4 out of the 7 kids this family had, were placements from families that just did not want to deal with the handicaps that the children had. And as many of you probably know, I have taken in kids from within our family that the parents pretty much deserted.

Teaching kids to be good people really involves living ones life that way as well. Sometimes in this fast life that many of us are experiencing, especially our kids, it's hard to stoke the moral growth.

By Emeraldkity4 (Emeraldkity4) on Wednesday, August 04, 2004 - 11:41 am: Edit

It is unfortunate that the act that makes us parents has nothing to do with how well we will parent.
My oldest was born 10 weeks early, and had multiple medical issues that were common to premies. While I visited her in the hospital I observed many heartbreaking cases, one in particular when a baby who was going to be given to adoptive parents was born. ( I was at a "teaching" hospital, and babies that were only slightly premature were also in the NICU) This little girl was expected to live although would have needed to stay in the hospital for about a month. Tragically, the child died and nurses attributed it too the lack of attention from either the adoptive parents or the birth mother ( neither had visited).
I would have given her attention but because of privacy issues I wasn't allowed to even peer at her other than in passing, and since my daughter was in isolation it was big deal to go in and out of the room
Neighbors also adopted a baby girl, but "gave her back" after about 6 months when they felt she wasn't a "good fit".
I really have mixed feelings about parents that do this. On the one hand I wonder what they would have done if they had been the birth parents, given her up for adoption? On the other hand I don't feel that "God only gives us what we can handle", why else would child abuse, murder/suicide involving parents rates be so high?
My 2nd daughter is very very stressful, doctors did not know what was wrong and would rather downplay my concerns than admit it. I didn't get more than a few hours sleep a night for years and she still is a young teen who has a difficult time in life. I admit now that I had visions of driving us both off a bridge because I just couldn't go on any more but did not want to leave her without a mother. Society and the medical community are not very helpful with something that is not visible. Have a broken arm and you get sympathy, but have a child that gets so overwhelmed being out in public that she had a sudden tantrum or breakdown and you get comments like " I wouldn't let my child behave like that or she needs a good spanking!".
Thank the goddess for parents like Jamimom, but there is just not enough support both emotionally and financially in the community to raise children that has "Issues", parenting is difficult ( and rewarding) enough but parenting challenging children is a whole nother ball of wax

By Sokkermom (Sokkermom) on Wednesday, August 04, 2004 - 11:53 am: Edit

I think a major component to the "success" formula that is often overlooked and often taken for granted is the Health component.

Our 12 year old daughter (child #2) was diagnosed with a (somewhat manageable) chronic illness at age 6. In our opinion, she will be successful in life if she can continue to stay healthy and enjoy the things that "normal" kids take for granted. This really tends to put things in perspective.

She is the kindest, sweetest, human being that you could ever meet (I would say that even if I wasn't her Mom). She is a great student, wonderful musician, and exceptional athlete. However, none of that means anything if she doesn't stay healthy.

Big brother is headed off to college. When he was asked who has been the most influential person in his life as far as motivating him to succeed, his immediate response was that it had to be his little sister. I guess even at age 12, she has already achieved a type of success that many of us never will.

By Quink (Quink) on Wednesday, August 04, 2004 - 12:24 pm: Edit

#1 priority for my DS - a joyous life - contentment and happiness and engagement

#2 - opportunities, and the will, to develop talents and attain the inner satisfaction of achievement in one or more disciplines.

About #2 - not limited to the future profession -applies to any life endeavor, like mastering a role in a musical, giving your all in a sports event, etc. Accomplishments lead to satisfaction. (Wish I could remember who stated that happiness comes from "taking trouble" to master something for which you have a passion).

As far as a college environment to foster goodness and happiness (#2 above) is concerned, I think the most important factor is the nature of the individual, as we have control (or at least influence) over our own state of mind, but little to none over circumstances in the world.

The challenge is how best to support the individual in this development. I would say the best support is "keeping good company." This helps a person maintain his/her courage to face inner intellectual, moral, and spiritual challenges, By 'good company,' I mean peers that share a desire to lead an examined life, seek for and face the truth about themselves, and the passion for learning that this implies.

However, even among collections of extremely bright students at top colleges, there is no guarantee that most of them are in college to learn to ask the right questions - of themselves first. That is an orientation, rather than a strict correlation with IQ/SATs/grades/etc. Some schools foster this orientation, others do not.

Beneath that, as a general, underlying support, what I would look for first is a college that was low on the "issues" quotient - in other words, the student body tends to get along. A contentious environment may force premature crystalization of perspectives, which may take more energy to de-construct later, or which may never be examined. People at war don't have sufficient time or emotional leisure to question their beliefs.

My son's large public high school is a wonderful example of a non-contentious environment - it is highly diverse - a tolerant, enlightened institution - although there is some clustering around ethnic and racial groups, there are no polarizing incidents and everyone seems to feel very comfortable. The activities (band, sports, theatre, student government, chorus, etc.) produce cohesive, multi-cultural, friendly groups. In short, it is a friendly school without student body issues. This has been an important general supporting factor for my son. He has been free to develop his interests while interacting with many different perspectives - experiencing no pressure to conform to any particular group's views or ideology.

An example of how this has allowed him to keep an open mind and engage in the process of self-discovery is his attitude towards the upcoming election. My son watched some of the Democratic convention. As an avid Democratic Patriot (thank you, John Kerry and Barack Obama, for showing the way for us to proudly use those two words together again!) I have always expressed my "Blue" views around the house. My son's grandfather, by contrast, is an ex-military die-hard Republican. The three of us went to see Farenheit 9/11 (I warned my father in advance that he wouldn't like it, but he was brave enough to go anyway.) Afterwards, my son said that he thought it was a good film - it was interesting and useful to see the propaganda of one side of the political spectrum. Now he wants to watch the Republican convention to see the propaganda of the other side. He said that he didn't know enough about the issues yet to determine his personal views on some of them, and that all of the media seemed biased from either one perspective or the other. My point - thus far, he has easily been able to resist being influenced by the strong views expressed by both sides. He has started to think about the issues and hopefully will continue to develop his conclusions.

Thinking for yourself, weighing life choices, facing issues without fear - this is where morality begins.

By Collegehelper (Collegehelper) on Wednesday, August 04, 2004 - 12:57 pm: Edit

a fairly simple answer. Success if what you make of it and what truly defines success to you.

By Enjoyingthis (Enjoyingthis) on Wednesday, August 04, 2004 - 01:05 pm: Edit

Emerald-- my sympathy. I hate it when other parents think they know (and tell you) what you ought to be doing! Kids are all so different, and often, what's going right with their kids is just plain good luck, not anything they did. For example-- my firstborn slept through the night at ten days old. Pure luck and I sure didn't go around telling others what they were doing wrong in failing to achieve this!

By Dmd77 (Dmd77) on Wednesday, August 04, 2004 - 01:14 pm: Edit

Sleeping through the night: I remember my pediatrician telling me that, at 8 weeks, my daughter should be sleeping through the night. Turned out my pediatrician's definition of "sleeping through the night" was *her* night: midnight to 5 AM. Explains why she had five children (in five years) and a medical practice too and I was exhausted with two children and a parttime job!

By Emeraldkity4 (Emeraldkity4) on Wednesday, August 04, 2004 - 01:36 pm: Edit

Thanks it is much easier than it was, but she still is someone who has a difficult time with life, and hard to know how to support that other than usual methods.
Have you seen the old New Yorker cartoon of the new parents walking out the door with their new baby asking what time they should wake her for feedings?

By Ohio_Mom (Ohio_Mom) on Wednesday, August 04, 2004 - 06:13 pm: Edit

Someone mentioned being well-adjusted earlier in this thread. I am reminded of - I think - Woody Guthrie's song - "I don't want to get adjusted to this world".

By Mackinaw (Mackinaw) on Wednesday, August 04, 2004 - 07:46 pm: Edit

I recall a wonderful speaker at my daughter's college graduation last year who urged the graduates to do their best to avoid normality. By this he meant that they shouldn't settle for the conventional, things as they are, the possibilities as defined by others. Rather they should look to do new things, challenge convention and authority. And if they avoided normality for as long as they could they would also be successful because after all they were all enormously talented. (This was, after all, an 'art' school.)

I do think that as parents we often push our kids toward normal things -- the best education (for them!), a reasonably remunerative job, "interesting" relationships and learning opportunities. But in fact they are the ones who are going to have to determine their course in life, not delimited by us but defined afresh by themselves.

By Perry (Perry) on Wednesday, August 04, 2004 - 07:52 pm: Edit

>Rather they should look to do new things, challenge convention and authority.>

This kind of speech always sound good, but there can be many unpleasant consequences for those who challenge authority. Those in positions of power do need to be challenbged and held accountable by those who are both courageous and principled, but the outcome is not always just. Apologies for being such a downer.

By Mackinaw (Mackinaw) on Wednesday, August 04, 2004 - 08:27 pm: Edit

Well anyone who runs around challenging authority wherever and whenever s/he encounters it has a problem, obviously. But there is definitely a point to being skeptical of the received wisdom (read: "authority") on many subjects.

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