Society is obsessed with success, which usually means fame and fortune. This seems increasingly to mean doing as little as possible, for as much as possible, and being entitled to more than others. We have gone to an extreme of business indicating some form of success — and therefore indicating popularity and desirability.
The story of Mary and Martha is a firm message from Jesus on this issue. Mary sits at the feet of Jesus, just sitting and listening in peace. I’m definitely one of these people who is always feeling the pressure of there being so much to do, and not having enough time to just sit and enjoy the peace.
I’ve been to a few parenting sessions or programmes over the years, and there are some recurring themes. Being present, playing with the child on their terms, reflective listening communication styles, acknowledging their feelings. It is easy to bring faith aspects to this — the courses I’ve been to have all been secular, but I certainly see them as compatible with a Christian faith and upbringing. I find myself thinking more and more — what do we want for our kids? What do we want them to be like and feel as adults? And the overwhelming sense, for me, is that they feel loved, and that they feel they belong. That sense of belonging, when it is absent or broken, can lead to so much isolation and heartache and, in some cases, mental health issues. To be feeling at peace in this way is success. How do we instil this in them?
We are fast approaching having our first teenager in the house, and most parents I know from our era are petrified at this. Success is getting a live child at the end who has finished school and has some positive sense of self-identity. This isn’t any exaggeration now. The rates of bullying — both in real life and online — and the rates of adolescent mental health disorders and self-harm and suicide are appalling and scary.
We can’t protect our children 24 hours a day from all negative influences. Throw in the sporting and academic expectations, and the kids can feel a lot of pressure. Is success getting top of your class? No, but I do think it is reaching your potential, and knowing you’ve done your best, and that will look different for each child.
Is success being in the 1st XI? Doesn’t have to be — giving sport a go, turning up every week and getting through the whole season with a team spirit is, in my mind, success.
We are understanding more that traits such as perseverance and resilience are what our children (and we) need to make it through life. Developing resilience actually means learning how to fail and make mistakes, and being ok with
that. Getting up afterwards, and moving forward and onward and upward. Success is learning and not giving up. Success isn’t how many followers you have on social media, and how many likes you get on a post, but it sure can feel that way. I think our kids are going to be prone to that, and we are currently keeping them free of their own social media accounts.
Success from a family perspective, I think, will look different for different families. Having a think about it, and having some goals and tying them back to your faith will help to guide you and your children to see what success is.
We often talk about how we wouldn’t want to be famous, as there are big downsides, and having enough money is all that you need. We want to help our kids learn to dissociate the concept of success from YouTube fame and excessive wealth.
Luke 10:41-42; “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Helen Luxford is a physician, working part-time. She is a parishioner of St Michael’s, Remuera. Together with her husband Michael, they are raising their children in the Catholic Faith and reflecting on the challenges and joys that brings.