When We Push Our Kids to Excel

Let's be sure we're working on their behalf, not ours

I’ve watched parents raise children for 30 years (and raised four of my own), so I know how hard it is.

If your daughter came home and decided to sit in a closet the rest of her life, would you still love her the same?

Here, I share a question that came to me as a pediatrician, as well as my answer to this parent. I hope this is helpful and insightful for other parents who may have wanted to ask the same question — and who will appreciate some guidance.

Dear Dr. Meeker,
I feel that I push my daughter SO much with her schoolwork. I want her to have all honors classes; I want her to get straight As. I feel the need to have her make the dance team; I want her to tutor throughout the summer to excel in math, like her cousins and friends.

I feel so responsible for my child’s happiness and boredom because she’s an only child. I am one of three siblings, so I feel sorry for her that she has none. I feel responsible for her successes, intellect, and failures. She’s such a great kid. I just want to do right by her. I want her to be all that she can be and know that I believe in her and that she can do all things through Christ.

I repeat this to her often. I still feel guilty and almost like I am drowning sometimes. Ultimately, I want to raise a good, Godly, and happy young lady. I want her to love her life and not to be as stressed as she is sometimes.  How can I balance wanting her to be her best at school and being able to be calm and happy? I want to stop going 100 mph here and there because that’s what I feel will give her the “edge” to be the best. I struggle with that a lot.

A Concerned Mom

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Dear Mom,
You need to back off from pushing your daughter because it is very unhealthy. Here’s why.

Encouraging children to have high standards and to work hard is important for parents to do — but what you are doing goes beyond that. And it is not healthy for either you or your daughter.

First, you are parenting from guilt, not strength. Guilt tells you that you should feel sorry for her because she is an only child. This is ridiculous. She knows you feel sorry for her and thinks that something is wrong with her life. Stop this. Many children grow up without siblings and are very happy and well-adjusted.

Second, insisting that your daughter excel at everything communicates one thing loudly and clearly: What I value most about you is how well you perform. Is that something that you really want to teach her? I assume not. What your daughter needs to know from you is that you love and accept her no matter how well she does at anything! In other words, if she came home and decided to sit in a closet the rest of her life, would you still love her the same?

Related: Why Daughters Need Their Dads So Much

Third, you are pushing her, not because she needs or wants it, but truthfully, because you want to feel like a stellar mom. You have fallen into a trap that millions of parents have. You said, “I am responsible, I want her to … be just like her cousins.”

Your feelings about her and her success are mixed up with your feelings about yourself. If you produce a high-performing, excellent daughter, then you will feel like a successful mother. This is wrong for you and for your daughter and you are setting both of you up for misery.

Think about how you want God to see you. Would you like it if God pushed you to make more money, cook better meals, lose 15 pounds, go back and get a higher degree, a better job, or get into excellent athletic shape? No! You would feel like a used, manipulated doll. That’s exactly how your daughter feels when you push her. The most precious thing you want from God is His love that says, no matter what no matter when, you can never shake my love from you.

Related: Tips for Parenting Your Teen

I strongly encourage you, for the time being, to stop telling your daughter that she can do all things through Christ who strengthens her. It would be more appropriate to say, you can do all things through ME who pushes you. How do you know what Christ wants for her? Here’s one thing we know he cares more about than her academic and athletic success: having a love for Him and serving His people. And — He is far more interested in her developing strong character than strong performance.

You need to do some serious soul-searching regarding why you do what you do with her. Leave her alone and let her breathe. I promise, you will have a much healthier relationship and she will like being around you a whole lot more.

I made a podcast about parenting your child’s inner vs. outer world and I strongly suggest you listen to it. My podcast is on iTunes and it is called: Parenting Great Kids.

Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for 30 years. She is the author of the online course, “The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.”

meet the author

Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for more than 30 years. She is the author of the book “Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need” (Regnery Publishing), along with a number of digital parenting resources and online courses, including The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.

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