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Getting My Kids into Harvard Is Not My Endgame

Colleen Duggan - published on 05/31/16

... I'm shooting higher than that

I received an email from my nine-year-old daughter’s dance studio, stating that if she missed any more ballet classes, she would not participate in the yearly recital. I did my due diligence and typed up an explanation for her absence coupled with an appropriate apology. It took sincere effort, however, to refrain from reminding the director that Mary is not a professional dancer.

Nor is she an Olympic athlete.

Mary will not grace the stage as Baryshnikov’s ballet partner, but finds great enjoyment in the fundamentals of dance. Her pleasure is enough for me to continue with lessons. I don’t care if she isn’t the lead in the Nutcracker ballet or occasionally misses practices because of legitimate family commitments.

I live in an area where children’s extracurricular schedules run parents. Moms and dads across my state spend their time outside of work toting kids from music lessons, to dance classes, to robotics clubs, art, soccer, baseball, horseback riding, lacrosse, etc. There is no time for family dinners or throwing the football or reading aloud. There is no time for children to foster creativity.

Some families do whatever it takes financially to make sure their children have a fighting chance at a “successful” life, even if it means mortgaging the house or putting extracurricular activities on a credit card. These parents think the more opportunities their children have, the greater the chance their children will do well. If parents push kids hard to achieve, they believe, their kids will carry a workhorse effort with them into life, potentially becoming CEOs of companies, doctors, lawyers, or—at least—high-wage employees.

As if that is the be-all-and-end-all of what it means to be a successful person.

While stellar academics and extracurriculars will likely develop certain educational skills and athletic abilities to aid children in life, raising successful kids in the eyes of the world is not my ultimate goal. If producing doctors, lawyers and CEOs of corporations were my parenting endgame, I would do all it took to ensure Mary never missed a dance class and that she made straight As. That might improve her chances of worldly success but there would be no guarantees.

Thankfully, producing a child who attends an Ivy League or becomes a corporate CEO is not my parenting endgame. My goal is this: that my kids develop an appreciation for what is beautiful, good, and true, and for them to spend their lives pursuing those things to make the world a better place.

My endgame is for my children to desire heaven.

My endgame for my children is to love God and their neighbor.

My endgame is that my children discern God’s will for them (which may be in the field of medicine, or law or business or plumbing or carpentry) and apply what they’ve used in their academic and artistic formation to fulfill His desire.

My endgame is not high SAT scores or National Merit scholars (though, let’s be real, I’m not opposed to them). My endgame is not children who become cardiologists or Supreme Court justices, unless God wants it first. My endgame is not padded resumes and acceptances into name-brand schools.

It’s not that I don’t care about my children’s worldly future; I devote my time to offering a classical curriculum, including great books, grammar, writing, Latin, science, music, art, and math because this educational approach will develop humans who value human life because that life is created in the image of God, and who value human beings for that reason, and not simply for the work they produce. This educational approach will help my children know how to think about and discuss complex issues and problem solve in a way that serves humanity and not the other way around. If it brings them worldly success, all the better, but that’s just the extra point after the touchdown.

Some might say I’m a parent who doesn’t require my children to do hard things, a parent who doesn’t have appropriate goals for her children.

I disagree. Nothing is more difficult than perfect union with God. Heaven requires a death to self and a desire to do God’s will alone. Getting to heaven isn’t for wimps; it’s for people in it to win it.

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