Redefining Toxic Ideas of “Success”
Before I became a parent, my idea of “success” was in line with what most people seem to think it is. Going to university, getting a good career, having a good salary. It makes you successful right? And if you’ve raised a child who has a good career and a good salary, that makes you a successful parent, right?
That’s what I was raised to believe. I was told that if you were intelligent, you went to university. That was just what you did. So I went along with what I’d been told I should do. What I realised in retrospect what that I basically followed what I now realise was my narcissistic mother’s dream. She had spent her life regretting dropping out of her A-Levels after being offered a job, and so she wanted me to go to university, and live the life that she’d wanted for herself.
It was actually just under a year before I got pregnant with my daughter that I decided that this conventional idea of ‘success’ was just not true — not for me, anyway. I was studying for a degree in Law when I realised that I was not enjoying it, and that Law wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life.
It took a lot of soul searching before I came to the decision to drop out of university. This wasn’t an easy decision to make — I had been raised to believe that, by dropping out of university, I would be ‘wasting’ my ‘intelligence’ and ‘potential’, and ruining my chance of ever being conventionally ‘successful’. I knew that my family would think that I would be throwing away the dream career that would basically “make” my life. That I would be a university drop-out — and probably a failure as far as my mother was concerned.
At this point, I was already no contact with my mother (and, by extension, the vast majority of my maternal family). However, it wasn’t long before I had these beliefs reinforced by my paternal family. I was told by my dad and great-aunt that they thought I was being ‘really stupid’ and that I had ‘ruined my life’. Just another few years of university and I would have a good career, a good salary. When I protested, saying that I wasn’t happy and I didn’t want to have a career in law, I was told again that I was being really stupid. So basically, I should do what makes me miserable, as long as it pays well.
It just helped me to reject my old beliefs even more. How can being a slave to a job you hate just for the sake of a salary and a reputation ever be considered successful? So I overthrew everything I’d been taught and redefined success for myself. To me, success is happiness. Find a job you love, even if it’s not the best paid. Have kids if that is what you want. Fall in love. Live your life. Enjoy your life. And do what you want to do, not what your family wants you to do.
I fully reject the idea that raising a child who gets a good job and a good salary makes you a successful parent. Is your child happy? Are they safe? Do they know they can come to their parent with any issue? Personally I will be happy if my daughter grows up to be happy and healthy. The job she does or how many zeros are on her paycheck are entirely irrelevant.
Raising a happy, healthy child, who is loved and who knows how to love — who follows their dreams and is not scared to live their life the way they want to — who can stand up for themselves when they feel wronged. That’s what makes a successful parent.
Not putting money before your own child’s happiness.