Rethinking the ‘every opportunity’ mindset

Laura K. Silver is a trustee of the Jewish Light who writes a blog for the paper’s website (stljewishlight.com/laura). Laura is married and the mother of two middle school age children.

By Laura K. Silver

Fellow parents, I think we’ve been sold a bill of goods. Parenting has always been hard, but these days, people of our generation knock themselves out in the name of giving our kids “every opportunity.” We spend our lives shuttling from one music or art lesson to the next, from one select sports team to another, allowing our kids to have experience after experience so as not to miss out on anything.

After years of trying to make sure my kids have every advantage I can give them in life, I have come to revisit the premise. Economics aside (although it’s hard to set it aside given how much we end up spending), I’ve begun to believe that parents can’t give kids “every opportunity,” because it simply does not exist. 

Whole industries have been based on our fears, as parents, of our kids missing out and not having that leg up. Select leagues didn’t exist when I was in school, but now they are a multi-billion dollar industry. We take it as a given that our kids should participate and that these opportunities will make them the very best they can be. But is it a given?

Like everyone I know, I want the best for my kids. I want them to live happy, successful, productive lives. I’ve just come to believe that “every opportunity” doesn’t guarantee this. Not even close.  

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When I look to the people in this world I admire most, they weren’t the ones who were given “every opportunity.” They were the ones who were given opportunities to build character or they made their own opportunities.  Diligence, persistence, overcoming failures, disappointment, hard work, facing adversity, empathy—these are the qualities I want my kids to have. These will help them achieve success and be prepared for the world in a way that “every opportunity” cannot.   

As a parent, I am the one who needs to draw the line. Even if I can economically afford to give them everything life has to offer, is that really in their ultimate best interest? Or am I setting myself up for kids who don’t understand the work that went into being able to provide that exact privilege?  Ultimately, my job isn’t to raise kids who live in fantasy land. My job is to raise people who can function productively in society as adults.

When I think about it rationally, by striving to give my kids “every opportunity,” by shuttling from this activity to that one, I fail to give them other opportunities that are equally, if not more valuable—opportunities for family dinners where they can discuss their thoughts and issues, opportunities to understand the value of money and what that money buys and does not buy, opportunities to know what it feels like to hunger for something and not be able to get it, opportunities to miss out, opportunities to fail, opportunities to not be great at something and have to work hard on their own to get better, opportunities to sympathize with people who miss out regularly because they do not have the economic resources to participate in “every opportunity.”

I’m beginning to think that after all of these years of driving my kids from here to there to everywhere, it turns out that I’m the one who could really benefit from some lessons of my own.

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