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Fear of success

It can happen around age 12.

Your daughter suddenly quits the team. Refuses to enter the music contest. Starts getting Bs when she’s always been an A student.

It isn’t laziness. It isn’t fear of failure. It’s fear of success.

Near the onset of puberty, your little girl who once out-ran all the girls and out-mathed all the boys wakes up one day and says, “I can’t,” when you know—and she knows—she absolutely can. Why?

Because sometimes success brings negative social repercussions, especially for adolescent girls. Insecure boys don’t like to be outdone, so they reject her for the girls who make them feel stronger and smarter. Competitive girls resent her achievements, so they kick her down the social ladder. In a hundred ways, her peers punish her for outpacing them, no matter how humbly she does so.

What’s a parent to do?

It might be tempting to sit that girl down and remind her, “To whom much is given, much is required.” That God demands she use her talents, not bury them.

Let’s not. Let’s not use the law in this way. Even if such tactics succeed and your daughter starts using her gifts faithfully again, she’ll be doing it out of guilt. She may even begin to resent the God whose love, it seems, comes with strings.

Instead, build her up.

  1. Tell your daughter you’re proud of her when she works hard, whether her efforts are successful or not.
  2. Be generous and specific with praise.
  3. Stop saying, “You can do anything, honey.” She knows it isn’t true, and it only makes her wonder whether your other praise is empty too.
  4. Make your home a safe place, where your daughter can say, “It felt so cool to win!” It’s honest, and having permission to say it at home may eliminate that feeling to seek praise in public, which really will hurt her social standing—and rightly so.
  5. When you see jealousy or pettiness in any of your kids, put your foot down. The family is a support network, not a rugby scrum.
  6. When you see jealousy or pettiness in your daughter’s friends, help her recognize it for what it is and try to understand the pain and insecurity that causes it.
  7. Foster humility by helping your daughter recognize that every person is gifted, whether those gifts win plaques at award banquets or not. And some of those gifts—humor, empathy, work ethic—will count far more in adulthood than fine free throw shooting. Your daughter may be gifted, but so is everyone else.

One of Satan’s favorite tools is to shut down Christians’ talents. He’ll tempt our daughters to make themselves smaller than they are, to sabotage themselves, to feel guilty when they faithfully use the gifts God gave.

Let’s not let that Liar win. Let’s help our daughters humbly and faithfully say, “I can do this. For my Savior I can do this.”

It’s not fair!

“It’s not fair,” my granddaughter insisted. “He’s playing with the toy I want!”

Jealousy. It’s inextricably woven into the fabric of family life. Siblings constantly compare who has the biggest or the best, who is most loved or most favored, who got the largest piece or the lesser penalty.

“It’s not fair!” Indignance radiated from her stance. Eyes glared. Lower lip pouted. Elbows flared from her hips like flying buttresses.

Jealousy springs from the sin-infected core that festers in us all. It’s more obvious in children because they haven’t learned to mask it as well as adults. It’s apparent in the seven-month-old who doesn’t want anyone else, even Dad, to hug Mom. It’s in the twenty-seven-month-old who insists that the toy he tired of ten minutes ago still belongs to him. It’s in the seven-year-old who has learned to cover over her jealousy by calling for fairness. It’s in the seventh-grader who didn’t make the cut for the basketball team and is angry with those who did. It’s in the seventeen-year-old who contends he alone, of all his friends, lacks a cell phone.

“It’s not fair!” she shouted again. This time her right foot punched against the floor . . . once, then a second time.

You might expect some advice at this point about helping kids recognize how jealousy has clawed out of their hearts, but this article is heading in another direction. A more personal, introspective direction.

I’m uncomfortable seeing jealousy in my grandkids because I know that I wrestle with it. We never outgrow sin’s selfishness, so none of us ever outgrows jealousy. Worse, jealousy is more infectious than the flu. I recognize that I teach everyone around me more about being jealous of others than about being content with the gifts my heavenly Father has given me.

I have to face it: my granddaughter’s selfish indignance was, to some degree, a reflection of the jealousy she had seen in me. I taught her how to grumble about a friend who has a larger bedroom, a newer doll, or a faster computer. I demonstrated for her how to express pained injustice when someone else stole “my parking place” at Walmart. She might have even seen me pout when the family voted down my choice for the last Netflix movie.

Helping my grandchildren overcome jealousy means I must face my own jealousies. My apology for failing to set a better example will go farther than the wag of an accusing finger. Even better is rejoicing together over God’s forgiving grace. But why stop there? Think of the power in teaming up against jealousy. My grandkids and I can commit to encouraging each other to be content, whatever our circumstances. How wonderful to hear, “Papa, quit complaining. Jesus always provides everything that’s important.”

Which wolf are we feeding?

God’s timing is always perfect. I received an e-mail asking to write about jealousy among siblings right after I received the call from the director of the upcoming young actors’ production. The news came in; Micah didn’t receive a part and his brother Silas did. Micah is the one who has been in a number of productions where he has been in the ensemble as well as main characters. Silas has only auditioned once before. This was setting up to be the perfect scenario for a great article on jealousy. All I had to do was watch and see what happens.

The first day of rehearsal came. Silas got ready to go. Micah got up from his video game, walked him out and said, “Have fun, Silas. You will have a blast.” Wait, what? Where was the drama? Where was the anger? And most importantly, where was the jealousy?

When I had a chance to talk to Micah one-on-one I asked him, “How are you doing it?”

“Doing what?”

“Every day you are watching Silas do something that you love. And you are being so gracious and encouraging. How are you doing it?”

He replied, “I don’t know, I guess I just focus on him more than myself.”

Our conversation led to the old Cherokee legend that talks about the battle going on inside each one of us. In the legend there is the battle between a good wolf and an evil wolf. The battle is won by the wolf that we feed.

As Christians we know this battle. It is the battle between our flesh and the Spirit. One is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, pride, superiority, and ego. The other is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Which one wins? The one that we feed.

Micah knows who he is in Christ. He gets what it means to love others. He gets what it means to put others before himself. The fruit of this child shows his relationship with his Heavenly Father is living and active. Ah, if only I could “get it” like my 12-year-old son.

This doesn’t mean that tears have not been shed. It doesn’t mean that Micah doesn’t struggle when he thinks about seeing his brother on stage while he will be in the audience. What it does mean is that in these struggles, he knows he has a choice; a choice to walk in the flesh or to walk in the Spirit. Our most important job as parents is to cultivate our children’s relationship with their Savior. The more they know who our God is, the more they know his voice, the more they walk with him.

Sibling rivalry

Our son’s first night home from the hospital, then three-year-old Anna, truly thrilled to be a big sister, but exhausted from all the excitement, proclaimed angrily as she went off to bed, “EVERYTHING IS NOT FAIR!” I’ve spent the last two-and-a-half years trying to convince her that what she proclaimed that night was truth.

Nobody warned me that I’d need several training courses in refereeing to parent two children. My life has suddenly turned into constant repetition of the phrases “Work it out!”, “Get off of your sister!”, “Use your gentle hands!”, and “I love both of you very much, neither more than the other.” Though my kids adore each other—it’s truly a blessing how well they usually play together—neither of them likes to feel that the other is getting a larger share of attention, fun, or other good things.

Anna had a loose tooth. Henry pretended his teeth were loose. Anna got mad that Henry was trying to steal her thunder.

Henry and I went to the zoo on a sunny morning to get out and give him something to do, other than systematically destroy our house. Anna found out after she got home from school and got angry that she didn’t get to go along. Henry saw her reaction and proceeded to talk about nothing but lions for the remainder of the day, resulting in Anna seething not-so-silently throughout dinner.

Anna, as a first grader, gets to participate in fun activities like school, Lutheran Girl Pioneers, and birthday parties. Henry often has a hard time understanding that younger siblings are not always welcome at these events (nor should they be!) and that his time for these activities is coming.

Determining my role in their developing relationship has been tricky for me from the start. I want them both to be happy. Don’t all mothers wish that for their children? But happiness is not a constant, nor a guarantee. So I try to focus on teaching them to deal in healthy ways with the frustrations and disappointments that come with the many great blessings of having a sibling. There will be times that things aren’t equal. There will be situations that are unfair. But I want them each to have the stability of knowing they are loved, regardless of what is going on in the moment.

I want them to enjoy the same experiences and to know that I want to spend time with them both. I hope they grow from this playmate/enemy relationship into a close friendship like I now enjoy with my adult brother and sister. But there’s only one of me. And between trying to keep us all fed, in clean(ish) clothes, and somewhat entertained, balance is a BIT hard to achieve right now. Henry, as most two-year-olds are apt to do, requires a lot more of my attention than six-year-old Anna does. Some days she handles this well. Other days, I’m thankful she doesn’t have access to eBay to rid herself of her sweet but pesty brother on her own.

It’s normal and natural for siblings to fight and argue. My goal is to teach them that, while life isn’t always fair, they are, regardless of circumstances, loved immensely by God and their parents. My hope is that by loving them each for who they are, they will grow into adult siblings who can love and support each other. Maybe along the way the “stop looking at me!” fight will die out? A mom can dream. . . .