This is Rex. He’s the king of kings and the lord of lords for most families.
Like all babies the moment he popped out changed his parents lives forever.
Born shortly before his physical birth are the high expectations for Rex. Not unlike generations past, Rex’s parents have ideals. They’d like to see him grow up to be a lawyer and maybe play some college football. Either way, Rex will get into a prestigious university with a full ride.
Before Rex was born, Rex’s mom (as her license plate proudly declares) was a manager at a health insurance company. But her family is her top priority so now she’s a stay-at-home mom. Her new job is to pour everything into baby Rex. And right from the moment Rex’s mom found out she was pregnant she has done everything right. She has moved from the manager of 15 employees to the manager of Rex’s life.
We all know this story. We all see it every day.
Parents who think their kid is special. Parents who push their kids into activities and “learning opportunities.” Parents whose lives completely revolve around providing the perfect incubator for their kids.
It’s an ivory tower. By the time most of us in youth ministry see Rex, he’s either living up to the expectations, faking it, or the ivory tower has collapsed.
All hell breaks loose when Rex, at 13, already hates football and just doesn’t have the aptitude to be a lawyer. He likes to work on engines. And that’s not going to cut it for parents who want him to go to law school and be the star wide receiver.
The first two years of high school will be painful until his parents finally relent and allow Rex to be who he wants him to be. Begrudgingly.
Middle-class American ideals have built an ivory tower which simply cannot bear the weight of the cultural expectations for middle-class children.
There are simply too many gods. Everyone cannot be special. Everyone cannot become a millionaire. Everyone cannot earn an athletic or academic scholarship.
But sit in any stands for any level of athletic competition and eavesdrop on parents talking about their kids. All parents have bought the lie that their kid is special.
They aren’t. Most kids are average. That’s why we call it average.
And yet parents set themselves on a failure-bound path and build their identity through the accomplishments of their children.
For Kristen and I, it took leaving middle-class white suburban America and moving into a melting pot city to have our eyes opened to this.
In Romeo, when we attended parent meetings, we were considered young. Really young. Most of the parents of elementary school children were in their late-30s to mid-50s. They drove massive SUVs, lived in big homes, went skiing in Vail and vacationed in Florida, proudly chased their children around from activity to activity, and couldn’t understand why we looked at them weird when they quoted Bon Jovi lyrics or referenced movies from before we were born.
Kristen and I had Megan when we were 24 years old. Having chosen of life of poverty– I mean working at a church— we had what we needed and splurged on some things every once in a while. At school and church we were constantly reminded that we were too young to be parents. Parents of our contemporaries said to us all the time, “You married so young! My daughter just isn’t ready. It must have been so hard.”
Living at home with an over-bearing mom sounds more stressful than getting married at 21. At least to me.
We lived in a nice house, drove a nice car, and had to budget which activities we could afford to put Megan and Paul in. But we made roughly half what other parents in the school made and were passively reminded of it all the time.
Rex, the Golden Calf
Many families in Romeo worshipped their children. It was a little scary. Little Rex went from school, [where mom volunteered 3 times per week) to a math tutor, [He was only in the percentile on math] to soccer practice, [dad’s the travel coach, so lets work on skills] to the house, [gotta do some homework and grab a quick dinner] to hockey practice. [ice time always has kids up late] It wasn’t unusual to see parents do this routine with each child, 4-5 days per week.
Parents were exhausted. Kids were exhausted. Yet no one questioned if all of this craziness really worked.
Kids love it, right?
And the kids were far worse off for it. No time to dream. No imagination allowed. No unorganized play. No time without adult supervision. Even in high school. On and on. Kids were tired and programed to death. And while these children marched through high school achieving a resume-building life, they couldn’t get into great colleges because they lacked the one thing it seemed the big schools valued more than a resume– independence.
Parents were far worse off for it, as well. It put way too much pressure on the marriage to race the kids around all over the place and blow countless thousands of dollar on travel hockey and travel soccer. We’d tell parents about our date nights while watching the kids play soccer and hear things like, “Oh my gosh, you guys go on dates every week? Tom and I haven’t had a date in years.” No wonder Rex was an only child! They spent $20,000 a year on activities but couldn’t afford $50 for a sitter and a date.
What’s up with that?
Rex was the center of their universe.
Simply put, there was no way Rex would live up to their expectations.
By the time they reached our high school group it was clear to see which Rex’s were still garnishing the parents worship and which had been cast off. When little Rex failed to live up to the expectations, Rex was likely to get put on a maintenance budget and largely ignored. (Hence, Romeo is known as a drug town.)
Here in San Diego we feel old when we go to the kids school! When we go to school activities we are clearly a few years older than the majority of parents. (There are a few parents our age.) And the earning power of the working poor is much different than the earning power of suburban middle class. Sure, kids are in activities, but they aren’t worshipped with the same ferocity. Typical kids in our school have a a parent who takes them to school, a grandparent who picks them up and watches them in the afternoon, and sees mom or dad when they get home late in the evening.
There are no Rex’s in our kids school.
The American dream for parents at Darnall in San Diego looks a lot different than the dream at Amanda Moore in Romeo. One dream is achievable/realistic while the other is a statistical impossibility.
This is the lie: A child, put in the “perfect environment,” will succeed at a higher rate than his peers in less-than-perfect environments.
This is the truth: Healthy, happy, well-adjusted children home will increase the likelihood of a happy, healthy, well-adjusted home.
This is the lie: You can incubate a high-achieving child.
This is the truth: Two of the last three Presidents of the United States came from pretty rough family backgrounds. Intrinsic work ethic overcame all other disadvantages.
This is the lie: High activity, camps, travel teams increase your child’s potential of an athletic scholarship.
This is the truth: Few college or professional prospects come out of those camps or travel squads in football, basketball, or baseball. Next level coaches are looking for qualities you can’t control like height, speed, instinct.
This is the lie: A 4.0 in high school will guarantee entrance to a prestigious university.
This is the truth: A well-rounded student will both get into good universities and graduate from good universities.