By guest author Cindy Puhek
What picture comes to mind when I say “stage mother?” Most of us think of a parent of a talented child who is excelling in some activity like theater, music, or sports. This parent has crossed the line from being supportive to being overly invested in unhealthy ways. This Mom is always advocating for opportunities for her child, she is easily angered at real or perceived injustice towards her child, and is jealous of another child’s opportunities, talents, or successes. This mom is often described as toxically living vicariously through her children.
The definition of vicarious is “experienced through the feelings or actions of another person.” Living vicariously through my children and becoming a pushy, destructive Mom as a result is a very real temptation. As parents, the glory and praise for our children’s accomplishments are reflected onto us. People congratulate us. They ask us for advice. In some ways, parents of successful children become famous and that can feel really good. We can feel important and significant because we have a successful child.
As homeschooling parents, the reflected glory from our children’s accomplishments is even greater because our investment in our children is so high. And the temptation to begin living vicariously through our children and find our worth and defining success through our children’s accomplishments is equally stronger. It is easy for us to begin pressuring our children to continue to succeed because it makes us look successful too. Our children are very perceptive. They feel the subtle pressure to succeed, and this can be very destructive to our relationships with our children.
Like most homeschool parents, I have dealt with this temptation. My kids have had high achievements in Bible memory, music, and science competitions. I have fallen into the trap of becoming a stage mom and living vicariously through my kids without even realizing it was happening. So how do we avoid falling into this sin? Here are a few things I have learned.
1. Pray for grace. I ask God to make me into my children’s advocate and support without putting any pressure on them to bring me glory and make me look good.
2. Beware of red flags.
- Jealousy – Covetousness is the sin of idolatry. When I am feeling jealous, it is a sign I am looking to my children’s successes to fill something in me that I should be looking to God to fulfill.
- Anger – When I am tempted to become angry because a contest seemed unfair or my child inexplicably underperformed, I have learned that this is a sign that I am crossing into stage mom territory.
- Nerves – I have learned not to be overly nervous for my kids. They can sense my nerves, and this puts pressure on them. It helps to remember that successes and disappointments alike are gifts from God and are used by Him for my children’s good and His glory.
3. Become a good listener. I want to listen to my children, and I want them to feel free to let me know how much they want to invest in their activities. For example, while music has been part of all of my children’s educations, only two of them have seriously pursued music. While these two perform regularly and practice for 2–4 hours every day, I have other kids who would never want to perform in public. By listening to my kids, I can discover each child’s musical goals and work to help them find the opportunities to fulfill them.
4. Avoid nagging. As my kids have become teenagers, I came to recognize nagging is very destructive. Nagging indicates I want them to succeed more than they want to succeed. I think that is the definition of being a stage mom. These accomplishments must be their own. They must be motivated and invested. And if they are not invested, then we need to re-evaluate our involvement with these activities and our goals for their school years.
5. Avoid boasting. Most moms love to publicly praise their children for their accomplishments, and this is not always bad. Others can be encouraged about the effectiveness of homeschooling by learning about some of the incredible things our children are doing. But boasting can also put pressure on our children to continue to excel and we need to protect them from this by being careful and discreet.
I have two children who are young adults and two others who are graduating and moving on. As they launch out into adult life, they take their trophies and medals and music with them. My job to help them achieve their goals and facilitate opportunities for them is completed. And this has brought perspective. The competitions I thought were so important were not really important in the grander scheme of life. The victories and successes were fun and were worthwhile, but I want to invest the majority of my limited time and emotions in loving my kids and building relationships with them rather than pressuring them to succeed so I can succeed with them. Those successes and victories are very temporary and the glitter soon fades, but love and relationships are long term.