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“Never enough” is not “unconditional love”

The thesis of Jennifer Breheny Wallace’s book  “Never Enough: When Achievement Culture Becomes Toxic — and What We Can Do About It” really resonates with me. 

She recognizes that today’s socioeconomic conditions, not just bumper sticker envy, drive parents’ fears about their kids’ success. However, most of the families immersed in achievement-related stress–and its severe mental health consequences–are in the top 25% of household incomes. I encourage you to read it–here’s an excerpt (with my edits for length and emphasis) from an interview Wallace did in September.

“...achievement becomes toxic when we tangle up our entire sense of self and value with our achievements. When you have to achieve in order to matter. That …pressure is felt by students today…from parents who just want what’s best for their kids; from teachers who are under their own pressures to hit certain standards; and schools both public and private that are under their own pressures to perform. 

GAZETTE: What do children, particularly adolescents, need most from their parents?

BREHENY WALLACE: In my research, I sought out the “healthy strivers,” the students who were able to achieve success in healthy ways…these kids felt a deep sense of mattering. They felt deeply valued for who they were by their family, by their friends, and by their community separate from their external achievements.” This means they enhanced the lives of others.

“The kids who were struggling the most felt like their mattering was contingent on their performance; that their parents only valued or cared about them when they were performing. Or, for other kids who weren’t doing well, they heard those messages from their parents, but they were never expected to add value back to anyone other than themselves...”

For parents, I’d focus on a phrase from Suniya Luthar, the resilience researcher: “Minimize criticism. Prioritize affection.” Find ways to let your kids know that they matter, separate from their achievements.” 


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